The appointment of a PAS MP as Deputy Women and Family Development Minister has raised concerns that the government will not pursue efforts to end child marriages in Malaysia, especially considering the MP in question has battled such efforts before. In other news, former DPM Wan Azizah Wan Ismail says it's very likely dearest and most glorious husband Anwar Ibrahim will be leading the Pakatan line-up soon, leaving grand ol' master Maddey Mohamad by the wayside; and, Covid-19 cases in Mesia are now up to 129.

Whither our children

Should we worry for the kids?

The concerns about the new Cabinet lineup are starting to come in.

Red flags have been raised over the appointment of PAS MP Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff as Women and Family Development Ministry deputy minister. Why? Because Siti Zailah has until now been one of the loudest voices fighting efforts to raise the legal age for marriage to 18.

One of the first to question Siti Zailah’s appointment is her immediate predecessor, Hannah Yeoh. The Segambut MP fears the new Perikatan gomen will brush aside the five-year National Strategy Plan to end child marriages, launched just a couple of months ago, thanks to Siti Zailah’s appointment. 

The comprehensive plan was designed to address the root causes of child marriages after the previous administration was faced with seven states refusing to amend laws to ban child marriages.

Yeoh wasn’t the only one worried. Women’s rights group Sisters in Islam is “not convinced” the Moo gomen is committed to upholding the rights of women and children, including refugees and stateless kids, considering a PAS member is now deputy minister. SIS says ending child marriages is not a shared goal between the NGO and PAS, and questioned whether the Perikatan gomen would be “at all interested” in protecting the interests of the child “without resorting to marriage”.

But what exactly has Siti Zailah done to earn such distrust? It all goes back to 2017, when the Rantau Panjang MP picked a fight with DAP’s Teo Nie Ching after the then Pakatan gomen tabled the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017.

Teo had mooted that it should be against the law for anyone to even touch a child inappropriately, and urged the government to work to reconcile all other laws which would allow marriages at below 18. These laws allow Muslim marriages for those 16 and even less, should the Syariah Court approve.

Siti Zailah took umbrage with Teo and said the Kulai MP should not meddle in Muslim affairs. She had said Muslims didn’t dispute the rights of Buddhist and Catholic priests not to get married (cos yeah, that’s the same thing!) and that there was a difference between touching a child, which is sexual violence, and child marriages. 

The Pakatan gomen’s fight against child marriages, while taken up by women and children’s rights groups for years now, began in earnest in 2018 after a 41-year-old Malaysian rubber tapper in Gua Musang, Kelantan married an 11-year-old girl from Thailand. Soon after, a 44-year-old Rela member in Tumpat, Kelantan made the news for taking on a 15-year-old as his second wife. 

The thing about this child marriage problem is that people often use it as an excuse for Muslim-bashing (it doesn’t help that PAS reps like Siti Zailah support it!). But the data, tells a different story.

Between 2011 and 2015, 6,240 Muslim children were married nationwide. In roughly the same period (2011 to Oct 2015), 2,178 non-Muslim girls were married. In short, this is a nationwide problem that affects all races and religions.

Scratch that. It’s a GLOBAL problem. According to Unicef, 720 million women around the world today were married off as children, and by 2050 there’ll be 1.2 BILLION(!!!) child brides.

The root causes behind behind child marriages range from economic conditions, gender discrimination, a lack of education, notions about protecting dignity and honour and, yes, religion, to name just a few.

The implications are vast – young girls face severe health problems; complications during and after pregnancy and childbirth; domestic violence and physical abuse; and the loss of education and employment opportunities. 

In short, child marriages suck. And we now have a women’s ministry number 2 who, despite all the science and all the research all around the world saying otherwise, thinks it’s a-okay for a kid who isn’t old enough to vote or drive to be married. God have mercy on us all.

Politics still on our minds

As mentioned above, people have voiced concerns over PM Moo’s new Cabinet. Among these, of course, are people from the old Cabinet (surprise, surprise), the now once-again (and forevermore?) opposition.

Former DPM and PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail says the new line-up is like “old wine in a new bottle” as many (new old?) members were still tainted by the 1MDB scandal

In her interview with Bloomberg (the courting of the international media continues!), Wan Azizah also said should Pakatan return to power, it would be dearest hubby bubby Anwar Ibrahim and not grand ol’ Dr Mahathir Mohamad who would likely lead the country. The matter will be discussed at the Pakatan leadership level, she says, though we suspect this is a foregone conclusion. 

Anwar, meanwhile, has told “Pakatan traitors” to just leave the coalition if they are still around. He also urged members not to panic and instead to “revive the spirit”. We’re not sure if Anwar had anyone specific in mind when he said the traitors should leave, but there are a number of people earlier deemed supporters of former PKR numero dos, Azmin Ali, still in Pakatan. 

Meanwhile, analysts say Muhyiddin kept to his promise of having a clean Cabinet line-up that is palatable to the public (really?) as well as political stakeholders. However, they say he’s also managed to not cede too much control to political rivals so as to weaken his own position. 

One example is how he dissolved the Economic Affairs Ministry and placed the portfolio under the PM’s Department. Though Azmin Ali has been given the International Trade and Industry portfolio and deemed “senior minister”, this is seen as a downgrade and Muhyiddin’s bid to keep Azmin’s popularity and power in check. You can read the full analysis here, including the familial links between Moo and new Finance Minister, Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz. 

Meanwhile, the new Cabinet ministers are raring to go, apparently, with several giving short interviews commenting on their appointments and what they intend to do moving forward. To make it easier for you, here’s what they, and others, have said:

  • Tengku Zafrul asks for time to come up with a Budget 2020 recalibration and is hoping politics doesn’t get in the way of his work.
     
  • New Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah says despite the new gomen being dominated by Bumiputeras, it would be an inclusive one and not just for Muslims and Malays.  
     
  • New Higher Education Minister Noraini Ahmad has resigned as parliamentary Public Accounts Committee chairwoman following her appointment, in line with the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat. 
     
  • Bintulu MP Tiong King Sing has rejected the post of deputy national unity minister as it does not befit his position as president of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP). Wow. Cocky much?
     
  • PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang says he didn’t “join” the Cabinet so he could act as oversight for party members appointed ministers. How very noble. Is that why Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is also not in the Cabinet? 
     
  • Parti Kerjasama Anak Negeri is disappointed STAR president Jeffrey Kitingan was not made a full minister as it “took guts” for him to cross the floor to be “conspicuously seen” with Umno, PAS and Bersatu top leaders. In that case, Jeffrey must be the bravest man in the world, considering the frequency of his frogging. 
     
  • The Malaysian Trades Union Congress has expressed hopes of a better relationship with new Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan, basically saying there is no love lost with former minister M. Kulasegaran. 

Meanwhile, in Perak, MB Faizal Azumu has resigned, 24 hours after the fall of the Pakatan state gomen, and with him, the entire state exco line-up is vacated. It will now fall on the new Perikatan gomen MB to come up with his own line-up.

129 and counting

The number of Covid-19 cases in the country has gone up to 129 with 12 new cases detected yesterday. 

All 12 cases were part of a new cluster linked to Patient 33, the PM’s Office said in a statement, without releasing any further details. However, it said Patient 87 has recovered from the disease, the 25th case in the country to do so.   

So far, 3,132 people have been tested for Covid-19, with 2,741 testing negative and 262 results still pending. This puts the positive rate for infections (not including results still pending) at 4.49%. You can keep track of the number of cases in the country, as well as find other relevant information, here if you wish to do so. 

The number means that Malaysia has now surpassed Hong Kong, which has 120 cases so far. However, unlike the Chinese SAR, there have been no deaths here. 

Motorola, meanwhile, has confirmed that one of its employees in Penang has been diagnosed with Covid-19, after returning from a visit to KL with flu-like symptoms. All its employees in Penang have been told to work from home over the next two weeks while its facilities are being sanitised. 

New Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Nancy Shukri, meanwhile, says her job will be a tough one amidst the Covid-19 outbreak and falling oil prices, which also can be linked to the outbreak. However, she says she is committed to coming up with effective solutions and long-term economic measures to manage the tourism sector better. 

Meanwhile, former Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad has been appointed by the Pakatan government in Selangor to head a special task force on Covid-19. This comes as more than 60% of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia comes from the state. We gotta say this is a welcome move, considering how well Dr Dzul did as the Health Minister.

Dan lain-lain

Congrats! You made it through the thesis-length newsletter today. As a reward here’s even more for you to read! 🤣

  • There was complete silence in the Dutch courtroom when the public prosecutor read out the names of the 298 people killed when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Four people were charged in absentia for murder. Prosecutors say interference from Russia had “cast a dark shadow” over proceedings. Moscow refuses to acknowledge the findings of the international team investigating the case and isn’t handing over the suspects. 
     
  • Former MACC head honcho Dzulkifli Ahmad, testifying as a defence witness for Najib Razak in the latter’s SRC International trial, says the former PM was cleared by MACC investigations earlier as they could not prove he was aware of the flow of money into his bank accounts. Meanwhile, lead defence counsel Shafee Abdullah says the defence’s case could be done by this week.
     
  • Over at another court, where Jibby’s wife Rosmah Mansor was facing her own graft trial, a Maybank Medan Tuanku branch officer confirmed that RM6.5 million was withdrawn in cash from Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd’s Saidi Abang Samsudin’s personal account and stuffed into bags. Rosie is facing charges of soliciting and receiving bribes from Jepak Holdings to allow the company to get a RM1.25 billion contract to supply hybrid solar power systems for rural schools in Sarawak. Earlier witnesses had testified that the bags of cash were delivered to Jibby and Rosie’s house. 
     
  • A 3-year-old undocumented and unvaccinated child in Sandakan has been confirmed to be suffering from polio, bringing the number of cases in Sabah to four.

“If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.”

- Marian Wright Edelman -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • There have been no new locally-transmitted Covid-19 cases outside Hubei, China, where the coronavirus began, for the third day in a row. President Xi Jinping’s visit to Wuhan on Monday is trumpeted as a show of confidence in its ability to fight the disease and its political and economic stability in the face of a global threat. For the record, the latest count stands at 116,600 infections worldwide with 4,258 deaths. Italy remains second to mainland China with 10,149 cases and 631 deaths, with Iran a not-so-distant third at 8,042 cases and 291 deaths.
     
  • New York has deployed its National Guard to a suburb after declaring it a containment zone for Covid-19. Schools, community centres and houses of worship will be closed in the mile-wide zone, but grocery stores will remain open. Meanwhile, the UK’s health minister is one of the latest people to test positive.
     
  • Afghanistan will release 1,500 Taliban prisoners in a move to launch talks with the insurgent group. 
     
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is supporting a constitutional amendment that will allow him to seek re-election in 2024. 
     
  • In one of the saddest news stories of the day, two rare white giraffes, a mother and her calf, were killed by poachers at a Kenyan wildlife sanctuary.

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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