21 Political Incidents In Malaysia To Remember In 2021

2021 has been a crazy year. And the politics in Malaysia made it crazier.

Cover image via SAYS

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1. Nationwide Emergency

On 12 January, Malaysia was put under a nationwide emergency under then premier Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's directive.

Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah had in a statement said that he had consented to declare an emergency as a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19.

For context, the country recorded about 2,000 to 3,000 new COVID-19 cases daily in the first month of 2021. Malaysians only began receiving vaccines for the virus on 24 February onwards.

During the televised address about the proclamation of emergency, Muhyiddin assured the nation that the move was not a "military coup".

At that time, several constituencies in West Malaysia and the state of Sarawak had to hit the poll due to the requirement as stipulated in the Federal Constitution. The emergency was said to be the only way to delay the elections.

Also, the emergency empowered the government to utilise the resources of private hospitals to fight the COVID-19 battle, control prices of goods, and mobilise soldiers, among other things.

You can read more about the details of the proclamation of emergency in Malaysia here.

The emergency ended on 1 August, but not before then de facto law minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan shockingly revealed in Parliament that all Emergency Ordinances had been revoked since 21 July. 

The move upset Istana Negara.

2. Tajuddin's controversial behaviour at a press conference

Pasir Salak member of parliament (MP) Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul was fired by the Ministry of Finance as the chairman of Prasarana Malaysia Bhd on 26 May.

This came after the UMNO politician's controversial behaviour at a press conference following the LRT Kelana Jaya line train collision incident on the night of 24 May.

He was criticised for giving rude responses to journalists and not taking the accident seriously during the press conference.

Following that, he was slapped with a RM1,500 fine for failing to wear a face mask at the press conference.

3. The #BenderaPutih movement

In late June, the nation started a public movement called 'Bendera Putih'. It was a movement for the rakyat, by the rakyat.

In essence, the movement invited people who struggled with food or money to raise a white flag outside their residence so that others could help them get through during the pandemic.

SAYS managed to speak to the person who made a poster that is believed to have started the entire movement.

They told us that the movement started on a whim after seeing a random comment online.

While the movement had shown the spirit of unity and selflessness of Malaysians, Kedah Menteri Besar (MB) Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor allegedly said his state government will not recognise the movement. 

The statement had upset many Malaysians.

4. Dr Adham Baba mistakenly said "Spanish fly" instead of Spanish flu

In July, an old video showing then health minister Dr Adham Baba making a gaffe about the Spanish flu went viral.

While giving a speech at Universiti Putra Malaysia, he said that in 1916, or 1919, the "Spanish fly" had killed about a million people around the world and it happened for two years.

He then corrected himself and called it the Spanish epidemic, thus implying that he was referring to the Spanish flu.

5. Netizens criticised Nazri and his wife for flouting their privilege

In 2021, Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz was embroiled in controversies several times.

On 20 January, his wife Datin Seri Haflin Saiful sparked outrage online after posting videos of her walking on a beach with a pink wristband.

The pink wristband was given to people who had to practise self-quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Netizens criticised her for flouting the rules, however, she said the beach was a private area.

In July, Nazri and his family infuriated netizens again because they managed to travel to Paris to enrol their five-year-old in school.

Instead of explaining the importance of the trip, he reprimanded those who criticised him for being able to travel during the pandemic.

He boasted how he was able to retain his constituency seat for six terms and claimed that he did not use the rakyat's money to fund his Paris trip.

His comments backfired and caused more netizens to criticise him for his arrogant behaviour.

In August, Nazri announced that he will retire from politics after his term ends.

6. The #HartalDoktorKontrak movement

A group of doctors — fed up with the administration ignoring employee rights of junior doctors working in public hospitals — staged a protest on 26 July to demand that the government hire them as full-time doctors instead of offering them contractual positions.

They protested under the hashtag #HartalDoktorKontrak. Many of them conducted a brief walk-out on the day to support the movement.

Many of them also quit their jobs due to burnout and disappointment with the Ministry of Health (MOH), said the protest group.

However, little has changed over the months as the Supply Bill 2022 did not address the conundrum that the junior doctors are facing.

They planned to stage another nationwide walk-out but it was postponed on 8 December pending the outcome of a Cabinet meeting.

Learn more about the plight of junior doctors, who have worked tirelessly to save the rakyat during the pandemic, here.

7. Chaos on the first day of Parliament sitting in 2021

The first day of the parliament sitting this year was a day to remember. Not only did it mark a return to functional democracy under Muhyiddin's administration, but it was also a day of shouting matches between the Opposition, the government, and the Speaker.

On 26 July, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun was accused of being the government's lap dog, while Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo told Muhyiddin to step down as the prime minister.

On that day, then de facto law minister Takiyuddin also dropped a bombshell that all Emergency Ordinances had been revoked since 21 July, a move that later upset the Istana Negara.

Meanwhile, International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali had also left netizens and MPs scratching their heads when he pulled out a printout to show 8.8% of the COVID-19 clusters came from the manufacturing sector.

His action was made into memes within just a day. You can check out the memes here.

8. The Opposition's march to the parliament building

Not long after the crucial democratic system was restored, Opposition MPs were barred from entering the parliament building on 2 August.

The reason for the closure, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH), was because there was a COVID-19 outbreak on the premises.

However, the Opposition contended that the move was seen as a way to avoid the pressure charged at the government in the parliament.

The Opposition was chanting "Long live the King" and "Muhyiddin step down" as they marched from Dataran Merdeka to the parliament building.

More than a month later on 14 September, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar explained that it was the police's decision that the road leading to the Parliament building was closed, adding that he had no knowledge of the move.

9. Muhyiddin resigns from the Prime Minister post

On 16 August, Muhyiddin resigned from the prime minister post after having an audience with the Agong.

Following his resignation, he said in a press conference that he will never conspire with kleptocratic groups, interfere with the independence of the judiciary, and turn his back on the Federal Constitution just to stay in power.

The fall of his administration came after 11 UMNO MPs signed statutory declarations (SDs) to withdraw support for Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Muhyiddin, causing the then government to lose a simple majority in parliament.

The pack was led by UMNO president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Prior to that, UMNO had as early as January this year mooted severing ties with Bersatu.

Despite being ousted, Muhyiddin was appointed as the National Recovery Council chairperson with ministerial rank under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yakoob's administration.

10. Ismail Sabri becomes the ninth Prime Minister

Following Muhyiddin's resignation, Ismail Sabri was appointed as the ninth Prime Minister with 114 MPs backing him, said the Comptroller of the Royal Household Datuk Indera Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin on 20 August.

The Agong took about a week to speak to all party leaders in order to find out the premier candidate with the most support.

About a week after his appointment, Ismail Sabri unveiled his Cabinet line-up, which is mostly made up of the same people from Muhyiddin's administration.

You can check out the Cabinet line-up here. Meanwhile, you can also learn more about Ismail Sabri's background here.

11. Historic Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the Opposition

After the formation of Ismail Sabri's administration, the government and the Opposition came to a truce to sign a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

The MoU can be seen as a form of bipartisanship, which the agreement states is in line with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's decree for more cooperation between two opposing political coalitions.

This will help both sides to stop all forms of political bickering and focus on bringing the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.

It was signed with the aim to achieve political stability and push for several reforms in the parliament.

You can read about the details of the MoU here.

12. Drinking Timah is like "drinking a Malay woman"

Local whiskey brand Timah was under the spotlight after the Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP) slammed the brand for affronting the Muslim community.

The issue started in mid-October, and it lasted until mid-November.

At the height of the controversy, PKR MP Rusnah Aluai likened drinking Timah to "drinking a Malay woman".

She made the statement during a parliament sitting after PAS MP Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi asked the government what action will be taken to resolve the confusion that Muslim consumers face on food delivery apps.

The issue even led the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP) to speak to the whiskey producer about changing the product name.

However, the discussion ended with the Cabinet allowing the company to keep its Timah name, but the company has to add a label on the back of the bottle to explain the name's origin.

13. The government's untimely spending on office renovation and official vehicle upgrade

Between late September and early November, the government was criticised for spending an exorbitant amount of money on upgrading the facilities provided to politicians with official roles while many people in the country were struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.

It was confirmed by the government that it had spent RM30 million to renovate Seri Perdana Complex, the Prime Minister's official residence in Putrajaya.

The reason for the upgrade was to improve the safety of the living spaces and uphold the country's image.

Later in early November, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz revealed that the government has upgraded the official vehicles for Cabinet Ministers from Proton Perdana 2.4L to Toyota Vellfire 2.5L.

In a written parliamentary reply, Zafrul said, up until September this year, the government had paid RM1.42 million to the vehicle provider company.

The news had upset many citizens and MPs had criticised the government for the untimely spending when the money could have been used to help people during the health and economic crisis.

14. PAS leaders allegedly treat a journalist without respect

On 14 November, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Idris Ahmad and Human Resources Deputy Minister Datuk Awang Hashim received flak for bullying a reporter.

Veteran reporter Minderjeet Kaur from Free Malaysia Today was asking Idris to speak on the Kedah government's decision to ban the sale of 4D lotteries in the state, but she was interjected by Awang who asked her to speak in Bahasa Melayu.

The PAS leader also asked whether she was a Malaysian. Idris, too, bullied the reporter by bringing her family into the discussion despite her protest.

Following that, Idris denied any wrongdoing in the exchange with the reporter while Awang told the parliament that all sectors in Malaysia should conduct interviews in Bahasa Melayu.

By the end of November, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri echoed what Awang had said.

He reprimanded private companies, government-linked companies (GLCs), and government agencies for not prioritising the use of Bahasa Melayu in their daily operations, telling the companies to start using the national language during meetings from thereon.

15. Melaka state election

On 20 November, Melaka conducted a state election.

This came after Sungai Udang state assemblyperson (ADUN) Datuk Seri Idris Haron, Pantai Kundor ADUN Datuk Nor Azman Hassan, Telok Mas ADUN Datuk Noor Effandi Ahmad, and Pengkalan Batu ADUN Datuk Norhizam Hassan Baktee withdrew their support for Menteri Besar (MB) Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali.

However, the political manoeuvring proved futile as Sulaiman was reinstated as the MB after Barisan Nasional (BN) won the election by securing 21 seats out of the total 28 seats.

Sulaiman said that BN's victory is a reflection of the people's need to have a stable government. He promised to do his best to serve.

The Election Commission (EC) had previously estimated that it would need about RM46 million to organise the state election.

16. The implementation of Undi18

On 15 December, the implementation of 'Undi 18', the law that lowers the voting age from 21 to 18 and allows all electorates to be automatically registered for voting, came into effect.

The hurdle to implementing 'Undi 18' was a year-long process as the government had previously delayed its implementation, citing the Movement Control Order (MCO) had hindered the process of implementing it.

It took a group of youths to file a judicial review application to compel the government to implement Undi 18 and on 3 September, the Kuching High Court ruled in favour of the youths.

You can learn more about the importance of 'Undi 18' here.

17. Najib fails to appeal his SRC International case

After being convicted for more than a year in the SRC International case by the Kuala Lumpur High Court, former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak failed to appeal his case at the Court of Appeal on 8 December.

The three-panel court reportedly agreed with the High Court's findings that the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Najib was involved in corruption.

Court of Appeal judge Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil said there is no is reason to contradict High Court Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali's verdict.

He said SRC International was not of national interest but for Najib's personal benefit, before calling the investment company a national embarrassment.

However, despite the ruling, Najib succeeded in getting a stay of execution, which is essentially a temporary suspension of the defendant's punishment, pending a fresh appeal to the Federal Court.

He was also granted a stay of execution when the High Court ruled last year that he was guilty in the corruption case.

18. Mahathir's controversial statement

On 12 December, former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad offended minorities in Malaysia by saying Chinese and Indian Malaysians cannot assimilate into the Malaysian culture because they identify strongly with their racial roots.

Drawing the method of eating as an example, Mahathir said Malaysian Chinese using chopsticks to eat instead of hands show the challenges that the country faces to form a unified identity.

"For example, the Chinese eat with chopsticks. We eat with [our] hands. They have not adopted the Malaysian way of eating food," said the 96-year-old.

"They retain the chopsticks, which is an identity [of] China, not Malaysia."

You can read more about the issue here.

19. Sarawak state election

On 18 December, GSP won the Sarawak state election in a landslide victory, securing 76 out of the 85 seats.

The Sarawak state election was delayed multiple times during the pandemic due to nationwide and statewide emergencies.

In the state election, PSB won four seats while DAP won two seats.

You can see the breakdown of the results here.

20. Flash floods in eight states

Before the year ended, eight states in Malaysia faced a disaster on top of the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic.

Tens of thousands of Malaysians were displaced by the flash floods, with Selangor being one of the worst-hit areas as the state does not frequently suffer from severe flooding as compared to other states.

Many flood victims in Shah Alam reportedly received no help for more than a day after the flash floods hit, and many Malaysians and foreigners alike had come together to save each other during this trying time.

In the aftermath of the event, National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) director-general Datuk Dr Aminuddin Hassim refuted claims that the agency was slow in coordinating rescue initiatives for flood victims, while its operations director Datuk Hussein Omar Khan said otherwise.

Hussein Omar revealed that the agency needed time to mobilise assets and human resources from other states, which might have caused the delay.

He also cited various other reasons for the lacklustre response, saying that the population density in Selangor is much higher than in other flood-prone states.

You can read more about it here.

21. Rina Harun's alleged 'out of place' appearances at a PPS

While flood victims were taking shelter at hundreds of temporary flood relief centres (PPS) throughout Malaysia, Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Rina Mohd Harun had upset Malaysians on several separate occasions.

On the first occasion, she was criticised for wearing a pair of high heels when she visited a PPS, while other MPs had worn appropriate gear to get themselves into floodwater to rescue stranded victims.

Later in late December, she was slammed by netizens again for 'posing' for photos while she was visiting another PPS.

In a video, she can be seen cleaning the floor of a school with a water jet while over a dozen individuals stand from afar watching her at work.

At least six bystanders are holding cameras to take photos and videos of Rina.

Following that, the Social Welfare Department (JKM) defended Rina and said the minister was sweeping the floor, setting up a tent, and carrying tables at the PPS.

As for the video showing her using a water jet, JKM said Rina was cleaning up bird dropping stains and the photos taken were meant for public viewing.

Check out our wrap-up video about the significant events of 2021 in Malaysia below:

Meanwhile, check out 21 kindest things Malaysians did in 2021:

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