From Coldplay To Pork Nasi Kandar, Here Are 16 Of Malaysia's Biggest Controversies In 2023

It's been an eventful year.

Cover image via @coldplay (X) , The Nation Thailand , @comedycellarusa (TikTok) , New Straits Times

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1. The Jay Chou concert ruffled the feathers of football fans

In early January, football fans and Bersatu youth chief Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal urged Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh to cancel Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou's concert at Bukit Jalil National Stadium on 15 January to make way for the ASEAN Football Federation Cup (AFF) 2022 semi-final match on 7 January.

Although the dates of the football match involving Harimau Malaya and Chou's concert did not clash, 21,000 seats had to remain vacant to accommodate the setup for Chou's concert.

This irked many local football fans, prompting them to flood Chou's Instagram account with hateful comments.

"F**k [your] concert. This is a stadium, it's not for a concert. The Shah Alam Stadium is empty, why don't you use that? No one is going to bother you if you hold it there," read a top comment found in one of Chou's Instagram posts.

The issue was resolved after Yeoh clarified that Chou had booked the stadium three years ahead of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), laying to rest any disputes.

2. Hockey player Hanis Onn suspended over her racial slurs against Indians

In February, national hockey player Hanis Onn found herself in hot water after a screenshot surfaced of her using a racial slur against Malaysians of Indian descent.

She was found to have made the racist comment on an Instagram post about Indian artiste A R Rahman's concert on 28 January. She implied that the Bukit Jalil National Stadium would have been really "smelly" due to the thousands of Indian Malaysians in attendance.

This sparked national outrage and calls for her suspension, ultimately leading Hanis to issue an apology.

Although Hanis argued her comment was taken out of context, she was suspended indefinitely. She only made a comeback in September to compete in the Hangzhou Asian Games.

3. Mixed signals in Diana Danielle and Farid Kamil's divorce

In March, popular actress Diana Danielle sent shockwaves through Malaysian showbiz by filing for divorce from fellow actor Farid Kamil after 11 years of marriage.

The duo were among the most talked-about celebrities in 2023, with each starring in a movie this year — Diana in Imaginur and Farid in Anwar: The Untold Story.

Diana cited irreconcilable differences as the reason for filing for divorce. Adding to the drama, Farid made a public attempt to win Diana back by presenting her with a bouquet of flowers at the court hearing, further fuelling fan speculation.

Despite Farid's efforts, the divorce was finalised in August 2023. However, less than a month later, the duo confirmed their intention to rekindle their relationship, leaving many fans puzzled.

4. Mentega Terbang's director faced extreme reactions and death threats

Image via Mashable SEA

The controversy surrounding the local film, Mentega Terbang, escalated when its director, Khairi Anwar Jailani, and screenwriter, Arjun Thanaraju, found their cars splashed with acid and paint in March. Death threats left at the scene raised concerns about censorship and artistic freedom in Malaysia.

The movie was officially banned in Malaysia on 1 September after critics argued that it went against the Muslim creed.

It tells the story of the religious conflict of a Muslim teenager. The trailer shows Aisyah, a teenager grappling with her mother's terminal illness, forming a close friendship with an Indian Malaysian boy as she explores the diverse viewpoints offered by different religions.

Muslim apostasy, the act of giving up one's religious beliefs, is considered a crime in Malaysia and is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or mandatory counselling.

Despite facing death threats and having his movie banned, Khairi said in early this month that he plans to sue the government over the ban.

The entire incident triggered public discussions on the film's depiction of religion, freedom of expression, and the extremist reactions directed towards both the movie and its director.

5. Swatch fought back after the government seized its Pride Watches

Swatch's Pride Collection featuring rainbow-coloured watches sparked controversy when officials from the Home Ministry raided 11 stores and seized the merchandise in May.

Citing violation of the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the move ignited debates on LGBT rights and freedom of expression.

The controversy continued to escalate after Swatch Malaysia said it would replenish its Pride Collection at its stores. By July, the company said it would take the government to court for seizing 172 of its watches.

The clash between Swatch and the government came at a time after Coldplay, a band that is known for throwing colourful concerts and a supporter of LGBT movement, announced its show in Malaysia.

6. Nobody said it was easy for Coldplay to hold a concert in Malaysia

Left to right: PAS central working committee member Nasrudin Hassan and Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin.

Image via Zulfadhli Zulkifli/New Straits Times

On 9 May, Coldplay officially announced its Music of the Spheres World Tour in Malaysia scheduled for 22 November. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim even made a video to welcome Coldplay.

However, Coldplay's concert in Malaysia faced backlash from PAS, with its central working committee member Nasrudin Hassan expressing concern about the band's perceived support for LGBT rights.

At one point, some Malaysians blamed Coldplay when Kuala Lumpur was struck by a heavy storm, arguing, "Even KL doesn't accept Coldplay. This is God warning us."

Despite the controversy surrounding their concert, Coldplay's lead singer Chris Martin responded with kindness, inviting everyone to attend their concert.

"Everybody is welcome to our show. We love all people, all kinds of people, all religions. All leaders, all followers — nobody is excluded," said Martin.

The controversy did not die down, as calls to cancel the concert continued until a week before the band's show in Malaysia.

On 22 November, the concert went smoothly. The band even recited a poem, dedicated a song to the rain in Malaysia, and thanked the government for allowing them to perform.

7. Jocelyn Chia faced intense backlash over MH370 joke

Left to right: Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani and Jocelyn Chia.

Image via Harian Metro

US-based comedian Jocelyn Chia riled up the entire nation when she a video of her making an insensitive joke about the missing flight MH370 went viral in early June.

Not only did she joke about the unresolved tragedy, but she also dropped an F-bomb on Malaysia, criticising the country for separating from Singapore and still being a developing nation.

Malaysian netizens and authorities took offence at her materials, prompting the Royal Malaysia Police to seek Interpol's help in locating her.

Despite the negative attention, she went on a slew of media interviews to defend her jokes, arguing that "tragedy + time = comedy".

The issue prompted Singaporean authorities and comedians to apologise to Malaysia over Chia's jokes, and several local comedians had also lectured Chia on how to make tasteful jokes without touching on topics that are deeply personal or tragic.

8. Kedah MB Sanusi arrested for making seditious remarks against the Selangor Sultan

Image via Bernama

In a dramatic pre-dawn raid on 18 July, Kedah Menteri Besar (MB) Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi was arrested in a Mont Kiara hotel room.

He was indicted for making seditious remarks against the Selangor Sultan, and he pleaded not guilty.

The controversial PAS leader was said to have drawn a comparison between the Kedah and Selangor Sultans during a pre-election ceramah, saying that the Kedah ruler would not have appointed someone as "lousy" as Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari as the Selangor MB.

Sanusi is no stranger to controversies, but the charge marks the first lawsuit that could land him in possible jail time, as he has faced no repercussions for his previous controversies.

9. The 1975's performative activism in Malaysia brought more trouble than progress to the local gay rights movement

English band The 1975 performed on the first day of the Good Vibes Festival on 21 July, and their actions led to the cancellation of the entire three-day music festival after lead singer Matthew Healy kissed his bandmate, Ross MacDonald, on stage.

Their stunt was seen as a protest to the country's anti-LGBT laws.

Immediately after their performance, the pop band flew out of Malaysia and cancelled their upcoming shows in Taiwan and Indonesia.

Their actions not only caused financial losses for the concert organisers, food and beverage vendors, and concertgoers, but also prompted the government to implement a 'kill switch' button on future concerts to prevent similar acts on stage.

Many local activists and members of the LGBT community expressed criticism of The 1975's approach to supporting gay rights, noting that the band failed to take into account the local climate on the issue before taking action.

Critics contended that The 1975 had the privilege of leaving Malaysia, whereas members of the local  LGBT community had to bear the repercussions of the band's actions, providing local authorities with justification to target them.

10. PM Anwar argued that meritocracy is a "flawed" system

On 5 August, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim waded into the sensitive topic of university quotas when a young student asked why the government does not practise meritocracy in university enrolments.

The prime minister admitted that while quotas were not ideal, they were necessary for maintaining unity in the country. Abolishing them, he warned, could cause his coalition to lose the next election, citing that Bersatu and PAS would use the education reformation to oust his administration.

The student's question and Anwar's response ignited an online debate, with some criticising his tone toward the young girl while others defended his stance.

The video of the exchange was widely shared on social media, as no previous prime ministers had extensively discussed the topic.

The quota system remains in place for now, while ongoing discussions and proposals for reform continue.

11. A Malaysian who lied about being awarded a NASA scholarship attempted to scam his way into the Perdana Fellowship

In September, Malaysians became aware of Muhammad Azhar Aly's latest deception, reminiscent of his previous stunt in 2020 when he falsely claimed to have been awarded a NASA scholarship and fooled the entire nation, including then-prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and then-science, technology, and innovation minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

This time, Investment, Trade, and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz and the Youth and Sports Ministry were deceived by Muhammad Azhar's "achievements" after he was accepted into the prestigious Perdana Fellowship.

In his application to the fellowship programme, he claimed to be the winner of the WorldQuant Brain 2022 Global Alphathon, the Best Delegate at the Bank Negara Fiscal Policy Summit 2021, and the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2021 Runner-Up.

These achievements were fabricated, with Bank Negara confirming with SAYS that the central bank has never had an award called "Best Delegate".

After his fake credentials were exposed, Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh dropped him from the programme and offered him counselling sessions.

12. A Muslim hawker found himself in hot water as accusations surfaced regarding the alleged use of red wine in claypot chicken rice

Image via Harian Metro

In mid-September, a popular hawker stall's signature claypot chicken rice recipe came under fire when claims of rice wine usage in the dish sparked concerns about its halal status.

This ignited debates about cultural sensitivity, food traditions, and responsible online speculation.

To address the issue, the hawker, Ahmad Muzakin Mohd Amir, vehemently denied the allegations, saying, "I swear on Allah that I do not use non-halal ingredients as claimed by people online."

"This is my dignity, and as a Muslim, I am responsible and sincere in doing business for the sustenance of my family," he added.

The controversy came to an end after he explained that the "red wine" that people accused him of using was just sesame oil.

The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) also clarified that Muzakin's stall did not receive a halal certificate, urging Muslim consumers to be mindful when patronising food premises and to check its official portal to ascertain whether eateries held valid certification.

13. MYAirline took a nosedive and ceased operations

In mid-October, MYAirline, touted as Malaysia's new budget carrier, faced turbulent skies just months after launch.

The airline encountered a series of troubles — the resignation of its interim chief executive officer, grounded flights, and aircraft repossession requests — after it announced that it would cease operations on 12 October.

By 18 October, MYAirline co-founder and majority shareholder Datuk Allan Goh and his family were arrested on corruption charges, adding a dramatic twist to the saga.

Currently, the airline's sudden suspension has affected 125,000 passengers, with RM20 million worth of tickets sold.

The Malaysian Aviation Commission later demanded that MYAirline refund travellers who had standing flight bookings with the airline.

Despite reaching the one million passenger milestone in June, MYAirline will be remembered in history as the much-anticipated new budget airline that ultimately became a business failure.

14. A pork nasi kandar review sparked confusion and debate over the tradition of the dish

On 23 October, a food influencer's review of a non-halal pork nasi kandar stall ignited controversy.

The Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Entrepreneurs Association (PRESMA) expressed concerns about confusing Muslim customers with pork nasi kandar, claiming that putting pork in the dish was "an insult".

However, vendor Suresh Gnanasekaran clarified that his stall should not confuse anyone as it is located in a Chinese kopitiam with clear signs stating that his offerings are non-halal.

PRESMA reversed its position a few days after the issue went viral, saying it had "no choice" but to accept the term 'nasi kandar babi' now.

Below is a video of us trying out Suresh's nasi kandar to celebrate diversity in our food culture:

@saysdotcom Pork nasi kandar? Mango fish curry?!Pork nasi lemak?! Sardine cutlets. Sedapnyaaaaaaaa. Food solves everything, it's the strongest unifying factor, so janganlah use it to gaduhhhh. Letih sistur. Just eat some good kozhumbu (curry) lah, it pretty much solves everything. #nasikandar #malaysianfood #food #malaysian #curry #pork #indianfood #indian #kualalumpur original sound - saysdotcom

15. Grab co-founder's wife allegedly expressed support for Israel amid a Malaysian movement to boycott businesses with Israeli ties

Following Israel's military offensive in Gaza in October, many Malaysians have been boycotting certain businesses that have alleged ties to Israel.

Several companies, such as US Pizza and ZUS Coffee, have come under boycott pressure despite having no affiliations with Israel or the US.

For a different reason, Grab was also among them. The wife of co-founder Anthony Tan launched the billion-dollar company into boycott turmoil after she allegedly expressed support for Israel on Instagram Stories, triggering online criticism and raising concerns about the ride-hailing company's neutrality and ethical stance.

On 3 November, Grab issued a statement clarifying that the company is "on the side of humanity", adding that the individual's Instagram Stories were taken "out of context".

Two days after the statement, Grab said it would donate RM1 million in humanitarian aid to affected individuals in Gaza.

16. MUDA President Syed Saddiq felled by corruption charges

Image via FMT

On 9 November, Muar lawmaker and MUDA president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman's meteoric rise was abruptly halted when he was sentenced to seven years in jail, two strokes of the cane, and a fined RM10 million for money laundering and misappropriation of funds belonging to Bersatu's youth wing.

This shocking verdict rocked the political landscape, particularly as Syed Saddiq is regarded as a promising young politician known for his vocal stance on reformation and anti-corruption.

Syed Saddiq is currently out on bail, awaiting the outcome of his appeal. In the meantime, he has also stepped down from the presidency of MUDA.

With his reputation now tainted, many political analysts and voters are concerned about the future of Malaysian youth politics.

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