He may be down, but Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s launch of a new political party for his rebel Bersatu-ians suggests he’s definitely not out. Not by a long shot.

Elsewhere in today’s newsletter we take a look at Lim Guan Eng’s day in court on Friday, uneven enforcement of the mandatory mask rule, Malaysia’s plan to eradicate poverty by 2030, and the apology of a minister that doesn’t say very much.

Bersatu teguh, bercerai roboh

Get this party started

You’ve gotta hand it to Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The guy may have miscalculated his worth, misjudged his friends and generally, got his ass handed to him on a platter earlier this year.

Yet from the look of things, the former prime minister, who turned 95 exactly a month ago, has no intention of going quietly into the good night. Hence Mads’ latest initiative that’s aimed at taking the fight to Perikatan Nasional i.e. a new kononnya independent party to house the rebels who took his side in the fight against Prime Minister and Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin.

Maddey hasn’t officially registered the entity with the Registrar of Societies yet, so it’s still anyone’s guess what its eventual moniker will be. (Initial rumours suggested it would be called Parti Bersatu Rakyat Malaysia.) However, based on the former PM’s statement, it’s likely that “Bebas” will be on the ticket come nomination day for the Slim state by-election, when the new party makes its official debut.

Despite being played out by the current fellas in charge in Putrajaya and in spite of what certain foes may like to believe, it’s tough to argue that Mahathir ever stopped being important to Malaysian politics – the back and forth within Pakatan Harapan Plus over the past couple of month’s on the choice of the Opposition’s PM candidate, for one, speaks volumes of his clout. Nevertheless, by announcing a new party, what the old fox has effectively done now is increase his relevance again.

Certain political analysts say that for Maddey’s new party to make a significant dent to Malaysian politics, it’ll have to forge alliances with either Perikatan or Pakatan, and that may be true. But it is also true that since Mads’ announcement on Friday, a large number of supporters, including at least three supreme council members, have quit Bersatu to align themselves with the old man. 

Time will indeed tell if anyone of the note from the present administration decides to throw their lot in with Dr M, but the signs over the last three days suggest that, as certain politicians warned, the Malay community is being split again.

Is that bad? Well, maybe. If, that is, you consider that with the number of parties sprouting up left right and centre – there’s a youth-based Malay one in the works too, apparently – the joke going round is that in a couple of years, Malay parties could well outnumber the number of Malays in Malaysia. Seriously though, more new parties could also be good in that it’ll help ensure many different voices get heard.

The danger with the splitting of the Malay base, though, is that we could see elections resulting in governments with weak majorities as Malay voters are divided among all these parties. And while that theoretically shouldn’t be a problem, in Bolehland this – as we can see now – would translate to party hopping and MP poaching. So yeah, not great. 

In the present though, what Mads’ announcement and the ensuing spate of defections from Bersatu is sure to do is send shivers down Moo Yassin’s spine. 

Muhyiddin may be PM and right now, the one calling the shots in Bersatu. But it won’t escape his notice that the party he now leads comprises many people who flocked there thanks to Mahathir. Sure, chairmanships of government-linked companies and the like may guarantee Moo’s support is maintained for a while. But the big question is – for how long?

For sure, who eventually hops on over to Mahathir’s side and which bloc of parties Dr M decides to side with – Anwar Ibrahim says Pakatan will consider bringing Mahathir’s party into the fold, though Mads himself claims to not know about Anwar’s remarks – will be closely watched. And if there’s one thing you can bet on, it’s that there’ll be more twists and turns before the year is out.

By the way, speaking of Mads’s supporters, one of the fellows conspicuously missing from the press conference on Friday that saw the new party unveiled was Mahathir’s erstwhile cheerleader-in-chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman. The story is that the ex-youth and sports minister is in Johor and thus, couldn’t attend the presser. However, there’s also been talk that Saddiq’s looking towards the formation of a group of his own i.e. the earlier-mentioned youth-centric party. 

This could get really interesting.

Tunnel vision ... and that ominous bungalow

So after spending Thursday night in a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) lockup, DAP’s Lim Guan Eng got charged on Friday with soliciting bribes in connection with the Penang undersea tunnel project. Predictably, the former finance minister pleaded not guilty to the accusation. However, what few had expected was that Guan Eng’s wife, Betty Chew, would be hauled up for questioning by the MACC on that same day and subsequently arrested in relation to another matter.

But more on Betty’s case in a bit. First, let’s look at the charge against LGE.

The prosecution’s claim against Guan Eng – proffered under Section 16(a)(A) of the MACC Act 2009 – is pretty straightforward. In a nutshell, it accuses Guan Eng of requesting for 10% of profits from a company (Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd) in exchange to help it secure a contract to build main roads and such as part of the undersea tunnel project. 

Guan Eng, who was Penang chief minister when the bung was supposed to have been requested, has, of course, claimed trial to the charge. However, the accusation is a serious one and if found guilty, Nobita faces not just massive fines, but up to 20 years behind bars.

Whether the case against Guan Eng is eventually proved beyond a reasonable doubt is, at this moment, uncertain. However, an interesting point to note, even before we get into the nitty-gritty of witness statements, cross-examinations and whatnot, is that at least for now, it doesn’t look like any money changed hands. The charge suggests that Guan Eng was due a slice of the pie in the event Zenith made profits. However, the tunnel project, which was initiated close to a decade ago, has yet to be completed.

In any event, Guan Eng’s DAP comrades as well as Opposition colleagues Mahathir and Anwar have all termed the case against him as politically motivated. And ya know, perhaps it is. However, that same accusation can be leveled – and indeed was constantly brought up by the respective accused parties – when Pakatan Harapan went after the likes of Najib Razak, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, etc.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – which party one is with should never be used as a yardstick to determine legal action. The only thing that matters is evidence on the face of a case. And if that evidence is present, that’s all that matters, despite how biased and/or politically-motivated a prosecution may seem.

Also, here’s another thing to consider – it’s easy enough to now claim political motivation. However, what Guan Eng and his former government colleagues have never properly explained is why investigations into the tunnel project appeared to have moved at a snail’s pace when Pakatan was in power.

Anyways, LGE gets charged again over the tunnel in Butterworth today. And tomorrow, he’ll have his wife, Betty, and possibly businesswoman Phang Li Koon too for company in court. It’s likely though that Tuesday’s court appearance may not be about the tunnel at all, but Guan Eng being charged over another matter altogether.

As we highlighted in Friday’s newsletter, the MACC’s advisory on Thursday night didn’t spell out what Guan Eng’s gonna be accused of on Aug 11. Nevertheless, the quizzing and subsequent arrests of Betty – who looks set to be charged under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities (Amla) Act – and Phang suggests it could be about that darn bungalow

Yes, Art. 7 of the Federal Constitution clearly states persons who’ve been acquitted of a charge cannot be tired again for the same offence. Nevertheless, in upholding the double jeopardy rule, the Criminal Procedure Code in S.302 does provide for some super narrow loopholes.

Both Guan Eng and daddy Lim Kit Siang have decried the harassment their family’s been put under, and indeed, you can empathise with them. But as noted before, regardless of how it may look, there’s a duty for justice to be upheld. 

We sure hope that that’s what’s being done.

P.S. For a full guide to the undersea tunnel fiasco, head here.

Masked injustice

If you’ve ever wondered if you can pull down your face mask for a fleeting mo in a public place, the answer is you can’t. Try it, and you’ll likely be hit with a RM1,000 compound. Unless, of course, you’re a politician or in the company of said politicians.

If you’ve been keeping up with BTL these past few weeks, you’d know there’s been a lack of consistency and clarity about the face masks in public rule. What you would’ve also noticed is the many reports of uneven enforcement.

Since the rule came into force, folks have complained about getting fined for not wearing their masks in private cars as well as while chilling at the beach. But worse than that though, it seems that depending on who they are or whom they’re with, some jokers can lepas for not donning masks, while some other unlucky fellas – like this kid who reportedly pulled down his mask while waiting for a train – just can’t.

Malaysians have gotten incensed over the fine handed out to the train station kid and have hammered the police over their heavy-handedness and questioned if there is favouritism in enforcing these rules, since there are pictures aplenty of politicians and their friends out and about with nary a mask in sight.

The authorities, and especially Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador, have yet to respond to the apparent double standards in enforcement. But it goes without saying, that what we really need is clear standard operating procedures in terms of when and how compounds can be handed out. Because, as former and current Health Ministry experts note, as it stands right now, the enforcement process reeks of favouritism.

By the way, speaking of the Health Ministry, Malaysia’s beloved superdoc Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah revealed on Sunday that not only has the Sivagangga cluster registered more cases – 45 in total, and counting – we also have two new clusters, one involving cross-state infections in Perak and Penang and another involving infections in Selangor and Putrajaya. Fortunately, though, there’ve been no deaths recorded for a week now, and while cumulative cases are at 9,083, the number of persons being treated have dropped below 200, to just 174 currently.

Even so, targeted enhanced movement curbs have been initiated in two villages in Perlis – Kampung Kuala Sanglang and Kampung Tanah Timbul – thanks to infections linked to that gift that keeps giving: Sivagagga.

Here, meanwhile, are some of the other Covid-19 highlights from the weekend:

  • Contact tracing is being carried out after a nurse at a clinic in Ipoh tested positive for Covid-19. Five of the nurse’s family members who live in the same house have, so far, tested negative. However, patients at the clinic are also being screened. 
  • While the fatality rate here remains at 125, two Malaysians are reported to have died from coronavirus-related complications in Madagascar. The duo, a husband and wife from Sabah, are reported to have been doing missionary work in Madagascar since 2004. 
  • A surau and religious school in Shah Alam have been shut following news that a worshipper at the surau had been in contact with a positive case linked to the Sivagangga cluster. 
  • Applications for travel between Malaysia and Singapore open today. Here’s an FAQ on travelling between the two countries and the protocols to adhere to.

This and that

Our main stories aside, it wasn’t an especially big weekend for news. Nevertheless, some interesting things did still make the headlines. Here’re some of the more important ones:

  • Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, a four-term state assemblyman and former Negeri Sembilan mentri besar, may be eyeing a parliamentary contest in the next general election. This one is interesting because he’s apparently eyeing the Rembau seat – which has for the longest time belonged to a certain Khairy Jamaluddin.

    Mat Hassan’s choice could mean one of two things – or both, actually. Becoming an MP could be a precursor to him launching an eventual bid for the Umno presidency and possibly the PM-ship one day. And it could at the same time sabo Khairy, who could potentially be one of Mat Hassan’s primary challengers for the Iron Throne. 

    Unfortunately for Mat Hassan, his boss, Zahid Hamidi, claims no decision on GE candidates has, as yet, been made and thus, stuff like who ought to stand where shouldn’t even be breathed.
     
  • According to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mustapa Mohamed, Malaysia is on course to eradicate poverty by 2030. Hmmm. It’s nice to have a goal. And yes, we may well be on the right path, thanks to having recently tweaked the country’s poverty threshold. But is a 10-year plan really workable given the size of the country?
     
  • Despite no longer sitting in the PM’s comfy chair in Putrajaya, Doc Maddey is still managing to piss off the international community. Case in point a recent interview with Indian news outlet WION that among other things, saw the nonagenarian expressly whack India over Hindu-Muslim tension. (That’s why we won’t deport Zakir Naik, apparently.) The interview also saw Mads remark that his previous disapproval of India’s position on Kashmir were due to the country being “more liberal” and “willing to except criticism” than China, whom Malaysia has generally failed to engage over its treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.
     
  • The authorities have been slammed for investigating a man who called out alleged police inaction concerning illegal gambling in Sungai Buloh instead of actually addressing the issue. We dunno about you, but isn’t this strikingly similar to the Al Jazeera situation where a probe into the news org was initiated, with absolutely nothing done in relation to the claims of mistreatment of foreign nationals during the Movement Control Order?
     
  • Weeks after the hullabaloo, Comms Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has finally “apologised” for statements made in the Dewan Rakyat on July 23 about Malaysian National Film Development Corporation (Finas) licences being required for all film and video productions. Thing is, while the minister once again clarified that YouTubers and TikTok users wouldnn’t be penalised under existing regulations, no further clarification was offered about the government’s planned rejig of the Finas Act.

“A sect or a party is an elegant incognito, devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • An American history professor who’s apparently called every United States presidential election since 1984 – there’s some dispute whether he accurately predicted the winner of the 2000 polls, though – says that according to his analysis, Donald Trump will lose the White House this year. We can only hope, the academician is right.
     
  • Speaking of Trump, El Presidente’s recent signing of an executive order that effectively banned TikTok has seen the app’s Chinese owner ByteDance scurrying to work out a takeover deal with a number of US companies. Unfortunately, there is still no clear resolution to talks with, among others, Microsoft and Twitter.
     
  • And we just gotta include one final piece about The Donald. Our favourite orange walked out of a press conference after a reporter challenged Trump’s claim that he’d be to one to pass a crucial veterans healthcare program. But here’s what’s amazing – this was the first time he’d been challenged on the claim, despite the fact that he’s repeated the lie more than 150 times!
     
  • Belarus is in turmoil after clashes erupted nationwide over the disputed results of its latest presidential elections. Incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled for 26 years, claimed to have won by a landslide, but many have accused him of vote-rigging.
     
  • While the Lebanese government is largely intact, the country’s info minister has quit following protests over the weekend which called for accountability in the wake of last week’s explosion that claimed 157 lives and wounded some 5,000 more.
     
  • Music mogul Simon Cowell is reported to have had emergency surgery on his back after falling off his electric bike. The extent of the 60-year-old record producer and talent show judge’s injuries are not known, however, he is understood to be “doing fine.”

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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