What appears to be a government crackdown on dissent continues as a DAP MP is investigated for merely “asking a question”, while a news organisation is in trouble for allowing certain comments on one of its articles.

In other news, our great leaders in Pakatan Harapan Plus are still at an impasse as to whether it should be an old man or a much older man who should lead them to glory; we could be in even more trouble in terms of unemployment by the end of the year; and, a former top civil servant says another top civil servant wasn’t pressured to do something bad, even though the latter had earlier said otherwise.

The 'power' of a question

Days of the long knives

Has asking a question now become an offence in Malaysia?
 
That’s what Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh is now asking, after it was made known that she will be called in for questioning by Bukit Aman for tweeting a question in March.
 
Yeoh is being investigated for offences under the Penal Code for “statements conducing public mischief” and the Communications and Multimedia Act for “improper use of network facilities or network service” (yes, that ubiquitous section of law that allows anyone to be prosecuted for just about anything). And all she tweeted was: “What will happen now to our national road map to fight child marriage with the appointment of MP from PAS as deputy minister of @KPWKM?”. 
 
(NOTE: KPWKM stands for the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.)
 
OK. Here’s a little background info before we delve into the here and now. A spate of child marriages led the then Pakatan Harapan government to launch the National Strategic Plan (or road map) to Address the Causes of Underage Marriage in January. It was aimed at curbing the problem at the grassroots level. 
 
When Perikatan Nasional took over, Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff was appointed Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister, replacing Yeoh, and this was, of course, a major concern for the DAP MP. This is because the PAS MP had fought any change to the legal age limit for Muslim marriages in 2017, when the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill was being debated. 
 
Yeoh’s question in her tweet was not just fair – the tone was measured and in no way inciteful. Which makes her second question about the tweet also fair. Because, honestly, what the effing eff was the problem with her tweet?
 
Yeoh’s case wasn’t the only one of concern yesterday. The Attorney-General has apparently filed an application to cite Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief for contempt of court over comments made by readers in an article which he claims “clearly meant that the judiciary committed wrongdoings, is involved in corruption, does not uphold justice and compromised its integrity”. 

Malaysiakini used to regularly get into legal trouble during the days of the Barisan Nasional administration. But the Pakatan government, regardless of what its faults and weaknesses were, largely allowed news media and regular people the space to air their opinions and didn’t stifle free speech. With Perikatan in power, that looks like it ain’t happening anymore.  
 
The above two cases are just the latest in a string of moves by the authorities that have come under heavy criticism from various quarters, who are labelling it a crackdown by the Perikatan government on its critics. These include investigations into opposition politicians, activists and journalists.
 
Apart from Yeoh, fellow oppo parliamentarian A. Xavier Jayakumar is also being investigated. He is alleged to have made a speech with elements of sedition and provocation over the one-day May 18 Parliament sitting. 
 
Anti-graft activist Cynthia Gabriel is also being investigated for statements critical of the Muhyiddin Yassin administration, while another activist, lawyer Eric Paulsen, is no longer a member of the Multimedia and Communications Ministry’s consultative council. Though he has not been investigated, his removal/resignation came after he was alleged to have made statements which were anti-Islam. 
 
Last month, a Malaysian journalist for South China Morning Post was questioned over tweets she had posted about Immigration raids held at the Selangor Mansion in KL which had been placed under enhanced movement control order. 
 
All these led to an international human rights watchdog issuing a statement criticising the government for backsliding on free speech

Human Rights Watch criticised the Perikatan government for “dusting off abusive laws” for use against its critics. And rightly so. But, we have to point out that while the previous Pakatan government may have not clamped down on free speech, they do share some of the blame for what’s happening now. Why? Well, they promised to amend such laws or do away with them altogether, yet failed to do so despite spending almost two years in power. 

Still no Great Hope

It appears the issue of who will be Pakatan Harapan Plus (PHP?!?) candidate for PM is still at an impasse.
 
Stories began circulating early yesterday that Pakatan Plus (the three Pakatan parties of PKR, DAP and Amanah, Parti Warisan Sabah and the Bersatu faction led by former Bersatu chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad) would make a big announcement later in the night about their candidate for PM. There were even whispers that the coalition and their partners had d̶e̶c̶i̶d̶e̶d̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶a̶ ̶9̶0̶s̶ ̶r̶e̶u̶n̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶o̶u̶r̶ chosen Mahathir as their PM candidate, with PKR president and perennial PM-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim as DPM. There was even a hashtag campaign on social media for the two frenemies to reconcile and lead Pakatan forward. 
 
But any hopes of Pakatan Plus actually coming to a consensus over its choice of PM candidate soon began to dwindle. The first indication that all was still not well was when an Amanah VP said the issue was like a “bone stuck in the throat” of the coalition. Then we learned PKR leaders had completely rejected the possibility of Maddey returning as PM with Anwar as DPM. 
 
So really, it came as no surprise when an Anwar aide denied Mahathir had been picked as PM candidate, nor when Pakatan sec-gen Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the coalition and its allies had yet to come to a consensus. An official statement, said Saifuddin, would be issued once a consensus is reached. 
 
God only knows when that will be. Maddey himself is pushing to become PM again, which would be an incredible feat, considering his age, that he has already been PM twice, and screwed the pooch so badly the second time. But Anwar, having twice been on the cusp of becoming Great Leader only to be screwed over first by Mads and then by Muhyiddin “Moo” Yassin, is more than likely not going to agree to any plan which includes our favourite nonagenarian as the boss.
 
But the Bersatu faction loyal to Mahathir is pushing for him to once again lead the way forward, and if this report is to be believed, so are DAP, Amanah and Warisan. So, that would mean only PKR is left pushing for Anwar to be el supremo (not to be confused with the Mexican wrestler). 
 
Perhaps it’s time for both men to acknowledge their time is past (and in Anwar’s case that it never came) and join together to throw their support behind another candidate for the good of the country. Perhaps that candidate could be Shafie Apdal, as fielding him would also all but ensure Sabah’s continued support. But hey, what do we know? We’re just three hacks knocking out a newsletter in the wee hours of the morning.

Anyway… the PM candidate for Pakatan Plus is an important decision, of course, and not one to be taken lightly. So, the almighty tug of war between Mads and Brother Anwar notwithstanding, it is understandable that a decision would be difficult to make. After all, present PM Moo only has a super slim majority of two in the Dewan Rakyat. 
 
A shift in the balance would cost Perikatan its hold on the government. And with the possibility of snap polls being called, it’s important for Pakatan Plus to ensure a suitable candidate is in place should they again take the general elections by storm.
 
And there have been a number of politicians who have called for snap polls, the latest being former minister Nazri Aziz. Nazri said snap polls would end the “ping pong” game of numbers being played by Perikatan and Pakatan, where both sides claimed to have majority support. 

Before any snap polls can take place, however, there is the minor matter of the Chini by-election in Pahang. Following the death of its assemblyman, Barisan Nasional thought it would have a free ride to victory as Pakatan said it would not contest the by-election. That is likely not to be the case now as several independent candidates are said to have obtained nomination papers. 
 
Chances are BN will still win comfortably, however, as independent candidates generally don’t do too well and often lose their deposit. But who knows? Maybe the BN-haters and Pakatan supporters will turn out in force to vote in an independent candidate. Hell, stranger things have happened.

More people to lose jobs

After Monday’s news that Malaysia’s unemployment rate spiked to 5% thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and the MCO, we thought nothing else could be more depressing. As is so often the case, we thought wrong. 
 
Yesterday we were told we hadn’t hit rock bottom yet. The good folks at Ambank Research said the unemployment rate could rise to 6% or higher by year end. That would equate to about 942,600 of the estimated 15.71 million workforce we now have. That’s nearly a million people! 
 
And all this because of a pesky little virus which has only been around a few months. 
 
And if that isn’t bad news enough, former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin says he isn’t convinced the economy will rebound by next year, something current Moneybags Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz insists will happen. Daim says it’s premature to say so as the contraction of the economy will push back the country’s progress by at least a couple of years. 
 
Daim, of course, is a well-respected former finance minister. So, his opinion should count. But then again, he is known as former PM Maddey’s right hand man, so is this just his way of discrediting the current administration? Well, we certainly hope it’s the latter, or that he is just mistaken.
 
It’s not all bad news when it comes to Covid-19, however. Yesterday’s increase in new coronavirus cases saw a return to lower double digits. And, even better news was that recoveries outweighed new infections by more than 3,000%.
 
There were 11 new cases of Covid-19 yesterday, with no new deaths. A total of 333 people were discharged, the highest in a single day so far. There are now 7,733 recoveries so far, pushing the recovery rate to 90.9%. That leaves only 651 active cases remaining. 
 
More good news arrived with the announcement that the administrative MCO at two housing estates in Kuala Langat had ended, meaning the residents there can now breathe a sigh of relief and return to some semblance of normalcy. 
 
Anyhoo, here are some other Covid-related items which appeared yesterday:

  • The National Security Council has released standard operating procedures for several areas, including cinemas, mosques, buses and the management of both private and government events. 
     
  • PM Muhyiddin has launched a digital dashboard called Laksana to monitor the implementation of the Prihatin and Penjana initiatives. 
     
  • With education having been severely disrupted due to the pandemic, the Education Ministry has relaunched its digital learning platform with the help of tech giants Google, Microsoft and Apple. 
     
  • Catholic churches in the KL Archdiocese are set to reopen in a four-phase approach. One of the stipulations, however, is adults above 70 and children under 12 will not be allowed to attend masses and other celebrations. 

Aisehman... where got pressure?

So, a number of corruption-related trials resumed yesterday, including some involving those who were once the top two leaders of the country: former PM Najib Razak and his deputy, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
 
Najib, as we all know, is facing a slew of charges related to graft and abuse of power, and while his trial on charges over millions in missing funds from former 1Malaysia Development Bhd subsidiary SRC International is now done with (save for an actual decision from the courts) he now must focus on defending himself against charges of tampering with the 1MDB audit report. 
 
The trial resumed yesterday after being postponed due to a false Covid-19 scare, with the prosecution informing the court it was seeking to amend the charges against Jibby and co-accused, former 1MDB head honcho Arul Kanda Kandasamy, due to a “typographical error”. Lead defence counsel Shafee Abdullah, however, objected to this, saying the defence had all this while prepared its case based on the original charges. 
 
The judge ruled he would decide on the matter today, but what we find interesting is that a DPP, when questioned by reporters, said the amendment was to make the charges “abundantly clear”, yet refused to state what specifically would be changed. 🤔
 
Anyway, up on the stand was former Chief Secretary to the Government Ali Hamsa, who testified that it was surprising a National Audit Department (NAD) member had recorded a meeting to discuss changes to the 1MDB audit report. He said it was unethical for the officer to have recorded the meeting as no one was aware a recording was being made. 
 
The officer, Nor Salwani Muhammad, had earlier in the trial, said she had hidden a voice recorder in her colleague’s stationery case as she was not granted access to the meeting, and had also kept a copy of the original, untampered version of the audit report. 
 
Ali also testified that then Auditor General Ambrin Buang had not been pressured or intimidated into altering the 1MDB audit report. He said Ambrin and the NAD had agreed to make the alterations, including the dropping of a reference that 1MDB had two different financial statements for the same year, after being assured a police report would be lodged on the matter of the financial statements. 
 
This, however, flies in the face of Ambrin’s own testimony last year that the NAD been pressured into making the alterations
 
Our boy Jibby is charged with using his position to order amendments to the 1MDB audit report before it was presented to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee so as to avoid action being taken against him for misappropriation of funds. Arul Kanda was charged with abetting Najib.
 
Meanwhile, in another court, where t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶n̶ ̶f̶r̶o̶m̶ ̶P̶o̶n̶o̶r̶o̶g̶o̶ Zahid is facing 47 counts of criminal breach of trust, bribery and money laundering, we learned his brother Mohamad Nasaee Ahmad Tarmizi bought two properties worth RM5.9 million using money taken from Yayasan Akalbudi, the foundation set up by the former DPM himself. Businessman Lee Kim Yew said he had been told the properties were purchased because they were close to a surau. 

Lee said this when cross examined by the defence. However, he could not confirm whether the bungalows were converted into religious schools. The defence is trying to show that money taken from Akalbudi was intended for genuine charitable purposes and not for any illicit reasons. 
 
Meanwhile, former Felda chairman Isa Samad has been called to enter his defence over nine corruption charges amounting to RM3 million in connection with the purchase of a hotel in Sarawak. However, he was acquitted of a single CBT charge in connection with said purchase. Isa had been charged with one count of CBT and nine counts of corruption for allegedly receiving bribes totalling RM3 million in connection with Felda’s purchase of the hotel.  

A million regular Malaysians could be out of work soon, and here we see the people who are supposed to lead us in the dock, accused of scamming the country out of millions upon millions. Makes the blood boil, it does.

Bits and bobs

A few things came out yesterday that we thought we should include at least in brief:

  • Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin has told developers to focus more on building affordable housing of less than RM500,000. We agree, but how in heaven’s name is half a bloody million ringgit considered “affordable”? 
     
  • Newly-minted Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation numero uno Rais Hussin says he intends to make the country a Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) hub for the world. Ambitious much? Perhaps we concentrate on economic recovery first? 
     
  • A Nepali man said to have died while in police custody is actually alive and well in Nepal. So who exactly is the man who had been carrying Dhan Bahdur’s passport and had died in the police lock-up? Nobody knows as yet. 
     
  • The government intends to dedicate Putrajaya’s “Soccer City” to the late Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah, a sports leadership icon who had helmed the Football Association of Malaysia for many years and had first mooted the idea of the sports facility. 
     
  • Muhyiddin Yassin’s people are locked in a battle with whistleblower site Sarawak Report over whether or not the PM broke MCO quarantine to go seek cancer treatment in Singapore. Moo’s peeps insist our glorious leader is cancer free and say they have the medical letters to prove it, but Sarawak Report points out that it’s rather dodgy that neither of the letters come from pancreatic cancer specialists – and also that both notes are identical!
     
  • One of Malaysia’s most dedicated political cartoonists for two decades, Zunar, is launching his first e-book, which will be a compilation of his thoughts, stands and critiques of pertinent political issues of the times. Times are tough and Zunar has kept us chuckling (and politicians fuming) for years, so howzabout we support him in this endeavour, folks? 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

- Albert Einstein -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • In a landmark ruling that also marks a defeat for President Donald Trump’s administration, the US Supreme Court has ruled that a longstanding federal law barring discrimination in the workplace also protects LGBT employees
     
  • Meanwhile, after weeks of protests following the death of black American George Floyd at the hands of policemen, Trump has signed an executive order introducing several police reforms, though rejecting calls to defund or dismantle police departments. 
     
  • At least 20 Indian soldiers have been killed in a clash with Chinese troops in the disputed Himalayan border region between the two countries. 
     
  • The global number of Covid-19 cases has breached the 8 million mark, with more than 438,000 deaths, but good news has come in the form of trials involving the generic steroid dexamethasone, which has shown it’s effective in reducing deaths among patients suffering from severe cases of the coronavirus. 
     
  • New Zealand was so close to being declared Covid-free. But after 24 days without a new infection, the nation yesterday recorded two new cases of the virus. Both involved people who’d recently travelled to the UK.

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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