PETALING JAYA: Less than a week into his new job, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, an icon of “new Malaysia”, is on the defensive on what some would consider as “ghosts” from “old Malaysia”.
But whether or not Syed Saddiq eventually hires lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activist Numan Afifi as his special officer isn’t just a test for the country’s youngest ever minister, but the Pakatan Harapan government as well.
Part of PH’s promises of a new Malaysia includes the setting up of a commission to combat employment discrimination and some two months since the coalition wrested Putrajaya from Barisan Nasional, this commitment to anti-discrimination comes to the fore.
Shortly after Syed Saddiq was sworn in as a minister, Numan had introduced himself to members of the media in a WhatsApp group as his press officer. Syed Saddiq is also in the group.
It wasn’t long before word caught on and social media users, including Umno Supreme Council member Lokman Noor Adam, began questioning and criticising Syed Saddiq for hiring Numan, who made headlines last year after organising a “gay iftar”.
That event was criticised by some quarters, including preacher Hassan Mahmud Al-Hafiz, who accused the organiser of belittling Allah’s laws.
Syed Saddiq then clarified that he had yet to officially hire anyone to be his special officer, despite the ministry’s website listing Numan as a special officer to the minister. FMT’s attempts to contact him for further comment was unsuccessful.
Numan told FMT that he was only helping the minister with press matters until a press secretary was hired and that Syed Saddiq was looking for people to join his team.
On the other hand, Syed Saddiq is also facing calls from LGBT activists, political parties, and even a DAP MP, to not cave in to pressure over Numan’s appointment.
Prominent activist, Pang Kee Teik said on Twitter: “We voted Pakatan Harapan because among the five main thrusts of its manifesto is the promise to ‘build an inclusive and moderate nation’. Letting go of Numan Afifi due to his sexual orientation is a betrayal of those of us who bought into this promise.”
PSM Youth meanwhile called on Syed Saddiq to put an end to discrimination and stand true to PH’s promise of a more inclusive Malaysia.
“Do not play a political game as it shows that PH is no different from BN, in whom many have lost faith . Be principled in your decisions,” said the wing’s secretary-general Vennusha Priyaa in a statement.
DAP’s Klang MP Charles Santiago said that systemic discrimination must stop under the new government or Malaysia would continue to be a hostile place for the LGBT community.
“I pledge solidarity with Numan and request the government to repeal all laws and regulations that discriminate against the community.”
It is understood that a decision on Numan’s appointment will be known tomorrow.