KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 27 — In a year that saw the Covid-19 pandemic worsen, the nation was not spared from continuous political tussles and yet another change of government.
As the year comes to a close, here is a list of who and what made the news that lasted throughout 2021.
Women, children and baju kurung
In February, Women, Family and Community Development minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun drew nationwide attention when she used her office to host a photoshoot of herself in 2021 Hari Raya fashion wear.
Rina’s photos of her ‘modelling’ various types of baju kurung were circulated on various social media platforms attracting both praise and criticism.
Prior to this, she was constantly criticised by Pakatan Harapan (PH) MPs and former ministers for failing to carry out her duty as a minister and speaking up for the people, as well as the delay in the tabling of the Sexual Harassment Bill that has been put on hold for more than a year now.
Most recently, Rina was criticised for being insensitive after photos of her in high-heels visiting victims of the flood in temporary relief centres went viral on social media. However, Rina said she has gotten used to the brickbats as it was common for ministers to be criticised for various things, while at the same time saying she only had time to change her clothes and had forgotten about her shoes.
Doctors on strike
On July 26, hundreds of junior doctors and medical officers in several public hospitals nationwide staged a walkout to express dissatisfaction about their current treatment in the government health system.
The movement was organised by Hartal Doctor Kontrak — “Hartal” is a Gujarati word meaning mass protest or strike.
According to organisers, the problem started when the Health Ministry implemented a system in 2016 that offered junior doctors contractual positions after finishing their housemanships — as opposed to full-time positions offered to their predecessors.
Aside from the reduced pay and benefits even though they work the same hours, the contract doctors also faced an inability to further their specialisation as master’s programmes in public universities are reportedly only granted to permanent doctors.
These problems were further brought to light during the Covid-19 pandemic where doctors are currently overworked tending to the sick.
As a solution, on July 23, the Cabinet said it had agreed to appoint medical officers, dental officers and pharmacists by contract for a period of two years once they have completed their compulsory service to ensure continuity of service and preparation for pursuing specialist studies.
The Cabinet also agreed to extend the contractual appointment to a maximum of four years for medical officers and dental officers who are pursuing specialisation studies during the contract period of the first two years.
However, the strike organisers said they would proceed with the walkout as the government’s announcement did not fundamentally resolve their complaints.
Student turned activist
In April, Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam put a spotlight on sex education and systemic misogyny in public schools in April after complaining on TikTok that a teacher had joked about rape, sparking a nationwide debate and prompting other girls and women to share similar experiences.
Her story led to a Twitter Hashtag #MakeSchoolASaferPlace that set Twitter abuzz and appeared among the top 10 trending topics in the country — with even celebrities sharing their personal stories of sexual harassment.
Ain’s original post on Twitter was accompanied by the hashtag #MakeSchoolASaferPlace, in which she called out to public figures such as former education minister Maszlee Malik, Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, cartoonist Zunar, and celebrity actress and singer Adibah Noor, to support the cause.
Aside from the male teacher, Ain also lodged two police reports against schoolmates for threatening her with rape following her expose’. She later withdrew this after the students and their families apologised.
In August, the teacher she complained about sent a letter of demand to Ain seeking RM1 million as compensation for alleged defamation.
Shortly after that, Ain’s lawyer Datuk Sankara Nair said the family would countersue the man for RM5 million for emotional distress.
In May, it was reported that the then-unnamed teacher was transferred to the Selangor Education Department pending a police investigation.
But the deputy public prosecutor later decided that no further action would be taken against the man.
Most recently in November, Ain received a writ of summons and statement of claim from the teacher who was accused of making rape jokes in class.
Ain’s father, Saiful Nizam Abdul Wahab said that the man named Khairul Nizam Sanuddin, who formerly taught physical and health education in SMK Puncak Alam, filed the lawsuit at the Shah Alam Sessions court on November 26.
The shortest tenure in office also took place in Malaysia — Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was only prime minister for one year and 168 days before he tendered his resignation on 16 August 2021.
His administration came into power after a controversy that saw the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan administration led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Muhyiddin, however, stepped down in August after losing majority in Parliament when his administration was criticized over itss handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although he stepped down as prime minister, that did not end his tenure as part of the government.
In September, the former prime minister was appointed as chairman of a council that will focus on economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mentri Besar in the centre of controversial remarks
Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor was sworn in as Kedah’s Mentri Besar last May and he seemed to be centre of attention with controversial remarks made related to current issues including the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sanusi made headlines in August, when he poked fun at the increasing number of Covid-19 deaths in the state with an inconsiderate remark.
Although the air had been somewhat cleared, Muhammad Sanusi’s remark has since been circulated on social media, where he said, “There are enough containers for dead bodies. Anyone who wants to get in [the containers], give me your names.”
Prior to this, Muhammad Sanusi had in July said the Kedah government would not be sending help to anyone who raises the white flag to ask for help to get through the Covid-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown.
He claimed the use of the white flag was merely political propaganda to further nail the notion that the government has failed them.
Most recently, Muhammad Sanusi announced that Kedah would ban all 4D lottery shops in the state by not renewing the business licences issued by local councils in a bid to stamp out social ills.
He had also declared that the state would limit the sale of alcohol in rural parts of Kedah, saying demand for such beverages in these areas are low.
These announcements had caused an uproar among other lawmakers including from the Opposition bloc and also fellow comrades from Gerakan.
Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was appointed as Malaysia’s 9th Prime Minister, following the resignation of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin from the position on August 16 after he failed to command the majority support of the Members of the Dewan Rakyat.
Before taking up the prime minister post, Ismail Sabri was appointed as deputy prime minister in July but served for only 40 days up until August 16 when the Perikatan Nasional Cabinet resigned.
However, he is no stranger to the government and has held seven Cabinet positions from 2008 to 2018.
When Ismail Sabri became prime minister, he introduced the ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ concept in his inaugural speech when he became PM on August 22, during which he appealed to parliamentarians to put aside their differences and work together to steer the country out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ismail Sabri had also led the government in the initiative to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Transformation and Political Stability with Pakatan Harapan on September 13.
Drama over a book
Even after former Attorney-General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas resigned from office, his memoir My Story: Justice in the Wilderness — released on January 30, 2021, brought him back into the limelight.
Shortly after the book was launched, the police received 134 reports nationwide on the certain contents from the book and had opened three investigation papers in February, which is alleged to have defamed and insulted various parties.
There were also calls to ban the book entirely.
In the latest development of the matter, the government had on December 8 said it had formed a special task force to look into allegations by Thomas in his book.
Apart from this, former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had in October filed a civil lawsuit against Thomas and the Malaysian government for having pressed 35 criminal charges against him in four trials, claiming that the then-attorney general had allegedly abused his powers to prosecute him.
In the lawsuit filed on October 22 in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur, Najib is claiming for a declaration that Thomas had committed misfeasance in public office, and RM1,941,988 (or RM1.9 million) to compensate for the alleged losses that he had suffered so far, general damages, exemplary damages and aggravated damages.
Thomas has since claimed that the suit filed by Najib against him and the government for power abuse was politically motivated.
Fighting for refugees
Sometime in July, non-governmental organisation, Refuge For The Refugees director, Heidy Quah, was questioned by police on June 5 for posting about alleged mistreatment of refugees at the Immigration detention centres on her Facebook page.
On July 27, Quah was charged in the Sessions Court with improper use of network facilities by initiating the transmission of offensive communications on refugees in the country through her Facebook.
Quah had then pleaded not guilty and was allowed bail of RM2,000 with one surety.
On September 6, Quah sued the government over a law that makes it a crime to make “offensive” comments online which “annoys” others, arguing that it goes against the Federal Constitution. This was on the same day that Quah’s criminal case was scheduled for mention at the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur.
Quah filed the lawsuit over parts of Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act which criminalises offensive online comments.
All in the name of ‘Timah’
Malaysians took a pause in October off their focus on the Covid-19 pandemic when liquor company Winepak Corporation (M) Sdn Bhd came under fire over one of its whisky brand names — ‘Timah’.
Some groups and even the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Idris Ahmad had called for the local alcoholic beverage company to immediately change its ‘Timah’ brand and the picture used on the bottle.
Idris had then said such things should not happen as they are provocative as the use of the name could cause confusion to the community and religion.
Since the liquor company came under fire, it offered an explanation saying that “Timah” refers to the Malayan tin mining era during the British colonial days of Malaya, while the man depicted on the whisky label was Captain Speedy, who introduced the whisky culture back then.
The company said it was due to this history that the name “Timah” was used and did not intend to stir any controversy.
The company also explained that any interpretation of the name unrelated to Malaysian tin mining is false.
The issue had gone full-blown when it made its way into the Dewan Rakyat on October 28 during the debate session on the Trade Descriptions Bill (Amendment) 2021.
Prior to that on October 18, the PAS Dewan Ulama (DUPP) expressed concern about the use of the name “Timah” as a whisky brand.
The Malaysian-made whisky, “Timah” is sold at RM190 per bottle and contains 40 per cent alcohol.
On November 13 however, the Cabinet decided to allow the whisky brand Timah to keep its name.
Worst flood in years
In one of the country’s worst floods in history, more than 30,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.
Downpours which started on December 17, lasted for almost three days non-stop and caused rivers to overflow, submerging many urban areas and cutting off main roads, leaving thousands of motorists stranded.
The Meteorological Department said that the rainfall on December 18 in Kuala Lumpur had exceeded its average monthly rainfall, with certain places in Kuala Lumpur recording up to 273mm or 363mm of rainfall for that day.
According to experts, the massive floods in Selangor last weekend showed a failure to anticipate that the west coast could experience a deluge as bad as what was experienced by the east coast of peninsular Malaysia in 2014, despite the weather forecast being available days before the storm.
As of December 25, the floods which hit several states in the country have claimed 46 lives, while five men are still reported missing in Pahang.
According to the police, there are still 54,532 flood victims at 334 relief centres (PPS) in seven states, namely Kelantan, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak and Selangor, he said, adding that Pahang recorded the highest number of flood victims with 29,108 victims followed by Selangor with 23,302 victims.
The police also said that 68 road stretches of roads in Kelantan, Pahang, Ngeri Sembilan and Selangor were still closed due to the floods.