Notes on a New Nation, Day 3

Notes on a New Nation
Day 3 Post-GE14, 12 May 2018

The news comes at us fast and furious, like bullets from a gun. I’m not sure how long I should be doing these daily updates; I suppose as long as things are not yet settled and press conferences are taking place each day with major announcements. Once again, this is to have an accurate record of these historic days.

Today’s update traces the events that have taken place between 6pm Friday 11 May and 6pm Saturday 12 May 2018, following Malaysia’s 14th general election on 9 May. I will try to order the points not necessarily chronologically but the biggest news of the day, normally starting at the federal government level, and then going to what is happening within the different states.

First, yesterday evening (11 May) there was a leaked flight schedule being circulated, showing that ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor were to depart from the Subang Airport to arrive at the Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport in Jakarta at 10am on 12 May. A video was also spread on social media depicting Hishamuddin Rais (long-time known organiser of street protests) calling for Malaysians to gather at the Subang Airport at 4am to stop the couple from leaving Malaysia. Many have derided this as irresponsible vigilantism, and prefer that the processes of law be adhered to. Malaysiakini broke the news early this morning that both Najib and Rosmah were blacklisted by the Immigration Department, based on checks done at 5.30am on 12 May, which returned the results as “Please refer to the nearest immigration office” in red letters (the same results other activists received in the past when barred from travel). However, when they checked again at 9.30am the results showed “No obstacle” in green letters, indicating they were not blacklisted. The Director General of the Immigration Department, Mustafar Ali, confirmed that they were “not blacklisted for now”, but the Immigration Department later issued a Facebook statement confirming that they had both been blacklisted.

Najib Razak on 12 May had issued a press statement on Facebook stating that he and his family would take a holiday abroad starting from today, after the general election. However, a police source later confirmed that the private flight was cancelled pending further instructions. Indeed, a crowd of about 100 (as reported in Malay Mail) had shown up in front of the Subang Airport to examine vehicles entering, to inspect them for Najib and Rosmah’s presence. Najib Razak later tweeted (at 11.58am) that he had been informed that the Immigration Department does not permit him and his family to leave the country, and that he respects this instruction and will be with his family within Malaysia.

Sometime in the late morning, a news report from MStar (the Malay version of the Star) stated that a Bersatu youth exco made a police report based on a video that allegedly showed a Prime Minister’s Department van delivering 50 Birkin handbags worth at least RM200,000 each to several condominium units in Paviliion Kuala Lumpur (source: http://www.mstar.com.my/…/berita-…/2018/05/12/ben-ali-lapor/).

This was the day of multiple press conferences being called for. Of course there was Tun Dr Mahathir’s press conference that all were awaiting, on the Cabinet announcement. But simultaneous to that were the initial press conferences supposedly first by Khairy Jamaludin (on behalf of the Youth, Women and Puteri [young women] wings of UMNO), and another separately by Zahid Hamidi. Later the media received notice that in fact, after the emergency UMNO Supreme Council meeting chaired by Najib Razak, Najib himself would be holding the press conference. At this press conference, Najib finally announced that he would step down with immediate effect as UMNO President and BN Chair, based on the “principle of moral responsibility”. He also announced that Zahid Hamidi would take over the duties as UMNO’s President, because the party constitution does not allow for “acting” Presidents. Hishamuddin Hussein would take over the duties of Deputy President and Deputy BN Chair. They left promptly after Najib made these announcements, with no Q&A session thereafter (which, my media friends tell me has been the norm – Najib Razak has almost never fielded questions from the floor).

Pakatan Harapan’s press conference was the next big thing of the day, where Tun Dr Mahathir announced several key individuals into the initial Cabinet. In the PC, he announced that apart from the already confirmed positions of himself as PM and Wan Azizah as DPM, the following three were confirmed: Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister, Mohamed Sabu as Defence Minister, and Muhyiddin Yasin as Home Minister. Over the next two to three weeks, the other positions up to 25 ministries would be filled. It is interesting that he specifically mentioned that they want a “small Cabinet”; the BN government is known to be bloated with a relatively large Cabinet. Another interesting observation is that there is now a separate Minister of Finance from the Prime Minister. The practice of combining both the PM and Finance Minister results in a huge conflict of interest. But equally important to note that it was Tun Dr Mahathir himself who began this practice, after Anwar Ibrahim was initially sacked from his position as DPM and Finance Minister in 1998. Tun Daim was made Finance Minister I and Tun Dr Mahathir Finance Minister II, and then when Tun Daim later left the Cabinet, Tun Dr Mahathir took over the portfolio fully as full Finance Minister (Hwok-Aun Lee can verify this better than me).

Tun Dr Mahathir also announced the formation of a special “Council of Elders” or Council of Eminent Persons, consisting of 5 individuals, namely Tun Daim Zainuddin (his former Finance Minister and strong supporter/ally, who would also chair this council), Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz (former Central Bank Governor), Tan Sri Hassan Merican (former Petronas President), Robert Kuok (Malaysian-born tycoon, now based in Hong Kong) and Prof. Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundram (eminent economist and academic). The council would study and submit Cabinet papers on “things happening over the last years from 2009 until now”, and having independent people would be needed to vet reports and get “various data including those running government funds, and control some of the ministries which may involve some of the previous government”. Most within the line-up have had some relationship with Tun Dr Mahathir in the past, and have been considered to be critics of the Najib administration in one way or another in recent years. Tun Daim of course has been publicly supportive of PH during the campaign period; Tan Sri Zeti was part of the 1MDB investigative committee, then representing the Central Bank (but had remained silent after her retirement); Tan Sri Hassan Merican was known to have had his contract not extended after he made some critical remarks that the government should not depend excessively on Petronas for oil funds, Robert Kuok had been criticised quite vehemently by MCA upon the release of his memoirs (accused of supporting the opposition), and Dr. Jomo has been known to be instrumental in assisting the opposition in its various economic reports and position papers, although he too was appointed as a Fellow at ISIS (a think tank funded by the government). One may consider this to be “more of the old”, but given that Tun Mahathir does not have much time to get his reforms instituted, he may well be forced to depend on old, trusted advisors to get things moving.

As for what’s happening in the states, it is hard to keep up, since things keep changing every hour or so. In Perak, PAS released a statement yesterday offering a “no opposition unity government”, meaning that all parties (BN, PAS and PH) would form a government collectively, but only on the conditions that it should be led by a Muslim, and that the state exco should have a Muslim majority. Recall that earlier, Zambry had announced BN had the majority of state seats and was seeking an audience with the Sultan (he did not say where he would get the additional seats from, and it was assumed to be from PAS). The Perak Palace gave PH up to 2pm today (Saturday 12 May) to prove they have the numbers to form government. Finally, today, it was announced that two state assemblypersons (names unknown) have left BN to join PH. This makes the seat tally as follows: BN 25, PAS 3 and PH 31. At the time of writing, it was reported that Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin has been sworn in once again as the Perak Menteri Besar, nine years after he was unceremoniously ousted when BN took control in 2010 in a disputed leadership crisis. (Am leaving the inaccurate fact in, as it was reported, but wrongly so. But the correct news is that the new Menteri Besar is in fact the Perak PPBM Chair, who is Faizal Azumu, also known as Peja, and he was sworn in by the Perak Sultan.)

Over in East Malaysia, over a whole day there seemed to be no resolution as to what is happening in the state of Sabah. Although Musa Aman was sworn in as Sabah’s Chief Minister on Thursday night (10 May), Warisan’s Shafie Apdal said it would not recognise the Sabah state government as it did not have the “absolute mandate” and the numbers to form government. At a press conference yesterday evening (11 May), Shafie Apdal announced that they now had 35 assemblypersons, after six BN ADUNs defected (Abdul Muis Pichu (Sebatik), Hamisa Samat (Tanjong Batu), Osman Jamal (Balung), and Jamawi Jaafar (Kemabong) from Umno, and Ewon Benedick (Kadamaian) and Abidin Madingkir (Paginatan) from United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko). (source: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/424442). At the time of writing, it is understood that Shafie Apdal would be sworn in as the new Sabah Chief Minister at 9.30pm tonight (12 May). Sabah’s political developments are fascinating, and this feels like a repeat of what transpired in 1986 when there were two chief ministers having been sworn in. This was followed by a series of bomb blasts throughout Kota Kinabalu, which has been well documented by fellow documentary-maker Nadira Ilana in her short film “The Silent Riot” (more about it in this old article by Pei Ling Gan here http://www.selangortimes.com/index.php…). Peninsular Malaysians really need a “Sabah Politics 101” session after all of this is resolved. For those who haven’t followed Sabah politics in a while, the multiparty nature of local politics there is convoluted and confusing.

Finally, there were also news reports of Tun Dr Mahathir having met with Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud (former Chief Minister) in Kuala Lumpur. It was rumoured to have been to discuss the possibility of BN component party PBB’s leaving the coalition to join PH. BN holds 19 parliamentary seats (PBB 13, PRS 3, PDP 2 and SUPP 1). If PBB were to leave BN, this would increase the parliamentary seat count of PH to 136 seats, still 12 short of what one imagines is the intent of Tun Dr Mahathir, to achieve a two third majority in Parliament, which would require at least 148 of the 222 seats. In response to these rumoured talks, Baru Bian issued a press statement as PKR Sarawak Chair, saying that Sarawak BN parties should not be allowed to join PH on principle, since PBB is UMNO’s proxy and having them in PH would betray the trust of the people. This is not yet resolved at the time of writing.

In the meantime, the two supposedly secure BN states seem to be shaky, where there is talk in Perlis of several BN MPs and assemblypersons switching over to PH (source: https://www.thestar.com.my/…/perlis-bn-mps-and-reps-on-ver…/) and something seems to be afoot in Pahang as well, where the swearing-in ceremony was originally scheduled for this morning (12 May, source: http://www.sinarharian.com.my/…/majlis-angkat-sumpah-menter…) but it has since been postponed to as late as next week. No reason has been given for this postponement. BN/UMNO seems to be imploding; late last night at UMNO’s 72nd anniversary celebration, a video was circulating on social media showing an UMNO Youth member speaking to the media, calling for Najib Razak to step down – he was very quickly and physically removed from the premises by other angry UMNO members, calling him a traitor to UMNO after all the party had done.

Finally, some interesting thoughts and questions about the nature of “official media” in this new era of government. Entities like RTM, TV3, Bernama, Utusan, Berita Harian, NST and so on have always been known to be pro-UMNO/BN, and it will be interesting to see over the following weeks the nature of their news reporting, and what PH would do to reform some of the more government-owned outlets. Already their coverage is beginning to be more open, although it will take time for a truly critical and mature mass media to develop once again, after having been stifled for many years. Tun Dr Mahathir did make a commitment in April this year to abolish the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1971, National Security Council Act 2016, and any law with mandatory death sentences, as well as several “oppressive” provisions in laws such as the Penal Code, the Communications and Multimedia Act, Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, Peaceful Assembly Act, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. (source: https://www.thestar.com.my/…/dr-m-pakatan-to-repeal-contr…/…). If these can be done quickly, Malaysians would feel more assured that Tun Dr Mahathir is not the same Prime Minister he used to be. His quick wit was not lost on the media in a recent press conference when he said, “Please ask your questions in an orderly manner… Please remember, I was the dictator.”

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