November 23, 2013
Rosmah and her Excesses: Who’s to Blame?
by Josh Hong (11-22-13)@www.malaysiakini.com
Rosmah Mansor’s jet-setting incident reveals more about our society than the woman herself. We all know the entire cabinet is subservient to successive Prime Ministers’ will and would not object to their demands. Deep down their hearts, the ministers know that they would have no qualms demanding the same privilege once they ascend to the highest office. Or perhaps their spouses have been abusing their own position in other ways, with or without public knowledge.
The self-styled ‘First Lady’ has been courting one controversy after another since the day Najib Abdul Razak took over as prime minister nearly five years ago. Her notorious spending sprees, done more abroad than at home, are widely publicised, with her husband apparently unable to rein her in.
Rosmah is clearly not satisfied with just being the spouse of a head of government, for she appears to be courting the status as a consort at all times. A ceremonial role is obviously not her cup of tea, which is why she organised the world’s first and last First Ladies Summit and played the inaugural host in Kuala Lumpur in 2010. Alas, the event was nothing but a flop. The turnout was so poor that no other country seems keen to host it again.
The only person who spoke well of the summit was none other than Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, who is as interesting as an overnight roti canai.
Some sycophant journalists tried to address Rosmah as First Lady as used in a republic. There was even at one time a First Lady Office of Malaysia (FLOM) within the Prime Minister’s Department, which was later removed and perhaps renamed after much public criticism.
In any case, the fact that Najib has time and again succumbed to his wife’s unconstitutional influence is detestable. Under the Westminster Parliamentary System, the spouse of a prime minister, unlike in the United States or other republics, enjoys no official title.
What is more, in the context of Malaysia, the spouse of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong takes precedence over a prime minister’s wife, rendering Rosmah’s attempt to usurp the First Lady title ridiculous and untenable.
Truth be told, Malaysia has not had a flamboyant and attention-seeking prime minister’s wife until Rosmah came along. For all my disagreement with Mahathir Mohamad, his wife Siti Hasmah remains a likeable figure and had performed her duties with dignity as a prime minister’s wife, although I do think her recent plea for Mukhriz Mahathir in the hope of raising her son’s chances in the UMNO election has tarnished her image somewhat.
Thanks to mainstream media protection and UMNO’s tight grip on the state machinery, Rosmah has been able to weather all the storms and come off unscathed. But the wider issue is whether all public office holders should allow their family members to enjoy access to official functions or be part of the entourgage on official trips.
Two wrongs do not make a right
On this, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s recent travel to China comes to mind. While Lim may argue his government had spent much less on overseas trips since 2008, it is unwise of him to justify the inclusion of his wife in the delegation by citing an old law passed by the previous administration under Barisan Nasional!
Two wrongs do not make a right, and those who yearn for change in Malaysia have witnessed enough double standards from both sides of the political divide.
Quite clearly, should there be more controversies as such in the future that implicate Pakatan Rakyat leaders, how on earth would they be endowed with moral authority and certitudes to criticise Rosmah? I am not saying Pakatan leaders must not take their spouses along for official travels, but clear rules and regulations must be in place for the sake of transparency and integrity. Retorting by saying that BN does the same is just flimsy and lame, pure and simple.
However, the most troubling aspect, as I see it, is the hypocrisy on the part of many Malaysians. They may gossip about Rosmah’s expensive taste and extravagance, but will not lift a finger to protest. Worse, they may even be the first to seize a photo opportunity with her. This connivance and acquiescence is, to me, far more deplorable than Rosmah’s vainglorious lifestyle itself.
JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.