Friday, 27 June 2008
JESSINTA TAN, TODAYonline
MALAYSIA'S "First Lady-in-waiting" Rosmah Mansor has become a lightning rod for criticism of late.
Pointing to her overseas trips, the opposition alleged that the 57-year-old wife of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak had gone on luxury shopping sprees and shipped her purchases back home at the expense of the Malaysian embassy in London and national carrier Malaysian Airlines.
While Mr Najib has stood up for his wife and dismissed the allegations that she had received special treatment from Malaysian embassies abroad, the negative perception of Ms Rosmah has stuck in the public mind.
Mr Najib had to come to her defence again on Wednesday, this time over her alleged involvement in the 2006 murder of Ms Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old Mongolian woman whose body was later blown up with explosives.
Mr Raja Petra Kamarudin, the editor of online news portal Malaysia Today, filed a statutory declaration last week at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, alleging that Ms Rosmah was one of the three individuals at the murder scene.
This was after he was charged last month with sedition for implying that Mr Najib was involved in the murder. Ms Rosmah gave her statement to the police on Monday, the details of which have not been made public.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had repeatedly rejected charges that Mr Najib and his wife were involved in Ms Altantuya's murder. Political analysts noted that as long as there are doubts over their involvement, Mr Abdullah's choice of successor is seen as potentially disastrous.
Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said Mr Najib's succession — the timeframe of which has not been made official — would not be able to reverse the decline of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) if he is plagued with Mr Raja Petra's new allegation against his wife.
"Mr Najib's credibility is already fragile among common folk, especially in his own Malay community. He needs to justify his innocence if he wants to provide a strong leadership to Umno," he said.
Kuala Lumpur resident A L Tan said Malaysians liked to compare Ms Rosmah to Ms Jeanne Abdullah, the wife of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, the wife of former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad.
"They say Ms Rosmah is not as humble as the present First Lady and the former ones," she said.
Ms Agnes Teh, a resident of Penang, said: "Ms Rosmah is seen as ambitious and arrogant, so some people fear that she could be a tough 'First Lady' who will be able to influence decisions."
But she added: "We shouldn't judge her while claims of her involvement in the murder are being investigated".
Ms Rosmah, the current chancellor of the Industrial University of Selangor, returned to Malaysia in 1983 after finishing her postgraduate studies, she worked as a business development manager for five years before deciding in 1997 to devote more time to her husband.
She is the second wife of Mr Najib, who divorced his first wife of 11 years, Tengku Puteri Zainah Tengku Eskandar, with whom he has three children, in 1987. The Umno deputy president then wed Ms Rosmah, with whom he has five children.
On whether Mr Najib, 54, will make a better Prime Minister than Mr Abdullah, political analyst Yang Razali Kassim of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, told Today: "That's what many people expect, though it remains to be seen. To begin with, he has a pedigree, being the son of Malaysia's popular second Prime Minister Abdul Razak."
But Mr Najib, who is also a nephew of Malaysia's third Prime Minister Hussein Onn, has found it hard to steer clear of controversy.
In a widely documented speech in the late '80s when he was the acting chief of Umno Youth, he defended special Malay privileges and vowed to bathe the keris (Malay dagger) with Chinese blood.
In 2005 and 2006, current Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein raised and kissed a keris at the Umno general assembly. Mr Hishammuddin later acknowledged that the act had upset non-Malays and apologised in April this year.