By INS Contributors

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Law minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has been in the news a lot recently but unlike many other politicians who are the subject of media coverage, he has drawn positive, progressive and nation shaping news.

Who would have guessed that this Sarawakian politician with Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu would be the one to spearhead a number of much needed reforms, bringing Malaysia’s legal affairs up to date when many others have failed.

Abolishment of the mandatory death penalty, anti-hopping legislation meant to stabilise Malaysia’s increasingly volatile political scene and the lowering of the voting age to 18-years-old and anti-stalking legislation are some of the feathers in his cap.

Other matters such as the regulation of political donations and the issue of citizenship of children born to foreign mothers are being worked out with Wan Junaidi demonstrating a deep understanding of the issue and empathy for those affected.

“I want to tell these mothers who meet me, please, enough. At the end of the day, it is not only you who cry. I cry too,” he said when asked about Malaysian women whose children born abroad are denied citizenship.

All the more impressive is that this has been achieved during his relatively short stint in the portfolio, since 30 August, 2021, demonstrating the vigour and energy with which he has brought into his latest role.

Long and dedicated career in service of Malaysia

The 77-year-old has been in service of Malaysia for decades, starting out as a policeman and going on to defend the country against communist insurgents between 1969 and 1973, serving with great courage and distinction.

In recognition of his efforts and a testament to his service, He also became President of the Sarawak Ex-Police Association of Malaysia (PBPM) of Sarawak.

Wan Junaidi made the decision to quit  the force and move into the legal profession, to the surprise of his late wife Datin Feona, who questioned his decision after Wan Junaidi had invested so much time and effort as a policeman, to which he offered a simple explanation regarding his principles:

“You remember why I refused to accept a bunch of rambutans from your father’s friend and why I didn't allow Farah (my eldest daughter) to receive the ang pow from your family friends during Chinese New Year when it was found to be much more than usual? Certainly you cannot imagine me receiving anything from a total stranger. On the other hand, I don't want to be Serpico…” (A Policeman, 2014)

“As I stepped out of the comfort zone of the Police Force, I was unsure of what I was going to face outside. But I had always cast aside any doubts whenever there was a decision to be made. I loved the Police Force, but then I knew that my future lay elsewhere.”

Little could he have known that decision to swap his police uniform to become a lawyer would lead him to eventually becoming a lawmaker and now a powerhouse in bringing much needed reforms to Malaysia.

Having won the Batang Lupar seat in Sarawak during the 1990 general elections, Wan Junaidi went on to successfully serve in several cabinets in various roles: Deputy Minister of Home Affairs (2013–2015), Minister of Natural Resources and Environment
(2015–2018), Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives (2020–2021) and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Parliament and Law) as the de facto law minister from last August till the present.

A big heart for the environment

During his stint as Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Wan Junaidi oversaw a reinvigoration of efforts to end wildlife trafficking in Malaysia with a great number of endangered species being saved from trafficking and the arrest and prosecution of many poachers and others involved in the illegal wildlife trade.

This earned him praise from even civil society, conservation groups and other critics who had to admit that Wan Junanidi had gone above and beyond in safeguarding Malaysia’s biodiversity.

But a major victory was the implementation of a moratorium on bauxite mining in the east coast state of Pahang, which had been allowed to grow in an unsustainable and unregulated was leading to environmental problems and widespread pollution leading to the infamous “red tide” when the sea off Kuantan was so heavily laden with bauxite ore that it turned red.

Against all odds, Wan Junaidi put a stop to the activity, allowing the industry to become better regulated when the moratorium was lifted three-years later. This move was and remains the only time that a lucrative economic activity was stopped due to environmental concerns and no other politician would have had the will to carry it through.

An exemplary leader

Looking at the bigger picture, statesmen like Wan Junaidi have also played a crucial role in reaffirming and strengthening the autonomy of Sarawak which has increasingly charted its own path within the powers it has as a federal partner within the framework of Malaysia.

This has seen the promotion of harmonious policies which have benefited the people of the state and a distinct lack of polarisation as has obviously taken place in Peninsula Malaysia.

While on the whole Sarawakian leaders have avoided such missteps, Wan Junaidi has gone further by constantly reminding Malaysians generally and Sarawakians specifically on the importance of maintaining warm relations between communities.

“As citizens who mix around with the other races in the state, we should always maintain this well-being. We need to respect each other and share cultural values as a way to promote Sarawak in the eyes of the world,” he was quoted saying during a Gawai festival event.

“Citizens should maintain a tolerant and respectful lifestyle as the difference in beliefs and cultures can be shared to strengthen multiracial harmony. This can also be an attraction to tourists and investors.”

Wise words that should be heeded by those on the other side of the South China Sea. Let us hope that nothing will hinder this energetic and capable leader and that all reforms promised will be seen through.