2020-07-02 11:14:00  2299300
Malaysian politics is a family business

By Mariam Mokhtar

What's in a name? In Malaysia, the right name means everything as it can carry a lot of influence and opens many doors, to business, contacts and funding.

If there was no tag team of Najib Abdul Razak and Jho Low, Riza Abdul Aziz, Najib's step son, would not have received the money from 1MDB, to produce his Hollywood films.

Each time the offspring of a prime minister is linked to a company, the shares in the company increase by leaps and bounds.

On 3 March, shares in the little-known Malaysian building company, Thriven Global Bhd. jumped 118% on speculation that the company's ties with Muhyiddin Yassin, Malaysia's 'new' PM, could boost business. Muhyiddin's son, Fakhri Yassin Mahiaddin, is its chairman. The same effect has been reported when sons of former PMs purchased shares in various companies.

Malaysian politics are like playground brawls. We focus on personalities instead of policies and issues. After 63 years, the nation has not progressed from the playground.

In the playground you can spot the children who like to show-off. At one time, some children could cultivate a following by owning rare Pokemon cards, or by wearing the latest trainers.

In the political playground, the same attraction occurs. The chunky diamond encrusted watches worn by Umno-Baru politicians and their spouses, are not for telling the time. They signal to the wider community that the wearer has 'made it' in Malaysia. These watches are a symbol of decadence and luxury, and some cost more than a semi-detached house.

Children can be cruel and will resort to name calling, incivility and taking sides. Our politicians adopt the same polarizing attitudes, to impress their followers. Today, paid cybertroopers use social media to have a devastating and immediate impact on the rakyat. One is aware that a by-election is approaching, by the increased intensity of these childish attacks.

In the latest round of political bitching between former PMs, Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Najib Abdul Razak, Najib criticized Harapan leaders, for allowing their children to inherit control of their respective parties. He said, "My name is not Anwar, Mahathir, nor Kit Siang, and Umno is not a party owned by any one family."

Najib is being disingenuous about his entry into politics. He is the consummate career politician who, five decades ago, was thrust into the political limelight, on the death of his father, the second PM of Malaysia, who died from leukemia.

Najib offered his name for the by-election and buoyed by the sympathy factor, became the nation's youngest deputy minister. He was in his final year at university but was thrust into the make-believe world of political intrigue, backstabbing and false promises. He soon learned to climb the greasy pole of politics, to survive, and to reach the top. It is a world dominated by three S's – sex, sleaze and scandal. Today, he often trades on his father's name, especially when he is in a tight spot.

Najib forgot to mention his cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein Onn, who is another political deadbeat. The same families seem to crop-up within Umno, Umno-Baru and Perikatan Nasional (PN).

Nurul Izzah Anwar's entry into the political limelight happened when Anwar was jailed by Mahathir. She had to stay strong for her mother and her siblings. She met world leaders, to highlight the abuses perpetrated on her father.

We will never know if Nurul would have pursued a career in electrical engineering, instead of being catapulted into politics, if her father had not been jailed by Mahathir.

Najib practices selective amnesia. In various police raids after GE14. he and his family were caught with billions of ringgits in cash, gems, watches, and expensive hand-bags stashed away in their various homes. No-one could say that of any of the children of his political rivals.

Malaysians keep carping on about Mahathir having sown the seeds of division. That is true, but the more important thing is to focus on the failure of successive PMs to end the polarization and inequality. These leaders merely perfected Mahathir's evil policies.

Timing is critical. If Najib was serious about dealing with nepotism and corruption, he could have exposed the details about Mahathir's children's business dealings years ago. Why now? Najib was hemmed into a corner and lashed out, just like a petulant child in the playground.

In the 80s and 90s, Najib held important ministerial roles under Mahathir, and had been intricately involved in the decision making of the cabinet. So it is disingenuous for him to claim that he was trapped by problem legacies. He had the power to act and expose the bail-outs of Mahathir's children, but he did not.

An effective leader sets a good example to his citizens. Neither Mahathir nor Najib fit the mould of a good leader, as they were driven by their rampant greed and self interests.

The rakyat must start a new dialogue and this time, demand that their leaders listen to them. They must dispense with the old guard and nurture the younger generation, especially those with the courage to tackle the twin evils of race and religion. We need a new political narrative in which Malays and non-Malays are treated as equals.


1. Malay Mail: Prove my children awarded govt contracts when I was PM, Dr Mahathir challenges Najib

2. MalaysiaKini: Najib hits back at Dr M with veiled swipe at sons' business deals

3. The Star: Eden, Thriven rally after appointment of new PM

4. Bloomberg: Malaysian property stock doubles in value over links to the new prime minister

(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)

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