The Malaysian Insider
March 12, 2009
The end could be near for Datuk Azalina Othman Said.
Even if the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission does not find any evidence that she is involved in vote-buying or any other forms of corruption, her meteoric rise up the political ladder — which saw her turn from lawyer-cum-talk show presenter to full minister in five years — could be over.
Why? Because incoming Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has enough controversy and baggage accompanying him into office, and he does not need his ministers to have question marks planted next to their names. As Barry Wain noted in his article in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Najib brings much political baggage to the job, namely, the controversy surrounding the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shariibuu in 2006.
Abdul Razak Baginda, an Adviser to Najib, was charged with and then cleared of the murder of the Mongolian model.
Wain noted that though the DPM has denied knowing the victim and has sworn his innocence in a mosque, he has been “unable to stem an avalanche of gossip, speculation and serious analysis, much of it circulated on the Internet”. Then there are nagging questions over defence deals and Najib’s role in the defection of three Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers in Perak, an unpopular move which led to Barisan Nasional wresting control of the state from the opposition.
Given this backdrop and the fact that Najib is coming into office with a 46 per cent approval rating, he cannot afford his appointments to the Cabinet to be controversial, questionable or scarred in the eyes of the public. For these reasons, MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek may not find himself in the new Cabinet despite having even closer ties with Najib than the DPM has with Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat and despite commanding strong support in UMNO and MCA.
Dr Chua’s role in the sex videotape scandal just makes him a distraction, another soft target for the opposition and Malaysians who expect their politicians to be role models.
For these reasons, Azalina will have a tough time remaining in the frame for a Cabinet position after April 3. Her tour of duty as the Youth and Sports Minister and then as Tourism Minister has been pockmarked with controversy and laced with allegations, beginning with the still-born idea to turn the rubber research centre in Brickendonbury, England, into a high-performance sport centre for Malaysian athletes, to reports of wrongdoing in Pempena, a subsidiary of the Tourism Ministry.
Sandwiched in between are allegations of money politics, etc. And yet not too long ago, she was the face of renewal and reform in UMNO. After the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in 1998, Umno suffered rejection from young Malays. The party went on an overdrive to attract young Malay professionals into their fold.
Azalina was appointed to the UMNO supreme council in 2000 by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. She founded Puteri UMNO a year later. Within a couple of years, she managed to build Puteri UMNO into a formidable unit, all the while displaying her aggressive and brash style of leadership.
During her early years in UMNO, she became known as a favourite of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and close associate of Khairy Jamaluddin. After the 2004 general election, she was made a full minister and despite an average first term in the Cabinet, Abdullah retained her after the March 8 debacle, sealing her reputation as an Abdullah loyalist.
But she did wear the tag of a loyalist easily last year when the knives were out for Abdullah. Party insiders say that she, like other UMNO politicians, believed that Abdullah’s two-year transition plan was untenable, and was not shy of making her views known in party circles.
Her supporters believe that her troubles with the MACC are linked to her criticism of Abdullah’s leadership, a line of reasoning flicked aside by party insiders as lame. They point out that she is still viewed as an Abdullah protégé and this label combined with her patchy and controversial time as a Cabinet minister makes her only an outsider for a place in the Najib administration.