Author Archives: wcw

Amphibious ambitions aplenty

Leap of faith. Hope to hop. Call it what you will, but ultimately, the self-serving surprises politicians spring on us are rarely welcome.

IF there’s one thing common among Sabah politicians, it’s them having belonged to more than one party. In fact, one even has the incredulous record of joining six.

None of them dares cast aspersions on anyone, especially their opponents, when they or their parties have been part of attempts to topple each other through sudden defections.

Well, let’s call them political frogs for their lack of moral principles and contemptuous disregard to honour the votes of the people, even if this behaviour doesn’t raise an eyebrow in Sabah.

It’s almost acceptable political culture in Sabah, these constant betrayals of trusts and hypocrisy. Their reasons for jumping ship purportedly to serve us (the people) better and more effectively simply insult us.

Curiously, it’s never about serving their own interests or their pockets, but always the people.

Last week, Tan Sri Musa Aman failed in his bid to topple incumbent Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, but it was a classic tit-for-tat scenario.

In 2018, following the May General Election, both Sabah Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan ally, Parti Warisan Sabah, led by Shafie, won 29 seats each from the 60 state seats.

Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (Sabah STAR) headed by Datuk Jeffrey Kitinggan, Pairin’s brother, came to Barisan’s rescue by pledging support of the party’s two seats to Musa, leading to the latter being sworn in first on May 10,2018.

Yet, the following day, four Sabah Umno representatives and two from the United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) hopped to Shafie’s camp, leading to him being sworn in as CM.

Musa was asked to quit amid the turmoil of having two CMs, and in the court case he filed against Shafie and the governor Tun Juhar Mahiruddin, the court ruled against him, too.

In the eyes of the public, Musa and Juhar look to be at odds, and the murmurings turned from whisper to chatter when Juhar lodged a police report against Musa for alleged criminal intimidation, which Musa duly denied.

Basically, Shafie formed the state government courtesy of the six frogs from Barisan.

Fast forward to 2020, and Musa retaliated with the same tactic by having frogs from Warisan, Upko, PKR and DAP make up his total of 33 representatives for a simple majority.

Musa is upset that Juhar refused to see him, and Shafie has successfully denied his (Musa’s) plan by dissolving the state assembly for a fresh state election.

But the events of 2018, last week and 1994 must have been déjà vu for Parti Bersatu Sabah founder Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, 79, another former CM.

In 1994, PBS won the state elections with a two-seat majority while Sabah Umno won almost all the predominantly Muslim majority seats.

It was an emotionally charged campaign, because Umno had just made its entry into Sabah, and almost the entire federal machinery was parked in the state.

This writer spent weeks in the state to cover the election and the Kinabalu Hyatt Hotel was where everyone seemed to be staying, including the federal ministers.

One could hear the ranting and raving among campaigners staying in the next room, or at the next table in the coffee house. It truly was an exciting time to be a political reporter.

There were allegations of systematic citizenship granted to immigrants to turn them into voters. The alleged plan goes by the monikers of either Project M – referencing former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – or Project IC. To this day, it remains a bitter subject among Sabahans, especially the Kadazandusuns.

The project has been described as having changed the demographic electoral pattern of Sabah, as well as ethnic and religious factors.

Given the razor thin majority, Pairin hurried to the palace to get himself sworn in but was denied entry.

With his car parked in front of the gates, and his engine running to keep the air conditioner on, he found himself surrounded by a swarm of supporters, reporters, policemen and curious onlookers.

He waited 36 hours, during which a mobile toilet even had to be set up. As reporters, we took turns to keep vigil under the hot sun and a downpour for any developments.

Pairin was finally allowed in, but his government lasted only two weeks before defections, including his own PBS men, forced him to quit on March 17,1994.

It was worse in the 1985 state polls, where PBS also won with a slim majority, which was followed by a series of bombings in Kota Kinabalu and other areas, pressuring the PBS government to collapse.

Kuala Lumpur, which was backing Parti Bersatu Jelata Sabah (Berjaya) under then CM, Tan Sri Harris Salleh, was agitated by the PBS campaign to protect the rights of non-Muslims and Kadazan-dusuns.

In the polls, PBS won 25 of the 48 seats in the state assembly while Berjaya won only six. Tun Mustapha Harun’s United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) won 16 seats.

Mustapha got himself sworn in as CM with 22 seats but was replaced hours later by Pairin after former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam intervened requesting the democratic process be honoured.

However, Pairin’s government was so bogged by defections that he called a snap election in 1986, which strengthened his position with a sound majority.

Party hopping has never stopped in Sabah because there, it’s a culture of strong-willed political warlords with plenty of resources to reward and punish.

Political allegiance is non-existent in the state. To put it simply, almost all of them are up for sale in the eyes of the people. There are few honourable members of the state assembly, with honour a rare commodity, unfortunately.

Jeffrey Kitingan, the Sabah STAR president, has been a member of PBS, Angkatan Keadilan Rakyat (Akar), Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), PKR and Sarawak-based State Reform Party. He also tried to join Umno twice but was rejected.

He probably holds the Malaysian record for having joined the most parties.

Jeffrey is now the MP for Keningau and is the Deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister at federal level.

Shafie began his political career with Usno and became an Umno member when Usno dissolved to bring Umno into Sabah in 1991. Suspended from Umno, he left to set up Warisan in 2016.

His arch-rival Musa also launched his political career with Usno, before becoming an Umno member.

PKR’s Datuk Christina Liew, a deputy chief minister, started out a PBS candidate in the Tawau parliamentary seat but then quit to join MCA, before leaving for PKR in 1995.

The late Stephen Wong Thien Fatt, the former MP for Sandakan, cut his teeth in Berjaya but quit to join Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), before settling in DAP.

DAP’s Datuk Frankie Poon Min Fong, the state Health Minister, was said to be a strong supporter of PBS.

A fresh election – like what Shafie has done now – is futile if there’s no genuine desire for change in Sabah’s political culture.

It doesn’t help that the same strongmen continue to dictate the agenda in the state. And anti-hopping laws are pointless because these elected representatives can remain independents while giving their valuable votes to preferred leaders.

Not helping the cause is Sabah voters failing to give a strong mandate to their state government, which has constantly led to weak and unstable chief ministers who find themselves having to cut deals to increase their numbers.

The Land Below The Wind, well known for its beautiful people of all ethnicities and scenic mountains and seas, is however, tainted by dubious politicians who have earned the state the infamy of being the Land Of Political Frogs.

Raised on rubber

Making Malaysia proud: All eyes are on Lim and Top Glove’s performance next – will it set a new record in the stock market? — Filepic

The gloves are off as Top Glove moves up the stock exchange, beating banks along the way. The bet is on whether it will be in the number one spot soon.

MALAYSIAN businessman Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai is certainly the man of the hour. He is going places no Malaysian tycoons have.

The boss of Top Glove Corporation Bhd, the world’s largest gloves manufacturer, has found his company placed as third largest market capitalisation listed on Bursa.

On Thursday, Top Glove was in second spot, but it slipped to third when Bursa closed on Friday, with Public Bank taking over.

Pole position is still Maybank’s, which had a market capitalisation of RM88.244bil, against Top Glove’s at RM70.466bil on Thursday. Maybank’s share price closed at RM7.85 on Friday against Top Glove’s RM25.44.

Top Glove was at No.9 on the Singapore Exchange on Thursday, outranking bigger names like Singapore Airlines and Capitaland Ltd even.

Top Glove is expected to create Malaysian history soon by announcing the biggest jump in quarterly profit for a listed company.

The surge of the company’s share price is being watched closely by many Malaysians. Likewise, Lim’s increasing wealth, which has grown by millions by the week.

The real-time world billionaire ranking now has Lim at 443 in a list of 2,095 of the world’s richest persons with a wealth of at least US$5.2bil (RM24bil) as at July 23.

The 62-year-old Universiti Malaya physics graduate and Tunku Abdul Rahman College alumnus is ranked Malaysia’s 14th richest person in this year.By now, many foreigners would have sat up and taken note of Lim and his incredible showing in the stock market due to the demand for his rubber products amid the Covid-19 scourge.

Most tycoons are either reclusive, eccentric, heavily guarded or flamboyant, but Lim checks none of the above.

Westerners and even those of us not familiar with his name, would be surprised by his modest lifestyle.

He is a strong supporter of Tzu Chi, like fellow tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan.

Tzu Chi, headquartered in Taiwan, is a Buddhist charitable organisation which has volunteers and supporters all over the world. Malaysia, with a million-strong following, is an integral overseas centre.

Lim has been involved in Tzu Chi’s fund-raising efforts for some years, thanks to his persuasive wife Puan Sri Tong Siew Bee, a full time and long-time Tzu Chi volunteer.

Sharing his experience of serving Tzu Chi, Lim said he could only raise RM36 on his first outing after walking the streets for two hours.

“Nobody knew me and few donated. But that frustration did not dampen my enthusiasm to carry out good and meaningful work, ” he said in an interview with The Star.

Despite having to manage a huge corporation for six-and-a-half days a week, Lim persisted in availing himself to attend Tzu Chi’s volunteer course to be a “qualified and certified” volunteer.

Those unfamiliar with the Tzu Chi way would be stunned if they saw a tycoon like Lim seeking donations in public places, where volunteers need to bow and thank donors and the people they help.

Tzu Chi volunteers consider it an honour and privilege to engage in charitable work. The organisation has even helped rebuild mosques and churches in areas affected by disasters.

Lim’s most distinctive feature is his constant reminder to his listeners – especially those meeting him for the first time and sharing a moment – to take care of their body to remain healthy.

It hasn’t been easy for me being a Penangite with a love for food that includes greasy carb favourites, of which Lim would surely disapprove.

Last week, he texted this writer to reveal that he has been a complete vegetarian for the past two years, adding that his wife and son are also vegetarians.

Rule number one – stay fit and healthy! That was his opening line at a talk given to entrepreneurs. It’s an important criterion for those wishing to achieve great goals in life.

“When you are sick, you don’t earn anything, and you continue to have to spend money on fixed expenses on top of medical costs. But when you’re healthy, you can add value every day, ” he said.

He also has a peculiar induction for all new employees – everyone receives a toothbrush, toothpaste, tongue cleaner and dental floss, and all staff are required to brush their teeth three times a day.

In an interview, Lim set a goal of staying healthy and living until 120 years old.

He reportedly told The Health digital magazine that placing a priority on mental and physical well-being has helped him build his wealth.

Lim has practised what he calls his “5 Quality Wells” since young – clean well, eat well, work well, exercise well and sleep well – which he believes to be the formula for a long, healthy and prosperous life.

The company also monitors the body mass index (BMI) of its staff and has a policy of not hiring smokers. It also has full time nutritionists to design the company’s cafeteria menu and advise its workers on suitable diets.

Lim exercises four days a week, which comprises two days of badminton and two more of evening golf, and on occasion, he plays table tennis, too.

Top Glove employees are also required to sign a pledge every year to vouch that they will not condone or be involved in corrupt practices, with all new staff required to attend compulsory training specifically focused on combating corruption.

It has been a tremendous journey for Lim and his wife, who started their company in 1991 with their entire savings of just RM180,000.

Failure was not an option, he said, since they had no backup plan.

Fortunately, with his parents owning a small rubber plantation, he was exposed to the rubber trade from early on, while growing up in the small town of Titi in Negri Sembilan.

It’s interesting how other tycoons also ventured into the rubber gloves business but gave up because of the small profit margin then.

However, Lim persevered, and today Top Glove controls 26% of the world’s rubber glove market with 43 factories worldwide and with an annual production capacity of over 70.5 billion gloves.

Lim is certainly a good entrepreneur to emulate. A couple of years ago, I invited him to share his thoughts and experiences with readers of The Star.On the eve of the talk, I decided to turn up at the venue to make sure the sound system and seating arrangements were in order, and I was surprised to see Lim rehearsing his lines on stage – 24 hours before the event.

This is a man who takes his work seriously and is driven by a goal. Yet, he remains down to earth with almost no extravagance one can think of.

Almost everyone, especially in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong, is holding their breath to see how Top Glove performs next and if its shares will surpass the RM30 mark and set a new record for being on top.

This isn’t exactly a rags-to-riches tale, but certainly a fantastic story of a small-town man becoming one of the richest people in the world dealing with a commodity Malaysia knows best – rubber.

Memories of Mandela and a Malaysian’s role

A file picture of Mandela (left) with Dr Mahathir during his visit to Malaysia in 1990.

IT hardly seems like three decades ago, but on the hot summer day of Feb 27, 1990, I stood on the tarmac of the Lusaka airport in Zambia to welcome African hero Nelson Mandela.

I was there as part of the Malaysian delegation led by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to welcome Mandela, who was making his first trip abroad following his release from prison after serving time for 27 years.

Dr Mahathir was the only non-African leader invited to accord a hero’s welcome for this iconic figure and I was fortunate enough to be able to cover this historic moment as a journalist.

All six leaders of the African countries bordering South Africa, and Uganda, were on hand to greet this great man, who then Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda described as “a truly great son of Africa.”

Tens of thousands of Zambians turned out to get a glimpse of Mandela, who was heralded throughout Africa as the embodiment of the struggle against South Africa’s apartheid system of racial separation.

The atmosphere at the airport was electric. Zambia was chosen by Mandela as his first visit overseas because it had allowed the African National Congress (ANC), headed by him, to set up its “exiled” headquarters there.

Today, the world celebrates Nelson Mandela International Day to remember his achievements in working towards conflict resolution, democracy, human rights, peace, and reconciliation.

For Malaysia, we rebuked South Africa’s apartheid and refused to recognise its government from 1957, when we achieved independence.

Tunku Abdul Rahman took a strong stand against the apartheid government from Day One.

And in 1990, when Malaysia hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) summit in Kuala Lumpur, we invited a delegation of ANC leaders including Thabo Mbeki, whom I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing.

Mbeki would become the second president of South Africa, after Mandela, from 1994 to 2008.

The ANC was deeply grateful for the open support displayed by Dr Mahathir, who hosted the historic CHOGM meeting in KL, so it was no surprise that our then PM was given the honour of greeting Mandela at Lusaka airport.

But there’s one Malaysian name absent from the story of the formation of the South African government under Mandela.

That person is Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, who played a crucial role in helping the ANC run its first general election.

ANC leaders were freedom fighters. To the white government, they were just terrorists, but the ANC had no experience entering a democratic election either.

Lim, who runs the LimKokWing University, recently found himself in a controversy over a huge poster depicting a caricature of him and a lion, with the words “King of Africa.”

It was put up by a cartoonist and had been there for months with little fanfare until the “Black Lives Matter” movement emerged, paving the way for discussion on diversity and inclusion issues.

It was perhaps a misstep, especially in the age of racial correctness, but the university has since apologised and taken it down.

One can call Lim all kinds of names, but a racist he is not.

His critics and former staff have described him as insensitive, a slave driver, self-centred and rude, while his admirers have said he’s a genius who is hardworking, far-sighted, patriotic and genuinely generous.

Certainly, racism has no place on his campus as he has students from more than 160 nations and many of his office staff are Africans. He can’t afford to be racist, even if he wants to.

And no Malaysian educationist would commit resources to set up branch campuses in Botswana, Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Eswatini, since many still see Africa as an unstable place to invest. Recently, Lim added more branches in Rwanda, Namibia and Uganda.

His fascination with Africa started when he was introduced to Mandela by Dr Mahathir.

Lim first met Mandela in 1990 in KL, and after the introduction, the latter asked Lim for creative support for South Africa’s first election.

Soon, Lim packed up and journeyed to Africa with an incredible mission – to ensure the ANC won big in the elections.

Lim’s important role in working with Mandela led the ANC to a historic victory, which ended 300 years of minority rule in South Africa in May 1994. Sadly, this achievement likely won’t make it into our history books, let alone our school textbooks.

Lim will say little of what he has done, except that he has been among those privileged to have worked with Mandela during his most glorious and defining moments.

After all, not many of us are blessed enough to be able to share a little anecdote of criss-crossing with Mandela and other ANC leaders on a campaign trail.

In the run-up to the ANC campaign, Lim produced 60 tonnes of billboards and posters to be put up throughout the country.

He campaigned with ANC leaders including Patrick Lekota, Thanon Mbeki, Barbara Masakela, Cyril Ramaposa and Joe Slavo.

He worked with Dr Popo Molefe, who chaired the elections campaign committee and went on to become the premier of the Northern Province.

Lim designed the election poster, which showed the faces of young Africans and argued his reason for including at least two Caucasian teenagers, even if this irked some hardcore ANC leaders. Adding insult to injury for them was being “told off” by a Malaysian.

On a few occasions, Mandela had to step in to tell his supporters that Lim could easily shut shop and go home if tensions remained high, but he assured his people that Lim knew what he was doing and was willing to give it a shot.

But the road to redemption for Lim was a long and winding one. To kick things off unceremoniously, the posters couldn’t be printed in South Africa because printers were mostly owned by Caucasians.

And posters of Mandela were either taken down by irate Caucasians or blacks who wanted them as keepsake, so it was a struggle to maintain his appearance.

The billboards and posters were eventually made in Malaysia from funding by Malaysian businessmen, and then sent to South Africa by a chartered plane from Kuala Lumpur.

I’ve heard South African leaders speak glowingly of the work done by Malaysia, although in a far from enthusiastic way. But one thing’s for sure – they’re certainly grateful.

Lim has been modest. He merely considers himself very privileged to have been involved in a small way in the sea change. But for me, as a proud History undergrad and a journalist, I have always insisted that the role played by Malaysia and this Malaysian, needs not only be recorded, but told, too.

As Lim embarked on his education crusade, I took a different path in this sprawling land. My thirst to understand Africa took off after Zambia.

Later on, I travelled to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Sudan, South Africa, Egypt, Rwanda, Namibia and Uganda, as a journalist and traveller, and that’s just a fraction of what Africa has with its 54 countries.

Lim’s love for Africa didn’t end with the general elections of South Africa. He continued to play a significant role in the continent by transforming the lives of young Africans through the Limkokwing universities which he set up.

His African journey then took him to South Africa, where it all began with a new campus set up in the picturesque Warrenton.

I’m not a Dr Mahathir fan and I’ve written critically about some government to government deals, such as insisting Malaysia Airlines fly direct to Zimbabwe and Peru, which were all counterproductive decisions.

But his early emphasis on Africa was spot on, and as China makes its impact in Africa now – due to geopolitical reasons or its minerals – there’s no doubt that the continent offers a potentially huge market, and Dr Mahathir envisioned that.

As we, Malaysians, join the world to remember Mandela, we should also know about the small but crucial part played by our countrymen.

Giving credit where it’s due, we need to put aside politics and our personal prejudices and just record history as it unfolds.

Killer on the loose

THE reason for my father’s passing, as detailed in his death certificate, is septicaemia. It means serious blood stream infection caused by bacterial contamination in its host.

My 95-year-old dad passed on July 12 following a brief admission to hospital from July 1, after he developed a high fever.

Just a week earlier, I visited him at our Penang home in Air Itam, and he appeared healthy and normal, although he had been feeble for a while. But he wasn’t bedridden.

Always with a smile, Wong Soon Cheong could still use the spoon to eat by himself, although he seldom spoke since he had dementia.

But within that short period from June 23 to 30, a deterioration began that simply seemed irreversible. Basically, it was his last days on earth.

Considering the many complications of blood infection, the doctor at Adventist Hospital surmised dengue could be a possible reason.

Just before that, my brother who lives next door to my parents, contracted chikungunya, which landed him in hospital on June 16. The viral disease is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes and causes fever and severe joint pains.

He isn’t sure if he was bitten at his workplace on Chulia Street, but my dad was definitely at home.

Last month, the Health Ministry released a warning for the second wave of another deadly virus infection – dengue.

Yes, dengue is a deadly serious problem, even if our attention is on our battle with Covid-19 right now.

It was reported that a fresh wave of dengue cases was expected to hit the nation early June and continue until September, based on the trend of infections in the nation over the last five years.

From January to June 6,2020, 48,584 cases of dengue fever were reported, with a total of 84 deaths in that time.

The report said that while the total figure indicates a 11% drop from last year’s 54,524 cases in the same time frame, the numbers climbed over the last six weeks, with an average of 8% each week.

It said that “the Health Ministry notes that 11% of this year’s dengue fever deaths were due to late treatment.”

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah believes that premises closed during the movement control order (MCO) period had inadvertently become breeding grounds for the virus-carrying Aedes mosquito.

Another report quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying that despite a risk of dengue infection existing in 129 countries, 70% of the threat is in Asia, with Malaysia having some of the most cases.

“Over the last two years, dengue has been on the rise in Malaysia, registering 80,615 cases (147 deaths) in 2018 and 130,101 cases (182 deaths) last year.

“Based on annual data released by the Health Ministry’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC), dengue cases usually start increasing from May and spike after the monsoon during July and August.”

Unfortunately for my late father and my brother, their homes are in Air Itam, which has been identified as a hotspot for both dengue and chikungunya.

In the first half of this year, until June 13,212 cases of chikungunya were reported in the state, according to state health committee chairman Dr Norlela Ariffin.

But here’s my complaint. On June 16, my niece made a request for fogging via the Health Ministry’s official website after her father was stricken with chikungunya.

The following day, she received an efficient reply with an acknowledgement from the Penang Health Department.

The North East district health officer texted her on June 22 for the exact location of the house and on June 23, health officers came to check the home and reported that they found no larvae in the drains or surrounding areas.

Its email said fogging would be carried out if cases were reported in the area, but when my niece sent a message of my father’s situation, she received no reply and on July 1, her call to the North East district wasn’t even attended to by the officer in charge.

After all the emails, correspondence and details of the telephone calls were forwarded to Air Itam state assemblyman Joseph Ng Soon Siang, a fogging team suddenly appeared at our doorstep on July 3.

Surely a simple issue like this need not involve the personal attention of a state assemblyman if the state department had taken a more active approach.

The Health Ministry did its part by informing the district level officer, but they either ignored the warning or were too busy tackling the problem in the state. But case MOH 104678 deserves better attention.

Imagine what it’s like for the affected residents, who don’t know how to communicate with the district health office, or even effectively articulate their predicament.

Just like with Covid-19, older people are most susceptible to dengue since they generally have a weaker defence mechanism, and this is where the peril lies.

The situation has become more complicated because local health authorities haven’t been able to conduct fogging during the MCO period.

They’ll have their work cut out as numbers increase in the post monsoon season now.

My father has certainly lived long. He neither smoked nor drank, and his only dietary weakness was overindulging in nasi kandar, perhaps, and like a true blue Kedahan, he insisted on having curry in most of his meals. We even placed a plate of “gulai ikan” for prayer offering on the funeral altar.

He fought hard, even when he was at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, and it broke my heart to see how much he suffered.

So many diseases could take a man that age, but in the end, it was a mosquito which ended his life.

My 89-year-old mother still lives at the Kampung Melayu home and I am obviously worried for her, too.

I have no intention of faulting anyone here, including indifferent health officers. I merely mean to highlight the continuing danger of dengue and remind those with ageing parents living on their own to be more aware of their folks’ surroundings.

Make it a point to keep your homes clean and insist local authorities perform their duties well. Certainly, no one deserves to have their life cut short by a pesky parasite.

Dicing with danger

MANY of us have become complacent since the movement control order (MCO) was relaxed. Confession time: I’m one of them.

I’ve noticed that registration logs at many public places including restaurants, have now become indecipherable. I doubt the names and phone numbers are even authentic.

The entries on these logs now look like mere adherence to authorities, in case their officers come around for inspection. To be fair, it’s hardly possible to ascertain the accuracy of every entry.

If you use your phone to scan the barcode, the guard, who checks your body temperature, is barely diligent to see if you’ve filled in your details.

The guards, being mostly foreigners, are also reluctant to antagonise Malaysians. Why would they want unnecessary flak anyway?

Last week, I went up to Penang, and at one coffee shop on Gurney Drive, I saw 10 people sharing a table.

Social distancing looks like a practice consigned to the past, at least at this coffeeshop.

In many public places, crowds have swelled again, which is good and bad. Good because businesses need to operate to make up for the massive losses during the MCO.

Also, as Covid-19 daily cases drop, it has lulled many of us into a false sense of security where we’re believing the New Normal is returning to the “old” normal, meaning things are as it used to be, like at the start of the year.

The Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, has rightly pointed out that the people of Selangor must continue adhering to the conditional MCO’s regulations and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to stop the spread of Covid-19.

He also reminded the public to continue being cautious under the “new normal”, only leaving home when absolutely necessary, and not congregating in large groups, like at open houses during the month of Syawal, or attending weddings. He also stressed the need to follow social distancing rules at all times.

“To all Muslims, for this year, please celebrate Aidilfitri only with immediate family members and keep it simple, without needing to return to the kampung,” Sultan Sharafuddin said.

He has expressed concern for the safety of Selangorians from the start of the pandemic in Malaysia and has diligently monitored and kept abreast of data and statistics on the pandemic.

Many of us seem to think the increasing positive cases in the United States, which has surpassed three million, is because Americans are apathetic, like their foolish and stubborn president Donald Trump, who still refuses to wear a face mask.

We’d like to think this won’t happen to Malaysians, and I’ve heard enough racist remarks about Caucasians and their health habits, or lack of.

In England, Britons have jam packed pubs again, with near body contact in most situations.

After months of lockdown, partial or full, not many people want to talk about another round of movement restrictions because we’ve all suffered enough.

Many businesses have gone under and jobs have been lost, and nearly all wage earners have had their income trimmed.

But we must not lose sight of how a vaccine has yet to prevail over this insidious virus because there’s the very real danger of it returning for more blood, and Malaysia won’t be spared if we let our old habits return.

Last week, Australia’s second-largest city had a second lockdown in response to a spike in new coronavirus infections.

Melbourne’s five million residents have been barred from leaving home for six weeks, except for essentials or extraordinary reasons.

The police said they were setting up a “ring of steel” around the city, with “checkpoints anytime and anywhere” to enforce measures.

Borders between Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, and neighbouring states closed last Tuesday.

Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews announced the Melbourne lockdown after the state saw 191 new infections, its highest daily number since the pandemic began.

It doesn’t make for comfortable reading because Melbourne is home to many Malaysians.

In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported 28 new local cases over the weekend, including 10 with unknown sources of infection, shocking a city getting used to the continued relaxation of social distancing rules, including a dramatic easing of restrictions more than two weeks ago.

Health experts have said that insufficient testing and lax surveillance of those exempted from quarantine are behind the new wave of infections.

Describing the current run of cases as the city’s third wave of contagion, health officials announced on Tuesday evening a basket of revised measures to counter the deteriorating situation.

One of the core clusters of the latest upsurge centres on a care home for the elderly, a service sector Hong Kong has succeeded in protecting over the past five months of the health crisis, when many parts of the world struggled.

Our elder citizens remain most susceptible to the killer disease, so it’s essential that SOPs are properly enforced, especially in places of worship and at religious gatherings.

Simple observation reveals that it’s older people who are likely to attend such gatherings, so we must not let our guard down at all costs.

We can no longer have a compromising and tolerant attitude simply because these gatherings are religious in nature.

In China, AFP reported that it recorded its highest daily number of new coronavirus cases in months last Sunday, triggering fears of a second wave of infections.

The report said the fresh attacks gave a bleak insight into the difficulties the world will face in conquering Covid-19, just when many European countries prepare to welcome visitors from around the continent.

“Adding to the concern, Italy is fighting new outbreaks of its own, Iran and India have reported worrying increases in deaths and infections and the pandemic is gathering pace in Latin America.”

Malaysia can’t remain closed forever. We have done a tremendous job and have every reason to be proud of our success in combating this deadly disease.

I don’t think we can dispute the steady hand of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and that of the Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and his team, but let’s not waste all our efforts.

Let’s be ready. We don’t want to face a fresh wave of infections because it has already happened in other countries, which have even higher health standards than us. So why tempt fate?

Predictable outcome

United front: Muhyiddin meeting with leaders of Perikatan in Putrajaya on Wednesday.

The rumblings of a return to power are gaining momentum, but a foundation is rarely built on shaky ground.

IT’S politically bizarre by any standards, but somehow, some of us are still compelled to believe it. Then again, this is Malaysia, where many things make little sense anymore.

Malaysia must be one of the few democratic countries where component parties of a coalition, holding the most seats, want to pick a prime minister from a minority party.

We are also the only country, presumably, where a serving PM resigned and caused his own government to collapse despite having the majority.

So, we now have the DAP with 42 MPs, Amanah 11 and Warisan 9, totalling 62 seats at the Dewan Rakyat. Inexplicably, the coalition is pleading with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to be its choice for PM should it form the next federal government.

Dr Mahathir, who was sacked from Bersatu, has only four other MPs with him and is currently seeking a court review for their expulsion. However,they are as good as out in the cold now.

Basically, Dr Mahathir and his four ex-Bersatu loyalists don’t belong to any party now. It’ll be tough to start one from scratch, as an operational structure is truly essential before the next general election.

In the 2018 general election, Pakatan Harapan, comprising PKR, DAP, Amanah and Bersatu, contested under the PKR banner, but this time, the symbol it will contest with in the polls remains unknown.

It’s unlikely PKR would want Dr Mahathir to contest under its symbol, and vice versa. And certainly, the rocket badge won’t be the best choice for him either.

So, we have a situation where these PH leaders don’t seem too comfortable with Dr Mahathir yet want him to lead the fight. That’s the case at least for the DAP and Amanah, which are both pining to be back in the government.

After decades being in the opposition, many of these fighters had difficulties adjusting to be ministers in the PH government, with many still using combative language then. But now that they’re back in the opposition, they seem to have forgotten opposition conduct instead.

The perception is that they are so busy engineering returning to government that they have failed to provide checks and balances. Many of them have also stopped issuing press statements like they used to.

Some, who used to be vocal and critical, have become so quiet that their critics have accused them of preferring a low profile for fear of drawing MACC attention, which could look through their files, rightly or wrongly.

But that’s not the point. Why would these three parties, not including PKR with its 38 MPs, want Dr Mahathir as PM? It’s a baffling question.

When the former premier realised his plans were going askew, he recommended Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal of Warisan.

It’s also equally perplexing because why would PKR (with 38 MPs) want to back Shafie with only nine MPs and ramp up the insults by making Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim DPM with Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir as the second DPM?

Yet, some of our countrymen, with their simplistic wishful thinking, assume it’s a brilliant and workable idea, so long as the present government headed by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is kicked out.

It was a false start from the beginning as there was no way Anwar would accept the formula, and there was really no need for Shafie to even “consider”, in his own words, the offer, because the idea is as good as dead.

Gabungan Parti Sarawak leader Tan Sri Dr James Masing put it bluntly when he described it as the “biggest joke of the century” and since then, talk of this has gone quiet.

It would make more sense if the PH focuses on acting as an effective opposition and pose a formidable challenge in the next general election, since it’s the strongest opposition in Malaysian parliamentary history.

Anwar must now convince Malaysians why he is worthy of being the next PM and not because Malaysians must fulfil his dream of being a PM. There’s no such thing as entitlement in this realm.

We all have the right to know his economic and financial policies to take Malaysia forward, and not lofty democratic principles which won’t put food on our tables.

But the opposition has busied themselves by fighting each other even before they can form the government, and while they accuse the incumbent for being a “backdoor government”, the PH may just ended up being shown the exit door by the voters in the next general election.

The PH has made too many presumptions. It doesn’t look like they have 112 MPs, which is the simple majority, and even if they have more than 114, which the Perikatan National government has, Muhyiddin will just call for a fresh elections if he loses power.

No way will he hand over the reins on a silver platter. It looks like PH is putting the cart before the horse and offering a weary steed to run the race doesn’t look attractive. In Sabah, the Bajaus are the best horsemen, not the Suluks.

But for now, no need horsing around since the PM has the numbers and is in command.

Economy first, not race

Unwanted rumble: Mahathir, Anwar and other Pakatan leaders leaving the PKR headquarters after a meeting. The leadership tussle has started again but ordinary Malaysians are more worried about their jobs than the ambitions of politicians.

At a time when there’s so much to divide us, let’s focus on what could bring us together instead – reviving the economy.

POLITICAL power is intoxicating, and that’s why it’s so hard for politicians who have tasted power to ride into the sunset.

It’s so addictive that without the perks, privileges and recognition that come with it, many struggle in their lives. They can’t fathom not seeing their faces in the news.

So, we have 95-year-old Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has set a record for being prime minister twice, and yet, is determined to be the premier once more.

He is also the first PM to have stepped down twice. He has said he wants to lead Malaysia for six months. Others say he has intimated to Pakatan Harapan leaders that it could be a year.

But no one can be sure when it comes to Dr Mahathir. The bigger question though is, what can one do in six months?

Forget about being the PM. Even a temporary teacher can’t perform miracles in such a short time.

By next year, Dr Mahathir will be 96, and that’s old even by Japanese standards, a nation with many of the oldest people.

But he seems all fired up to fight the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, and despite his age, shows no sign of suffering from political fatigue like the rest of us.

Well, who can blame PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for not buying into Dr Mahathir passing him the baton after half a year?

Dr Mahathir has gone on record so many times to say he has no intention of letting Anwar succeed him directly as PM, even if the PH government was intact. He has said, in different ways, but in the same tone, that he can’t help Anwar if others don’t want him at the helm.

Then we have the DAP, which is looking like a party desperate to roam the corridors of power again, even at the expense of throwing away political principles for the sake of political expediency.

It’s caught in a predicament, and despite bearing the battle scars of past clashes with Dr Mahathir, it’s still begging him to lead the way, even if it means ditching Anwar. That said, it has also repeatedly said it wants to be a mediator with Amanah, which also wants to be back in power.

Dr Mahathir is back to his old ways. Last week, he played the Malay card again, saying the Chinese in Malaysia have become extremely rich and own almost all towns, which he feels is unhealthy.

It’s as if he’s been caught in a time warp since he wrote the Malay Dilemma in 1970, but one can only suspect he’s using the issue to regain Malay popularity.

But the truth is, while bumiputeras make up the most households in the bottom 40% (B40) category, the income gap between the rich and poor is the biggest in the Chinese community, revealed a news report in 2017, quoting data from an Economic Planning Unit report.

The Edge compared household income and expenditure data for the top 20% (T20) and B40 groups for bumiputeras, Indians and Chinese in 2014 and 2016.

It found that the income gap remained unchanged among the bumiputeras and narrowed among the Indians, but increased among the Chinese.

For every RM1 the bumiputeras in the B40 earned (in 2014), those in the T20 earned RM5.30. The gap remained the same in 2016.

“Among the Indians in the same period, the income gap narrowed from RM5.50 to RM5.20, and was the smallest among the ethnic groups, ” it said.

But among the Chinese, the income gap rose from RM5.80 in 2014 to RM6 in 2016.

“This is the only ethnic group that experienced a widening of the income gap – the biggest compared with the others – between 2014 and 2016.”

According to a 2018 Khazanah Institute Report, the gap between the rich and poor has grown wider, which affects all the races. It has become a class stratification issue and not race.

There’s more research to rebut Dr Mahathir. He should read a London School of Economics and Political Science article, written by Muhammed Abdul Khalid and Li Yang titled “Income inequality among different ethnic groups: the case of Malaysia.”

The study found that in the top 1%, the Chinese saw their piece of the pie shrink dramatically, while the bumiputera’s share grew rapidly. Among the top 1%, the income share of the Chinese decreased by almost half, from 15% in 2002 to 8% in 2013. The share of the bumiputera doubled in the same period, increasing from 3% to 6% in 2013.

For the top 10%, the average growth rate of national income per adult for bumiputera is 5.4%, compared to 1.2% for Chinese and 4.6% for Indians.

“In the top 1%, the average growth rate for bumiputera was 8.3%, which is a sharp contrast to -0.5% for Chinese and 3.4% for Indians, ” the article said.

It concluded by saying that the drop of the Chinese share at the top was mainly driven by the decline of the property income share, from 9% of total pretax personal income in 2002 to 3% in 2014.

The bumiputera increase was the result of wage, self-employed and property incomes.

And then there is Amanah, an offshoot of PAS, which has to claw its way back into government because it needs the power of patronage before the next general election, or it will end up becoming a footnote in history, beaten to a pulp by PAS.

At least DAP seems to be in a better position than Amanah because anti-establishment sentiments have returned in Chinese predominant areas since PN came into power.

Prior to that, the DAP was getting hammered for being unable to stop the khat issue, refusing to provide allocation to Tunku Abdul Rahman University College, and failing to get recognition for the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), a standardised test for Chinese independent high school students.

If that wasn’t enough, the arrogance of some DAP leaders was off-putting to many Chinese community leaders.

Both DAP and Amanah have stepped up their efforts in increasing numbers to topple Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Then there is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Although he is 72, he is still set on proving naysayers wrong about fate denying him the role of PM.

He hasn’t given in to the temptation of working out a deal for Dr Mahathir to be PM again, and invariably notching another record for being the PM-in-waiting for a second time.

While time and tide wait for no man, he often said he was prepared give latitude to Dr Mahathir. However, he has found out the hard way this time that the elder statesman is not even giving him space and time to warm his Opposition Leader’s seat.

But many also see Anwar as a figure long in the tooth who should make way for younger leaders. They feel he hasn’t shown any direction, and instead, is only resolute about fulfilling his ambition of becoming a PM. That’s the perception, unfortunately.

Time is running out for PH. It has 107 Members of Parliament, and could even have 108, but certainly not 112, which is the simple majority. The PN has 114 MPs and can add more, but the majority will still be wafer thin, unless Muhyiddin can work out a deal with Anwar. For now, the duo has a common enemy – Dr Mahathir. Both would want to stop him becoming PM.

It’s an irony since Dr Mahathir can’t be PM again without the support of Anwar, and Anwar can’t be PM without DAP, Warisan and Amanah. Talk about a catch-22 situation.

All these parties, including the PKR, has more MPs than Dr Mahathir’s remaining four former Bersatu MPs, who remain loyal to him, and are still ready for him to be PM.

Malaysian politics is certainly bizarre. After all, Dr Mahathir also quit as PM and caused his own government to collapse, which is another classic case study for “Bizarre Political Moves 101” in a political science course.

But while Dr Mahathir and Anwar continue their standoff, the reality is that, even if PH manages to get enough numbers to oust Muhyiddin, the PM will not hand over the reins on a silver platter, but instead, simply call for the dissolution of Parliament to pave the way for snap elections.

A look at the state of affairs of the political players would indicate that almost none of them can compete on their own, so they will have no choice but to form alliances.

Muhyiddin can’t continue with a slim majority in the Dewan Rakyat, that’s for sure. He will need to strengthen his position and the government, and a window could open after the Budget presentation in November, where a populist move would help.

Muhyiddin will need to work on the financial figures by then. It’s hoped the economy would have been turned around by then, too.

All the political drama makes for good suspense and gossip, but ultimately, the present government will remain.

There are many misgivings over the formation of the “backdoor government” and even recent court decisions, but his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly earned him plenty of brownie points.

Like him or loathe him, let’s at least give credit where it’s due. Muhyiddin did a good job, and rolling out the economic stimulus has helped many, though that still won’t be enough.

The next few months will be crucial because he will need to give the economy another shot in the arm, and if certain conditions need to be extended to save businesses and retain jobs including extending loan moratorium, he will need to make some tough calls.

For now, ordinary Malaysians are more worried about their jobs than the ambitions of politicians. So, let’s get our priorities right because it’s the economy that matters.

Malaysia needs leaders who can take us out of this post-movement control order (MCO) period effectively, and not orators with records of overpromising but underdelivering.

Let’s not play the racial card because we’re all in the same boat, one we don’t want to rock.

Daddy cool

Main man: Dads, if you don’t already know, today is the day the world pays tribute to you. —

LET’S concede that Fathers Day is deemed less important than Mothers Day. By the way, dads, if you don’t already know, today is the day the world pays tribute to you.

If you are clueless, or no one around you remembers this special day, rest assured your children will be spared sulky faces or be reminded that they’ve missed an important day and made to stew with guilt.

Dads are generally less sensitive than mums. We are the ones you can share secrets with and be trusted with just about anything.

Most of us, being the cool dads we are, will merely shrug it off and dismiss it as just another ordinary day if we’re unceremoniously overlooked. It comes with the territory, after all.

It doesn’t help that most of us have no idea how Fathers Day should be celebrated. It’s the same with gifts – what do we ask for? The same as birthday presents? I wish there were guides for this. Perhaps we know we’ll never get the desired gifts, truth be told. Grown men are, in fact, kids at heart. Hope as hard as we may, but a Harley Davidson still won’t be gift-wrapped and parked in the porch, and neither will a real record player find pride of place in the hall. All right, I can understand the Harley, but not even a turntable? Hmmm….

So just thank your lucky stars if at least a dinner party is thrown in your honour, or you get the lame necktie or cuff links, which, in these WFH days, is really surplus to requirement.

Don’t be fooled with your false importance by the government’s directive that during the movement control order period, you’re the one allowed to leave the house to buy essential goods as the head of the family. Becoming the butt of jokes on social media is par for the course in this thankless role of fatherhood.

Growing up, I knew my dad was the man of the house. It was simply because he was the sole breadwinner, and we know money talks. Politicians say cash is king, after all.

That dynamic changes if both husband and wife are wage earners and, of course, when women are just as educated, and in many cases, even more so than their husbands.

Both have equal ownership, except that equal rights is a fallacy. It’s about the control of production and wealth, and even 19th century economist and philosopher Karl Marx predicted that.

If it’s not already common knowledge, women are smart. They have a way of “manoeuvring”, for the lack of a better word.

My dad, a Cantonese, is head of the family, but it was my mum’s dialect, Hokkien, which was spoken at home. As a kid, I didn’t ask why only Hokkien was spoken in the house. I just thought it was something ordinary.

So I grew up without being able to understand Cantonese properly, except for the handy expletives, of course.

My mum is Hokkien with Peranakan roots. She would cook up a storm, and we had curry almost every day. I barely recall eating Cantonese dishes at home from when I was young.

My dad was conditioned, as psychologists would say, and we were, too, but my mum astutely played the submissive role as a traditional wife.

In fact, she was the one calling the shots. Now she’s 89 and my dad 95 and she has finally prevailed to prove she is more than just the boss.

In my Bahasa Malaysia class in school, I was taught that a country’s capital is called ibu kota, and not bapa kota.

I asked my teacher, the late Cikgu Nordin, who came to school on his Vespa every day, why it wasn’t bapa kota.

His response was a painful reminder, and a permanent lesson that it has to be ibu, because as he pinched me, he yelled, “kepala bapak hang”, which translates to “your father’s head”, though it simply means “nonsense”. That somehow sounds much more impactful in Bahasa Malaysia.

And get used to it – it will always be Motherland, and not Fatherland.

Even Indonesians use the term “ibu pertiwi”, which is the Indonesian allegory of tanah air or, in direct translation, “land and water”.

Look, we don’t even use bapa jari but ibu jari for the thumb. So, again, men don’t even figure.

Dads have more negative connotations. I learned words like bapa ayam (pimps), and I was asked by the same Cikgu Nordin if I had watched P. Ramlee’s classic Anak-ku Sazali, which I of course had.

“Itu lah anak bapak,” he told the class, about the problem of being a spoilt, daddy’s favourite child.

Anak-ku Sazali, which means Sazali My Son, is a 1956 Malay movie about love between a man and a woman, dreams that can come true and a father’s overwhelming love for his son. The talented Tan Sri P. Ramlee plays the father’s character, Hassan, as well as that of the spoilt son, Sazali Hassan.

But more P. Ramlee movies, including Keluarga 69, had entered my life, too, and later, Cikgu Nordin taught me “bapa borek, anak rintik”, which is the equivalent of “like father, like son”.

Don’t despair if your family members don’t remember Fathers Day. Look, after Bapa Kemer-dekaan, Tunku Abdul Rahman, our memories begin to fade.

Let’s be honest, most of us can’t be certain if Tun Abdul Razak is known as Bapa Pembangunan (Father of Development), Tun Hussein Onn as Bapa Perpaduan (Father of Unity), Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Bapa Pemodenan (Father of Modernisation), Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as Bapa Pembangunan Modal Insan (Father of Human Capital) and Datuk Seri Najib Razak as Bapa Transformasi (Father of Transformation).

So if we can’t recall who’s who beyond the first Prime Minister, don’t blame anyone if Fathers Day is forgotten.

More pressing matters

Politicians are making their sales pitches again. However, Malaysians have greater life concerns.

ANYONE unfamiliar with Malaysian politics must think we’re living on the edge with the ruling government commanding a wafer-thin majority in Parliament.

On the contrary, Malaysia is politically stable. It may be hard to explain to foreigners that despite the Perikatan Nasional government’s need to shore up its numbers, the country is calm and peaceful.

In other countries, especially in Africa and West Asia, huge protests and riots would have rumbled in the streets, with the military sometimes even plotting to wrest power from civilians.

Instead, most of us here have simply shrugged off the political situation, and just watched nonchalantly the rinse-and-repeat scenarios.

Nothing amazes us anymore, to the point we could be accused of being indifferent and cynical about the political shenanigans.

Most Malaysians simply have other priorities. Many of us are worried about losing our jobs, paying bills, and if you are a businessman, struggling with cash flow and debt collection.

That’s what sends a chill down the spine for Malaysians, so the last thing we care about is squabbling politicians, because politicking is what they do best.

Any endeavour of theirs, including defections, is always done in “our” interest, with them claiming they could serve us better if they switched camps. Of course, none of them has conceded to all this being about their own selfish interests.

When an opposition MP defects, the lawmaker is a traitor, but when a government MP jumps to the opposition, the lawmaker is a principled man doing it for justice.

And Malaysian politicians have short memories or pretend to have amnesia. Both the federal and Sabah governments are guilty of being formed by defectors, and not to forget the bizarre action of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in collapsing his own Pakatan Harapan government with his resignation as PM.

What fools we all are for thinking party hopping is comprehensively deplored.

But back to the order of the day, most of us are also adjusting to the recovery stage of the MCO after three months.

Although many offices have reopened, we’ve become used to working from home (WFH), and employers have even encouraged their staff to continue with this practice. With schools not fully operational, except for students taking public exams, many parents have appealed to their bosses to let them continue with WFH arrangements.

Last week, a regional survey revealed most Malaysians were still not ready to take part in cultural events, hit the gym, or travel either locally or abroad this year. In contrast, Indonesian, Singaporean, Filipino and Thai respondents were more comfortable indulging in such activities as their countries gradually rolled back Covid-19 restrictions to kickstart their economies.

“The people of Vietnam are ahead of the curve in fully adapting to the ‘new norm’ and see the pandemic as being behind them, ” multinational polling outfit Ipsos said in a statement on its survey.

The survey involved 3,000 people from six Asean countries, with 500 respondents from each including Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

In a nutshell, Malaysians want to feel safe. Safe from the Covid-19 virus and that their jobs are secure, too. Without mincing words, they don’t care about politicians because there’s little they can do besides whine and grumble with their circle of friends over coffee and WhatsApp chat groups.

Last week, at least some uncertainties were resolved, in some ways, after we’d been tantalised in the psy-war about the state of our federal government.

Most of us were kept guessing about Perikatan’s true numbers, although the consensus is that it’s probably around 114 seats.

Last week, Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim revealed that Pakatan Harapan have 107 Members of Parliament. It was as good as confirming the Opposition does not have enough MPs to form the federal government immediately.

The next day, Anwar clarified that the 107 MPs he cited as supporting “Pakatan Plus” didn’t include independent lawmakers or other non-attendees of a high-level Opposition meeting on June 9. The office of the PKR president released a statement saying that the 107 MPs were based on the numbers that each party presented during the meeting at the PKR headquarters in Petaling Jaya. A day after the meeting, Anwar said, during a Facebook Live session, that the grouping had 107 MPs.

“Now, we have 107 (MPs) in this group, and we will move forward as a team to ensure that the people’s mandate is respected, and the inconsistencies and corruption are halted, ” he said.

Earlier, there were claims on social media about Pakatan having 129 MPs, but there hadn’t been a peep from the party on the real quantum until last week.

There was even a widely shared piece of fake news about Dr Mahathir and Anwar seeking an audience with His Majesty, the Yang diPertuan Agong, to present the numbers. But media outlets were able to dismiss this cheap fodder because a meeting between the King and these two personalities would be no secret.

Dr Mahathir had also expressed doubt about having the numbers to regain power from the Perikatan government.

“Well, numbers keep on appearing and disappearing. We don’t know. What we do know is at the time Muhyiddin was sworn in, he did not have the majority, ” Dr Mahathir said. He has also claimed that his supporters were wooed with positions, with many succumbing to these offers.

But that’s not the only obstacle apart from the inability to attain the simple majority, what with the impasse since both Anwar and Dr Mahathir can’t agree on who should be the PM, if Pakatan forms the government.

Anwar’s camp is also irked by suggestions that Dr Mahathir should be allowed to be PM for at least six months.

On Friday, PKR central committee member Datuk Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid made it clear that the party would never allow Dr Mahathir to be PM.

“He (Dr Mahathir) should retire and leave it to the next generation who can serve the country, ” he said.

Bersatu leader Dr Maszlee Malik also found himself rebutted by PKR MP Nik Nazmi after he said the post of the ninth PM was not the absolute right of Anwar

The MP for Setiawangsa tweeted that he “agreed” with Dr Maszlee that it also wasn’t the absolute right of Dr Mahathir.

So it looks like there won’t be a change of government, at least for a while, not until the Opposition has the numbers and can decide who should be the PM.

Can we all now get back to real life? Let’s boost our economy and sustain businesses, pay workers and make sure the virus has truly been thwarted in Malaysia, with no possibility of a fresh wave of infections. With what has already happened, we should know better now.

Nearest neighbours first

IT’S time for Malaysia to kickstart its economy since we’ve succeeded in flattening the Covid-19 pandemic curve, and as we gear up for the reopening of more businesses, travelling must surely be one of them.

One of the worst affected sectors since the outbreak of the virus must be tourism, travel and hospitality. So, we need to keep these businesses afloat because travelling is essential for businessmen, and the rest of the workforce.

For a start, we hope interstate travel will resume soon with the conditional movement control order (CMCO) ending next week.

The ball should get rolling with domestic air travel, so local tourism can be revived.

Many countries in Europe have already begun cross-border arrangements.

It goes by different names, such as travel bubble, travel corridors and air bridges, but essentially means the same thing – to lift the ban on border closures.

The bubble or corridors denote a safe or protected perimeter between two travel destinations, countries or states already declared green zones and ready to receive tourists, which is expected to help the tourism sector recover.

According to Channel News Asia, there are already bubbles being mooted between Australia and New Zealand, and between South Korea and 10 territories in China.

“In Europe, a safety bubble has been proposed between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as the world kickstarts efforts to reopen the tourism sector. This is a much-needed injection for European tourists who have already given up on their summer holidays.

“In Penang, the state government had also proposed to implement the travel bubble approach between states declared as green zones to help the domestic tourism sector recover. The concept is designed to resume travel activities and restart tourism industries while adapting to the new normal,” it said.

That means the 14-day quarantine requirement from both sides would need waiving.

Perhaps, these health SOPs can be replaced with a Covid-19 test certificate no less than five days old, as a travel requirement.

So long as they have the necessary documentation from their companies or partners supporting their travel, business people should also be prioritised.

Of course, standard social distancing procedures should be installed, including the requirement for masks and sterilisers, and avoiding congestion at security clearance at boarding gates.

Relevant authorities, including the immigration and customs, should also review their operating procedures to allow effective but smooth processing.

Domestic interstate air travel will be a good warm up for these officers before we reopen for international travel. The government should consider opening borders between Malaysia and Singapore, and Malaysia and Thailand, soon, because these nations have the virus under control.

It should also consider allowing travels between Sabah and Tarakan, Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side as well as Penang and Medan, Indonesia. Sarawak should also be ready to accommodate tourists from Brunei, which has a low record of infection.

In the case of Singapore, the virus infection spikes may seem steep, but that’s only because of immigrant workers living in dormitories. The rest of Singapore has mainly remained unaffected.

Singaporeans are the biggest foreign revenue contributors to our tourism industry.

According to Tourism Malaysia, for 2019, tourist receipts grew 6.8% year-on-year (y-o-y) to RM41.69bil during the first half of the year (1H19), compared with RM39bil in the corresponding period the previous year.

In a statement, Tourism Malaysia said the rise in spending came on the back of a 4.9% growth in the number of tourist arrivals to 13.35 million in 1H19, versus 12.73 million in 2018.

The average length of stay (ALOS) rose 0.4 nights to 6.2 nights, from 5.8 nights, while per capita spending climbed 1.9% to RM3,121.6, from RM3,064.7.

Top 10 international tourist arrivals for the first half of 2019 were from Singapore (5,381,566), Indonesia (1,857,864), China (1,558,782), Thailand (990,565), Brunei (627,112), India (354,486), South Korea (323,952), Philippines (210,974), Vietnam (200,314) and Japan (196,561), Tourism Malaysia revealed.

Asean arrivals constituted 70% of total tourist arrivals in 1H19, while the medium-haul market contributed 20.8%, and the long-haul market made up 9.2%, reads a news report.

The highest tourist receipts came from Singapore (RM11.56bil), followed by China (RM7.09bil), Indonesia (RM5.71bil), Thailand (RM1.7bil) and Brunei (RM1.52bil).

Obviously, reopening borders must be gradually and carefully done because Malaysia can’t afford another wave of infections after all that effort.

All the hard work of our front liners, who have put their lives on the line, would come to naught if we’re not careful.

With Visit Malaysia 2020 now postponed, we shouldn’t be caught on our heels as other nations aggressively prepare for tourist arrivals.

Singapore and China have reportedly agreed to launch a “fast lane” to facilitate essential travel for business and official purposes, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement last month.

The arrangement includes having “effective Covid-19 prevent and control measures in place,” which will debut between the six Chinese provinces or municipalities directly under the central government – Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang – and Singapore.

“The arrangement will be gradually expanded to the other Chinese provinces and municipalities. Both sides agreed to explore the increase of air links between the two countries for the fast lane,” MFA said.

“Both sides attached great significance to securing the connectivity of production and supply chains and agreed to level up the efficiency of freight linkages and customs clearance, including facilitating the flow of goods such as essential medical supplies and food,” the ministry added.

Minister for National Development, Lawrence Wong said on Thursday that the Government is discussing with its foreign counterparts the prospect of setting up travel with countries where the spread of Covid-19 is contained.

It will only be for essential travel, to cater to businesses that require employees to move within the region.

Last month, Thailand’s state tourism body revealed that it plans to rebrand its tourism motto from “Amazing Thailand” to “Amazing Trusted Thailand” in the post Covid-19 era.

The new brand name is aimed at selective markets and destinations within Thailand that guarantee health and safety standards for both tourists and locals.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor, Yuthasak Supasorn told the media that he expects international business to return to Thailand within a few months.

“October is the estimated month that we think tourists will visit Thailand, therefore, all state agencies and the private sectors are working on a proper recovery plan that won’t risk a second wave of Covid-19,” said Yuthasak.

The TAT said it’s formulating a strategy, so foreign tourists from countries removed from the “Disease-Infected Zones for Covid-19” list can visit provinces with no records of infections, or provinces that have not had a new case in the last 28 days, reports Xinhua.

When Thailand talks about reopening to tourists in October, it probably has in mind China tourists, since October is their holiday season, or the so-called Golden Week, during which the republic celebrates its national day.

Thailand also removed China, along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau, from its list of “dangerous disease zones” from last month because they’ve displayed effective preventive measures and containment of the coronavirus.

It’s time for us to showcase Malaysia as the safest Asean tourism spot, since we have the best narrative. And while our planes rev their engines again and airports bustle into excitement once more, we hope local authorities have prepared our tourist destinations.

So, let’s welcome tourists with our special Malaysian made batik face masks, and other homegrown unique health and safety wares, because there’s no more time to despair.