PETALING JAYA: Elections in six states, court cases involving prominent politicians, the death of a minister, and a switch by opposition MPs were among the notable events of 2023.
Here are the 10 biggest political events that made the headlines, in chronological order.
‘Purge’ in Umno
Umno wielded the axe on well-known members in January because of disagreements with the top leadership.
Following an Umno Supreme Council meeting, Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan announced the suspension of the party’s former vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein, former information chief Shahril Hamdan, Maulizan Bujang, and Salim Sharif for six years.
Two of the most prominent leaders in Umno, former three-term Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin and Selangor Umno chief Noh Omar, were sacked for violating party discipline during the general election of November 2022.
Khairy’s membership came under scrutiny after his allegations that “imported delegates” were brought in to manipulate voting during an Umno general assembly, which decided not to contest the party’s two top posts in the polls.
Several other Umno members were ousted for reasons such as standing as independent candidates in GE15 or under a different banner, as well as assisting rival political parties.
Mahathir quits Pejuang, assists PN
On Feb 10, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who founded Pejuang in 2020, announced his decision to quit the party due to divergent aspirations.
In explaining his departure alongside 12 others, he said that Pejuang had deviated from its original objectives since its establishment.
He likened Pejuang’s rejection of his advice to join the Gerakan Tanah Air coalition, which he chaired, as a rejection of himself.
Following his resignation, Mahathir assumed the role of an unofficial advisor to the four opposition-led state governments of Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah, and Perlis.
Sanusi charged with sedition
PAS election director Sanusi Nor was one of the speakers at an election ceramah organised by Perikatan Nasional in Gombak, Selangor, on July 11.
During the ceramah, Sanusi raised questions about the Sultan of Selangor’s appointment of Amirudin Shari as the menteri besar of Selangor, while also asserting that the Sultan of Kedah’s lineage was the only uninterrupted one. The remarks prompted a member of the Selangor Royal Council to file a report against him.
Subsequently, he was arrested and charged with sedition on July 18. The trial is set to commence on January 18.
Death of Salahuddin Ayub
The year unfolded with its moments of sorrow, and one profoundly moving instance was the death of Salahuddin Ayub, the minister for domestic trade and cost of living and the creator of the unity government’s Rahmah programme.
He was admitted to Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah in Alor Setar, Kedah, after falling ill on July 21 and underwent surgery the following day for a brain hemorrhage. He died the next day. His death on July 23 was announced by his daughter on Facebook. He was 61.
Amanah president Mohamad Sabu, who is agriculture and food security minister, described Salahuddin, his party deputy president, as an active minister who worked tirelessly to ensure there was no sharp rise in the prices of goods.
Six state elections
State elections were held on Aug 12 following the dissolution of the legislative assemblies of Selangor, Kelantan, Terengganu, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, and Penang between June 22 and July 1.
The elections were a test between the two major blocs: the unity government, comprising two sub-coalitions – Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional – against Perikatan Nasional, consisting of PAS, Bersatu, and Gerakan.
The much-anticipated state polls were seen as a test of the people’s confidence in the unity government that was formed last year.Ultimately, both factions ended up on an equal standing, with the unity government securing a mandate in Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, and Penang, while PN established state governments in Kelantan, Terengganu, and Kedah.
However, the inroads made by the opposition became a major talking point. PN thwarted the unity government’s attempt to secure a two-thirds majority in Selangor, winning 22 out of the 56 seats in the state, along with 11 seats in Penang and five in Negeri Sembilan.
In contrast, the unity coalition only managed to secure a total of five seats in Kelantan and Kedah. Notably, Terengganu witnessed a historic outcome as PN claimed all seats, leading to the unprecedented scenario of an opposition-less state assembly.
Conditional discharge for Zahid
This year has also been marked by deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi being granted a discharge not amounting to acquittal on corruption charges.
Last year, the High Court had ordered Zahid to enter his defence on all 47 charges involving corruption, criminal breach of trust and money laundering.
The charges were over millions of ringgit from Yayasan Akalbudi, and accepting bribes for various projects during his tenure as home minister.
Along the 77 days of trial, 114 witnesses were called to testify. On Sept 4, Zahid was granted a conditional discharge on all 47 charges bringing a halt to his trial after four years.
This event led to opposition MPs mooting for the court decision to be debated in Parliament as years of court time and taxpayer money had been wasted. On Dec 2, the Bar Council applied for the decision to be rescinded.
Syed Saddiq’s conviction
On Nov 9, Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman was sentenced to seven years in jail and fined RM10 million after being convicted of abetting in criminal breach of trust, misappropriation of assets, and money laundering.
The Muar MP was sentenced to three years in prison and to be whipped once for the CBT charge, while another two years jail and one stroke of the rotan for embezzlement of assets that belonged to the youth wing of Bersatu, making him the first elected representative to be ordered to be whipped for a white-collar crime under the Penal Code.
Both these sentences are to run consecutively, meaning he will serve five years if convicted. The High Court judge also imposed a jail term of two years each for the two counts of money laundering, and a fine of RM5 million each.
However, Syed Saddiq was granted a stay of execution of his sentences pending an appeal. He has since stepped down from his president’s post at Muda.
5 Bersatu MPs pledge support to Anwar Ibrahim
The debate over the equitable distribution of constituency development funds has gained prominence this year. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has committed to allocating an equal fund for opposition MPs, contingent on their reaching a mutual understanding.
The fund has also become a basis for five opposition MPs from Bersatu to pledge their support to Anwar and his unity government while remaining loyal to PN, citing the need to look after the welfare of their constituents.
The first to pledge support was Kuala Kangsar MP Iskandar Dzulkarnain Abdul Khalid on Oct 12. He was later joined by Labuan MP Suhaili Abdul Rahman and Gua Musang’s Azizi Abu Naim on Oct 30 and Nov 7 respectively.
The final two to pledge support were Jeli MP Zahari Kechik on Nov 8 and Bukit Gantang MP Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Syed Abdul Fasal on Nov 28. Suhaili and Iskandar Dzulkarnain have since been suspended by the party for six and four years respectively.
Muhyiddin resignation u-turn
Leading up to the Bersatu general assembly on Nov 23, speculation arose about a potential leadership handover from Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin to his secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin.
In response to these rumours, Muhyiddin announced on Nov 24 that he would not defend his post in the party elections, acknowledging the growing calls for a change in party leadership.
His announcement at the general assembly prompted dissenting voices from the crowd, with cries of “No!” echoing through the assembly hall. This sentiment was further echoed by 20 speakers at the party convention.
However, the following day, the former prime minister reversed his decision after citing his wife’s request for him to stay on for another term. The announcement was met with cheers from party leaders and delegates.
Talk about a Cabinet reshuffle had lingered throughout the year, culminating in Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s announcement of a new Cabinet on Dec 12. The new lineup comprises 31 ministers and 29 deputy ministers, slightly larger than the initial 28-member Cabinet, which was supported by 27 deputy ministers.
Two ministerial portfolios were split, and Amir Hamzah Azizan was appointed as second finance minister. The natural resources, environment and climate change ministry was split into two – the energy transition and public utilities ministry headed by deputy prime minister Fadillah Yusof, and the natural resources and sustainability ministry led by Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad.
Another significant division occurred in the communications and digital ministry with Gobind Singh Deo handling the digital ministry, and Fahmi Fadzil at the communications ministry. Notable appointments include Amanah’s Dzulkefly Ahmad, who assumed the health portfolio from Dr Zaliha Mustafa, and Johari Ghani, appointed as the plantation and commodities minister.
V Sivakumar was removed from the human resources minister portfolio and Ramkarpal Singh was dropped as deputy law and institutional reform minister.