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Monday, September 12, 2011

Malaysia's headache with Najib and Rosmah: Their own Bonnie and Clyde?

Sulaiman Kamal | 2:22 PM | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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Over the years she has been under constant public scrutiny; her perfectly made-up face, well-arched eyebrows, big 80’s-style hair, and even her handbags have featured prominently on Malaysia’s blogosphere.
Yes, we are speaking about none other than the First Lady of Malaysia Rosmah Mansor, sometimes better known as FLOM, which incidentally is also the acronym for the six-person “butler service” unit established in the prime minister’s office to cater to Rosmah’s whims and fancies. Her high-living style has not gone unnoticed by the public, and is at times arguably even more contentious than her husband’s political status.

Versus Michelle Obama
Indeed, the uproar about Rosmah’s alleged USD24.4 million ring from Jacob & Co. and her collection of Birkin bags have been dominating Malaysia’s media world for the past couple of months, while Najib’s probable ousting from UMNO in the coming elections have remained in the rear-view mirror. The lifestyle of the rich and the famous piques more interests than plain old politics, as always.
American First Lady Michelle Obama has also been touted as outshining her husband quite significantly, but while Michelle’s popularity is gaining the Democratic Party more funding and support, Rosmah’s notoriety has created nothing but controversy and increasing disrespect for Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cabinet.
Although claiming to be the support channel for Najib, many view Rosmah as the one calling the shots in their relationship, both at home and, worst of all for Malaysia, in the cabinet. Under the guise of representing Najib at international events, Rosmah has taken luxurious trips all over the world, each time bringing along with an entourage more befitting that of a teenage superstar rather than a respectable and down-to-earth FLOM, as she so claims to be.
Extravagant luxuries are understandable; after all, we all need some pampering once in a while. What has riled the Malaysian citizens about her trips is that it is financed under official government money, a.k.a. tax payers’ money, a.k.a. my money, your money, our money.
Done little for women's causes
Furthermore, despite her alleged progressive views on human capital development and her commitment towards it, Rosmah has done little to support the Malaysian women in battling the gender gap in the workforce. A report by the UNDP estimated that if women’s labour rate was raised to 70%, it could double the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 2% to 4% annually. PKR women’s chief Zuraidah Kamaruddin once questioned UMNO’s claim that 43% of the workforce in Malaysia are women with simply, “At what level?”
Indeed, as of last year only 10.8% of those elected to Parliament were women MPs. Furthermore, Malaysia also dropped a whopping 29 places from 72 to 101 out of 130 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index in just three years. Instead of teaching Malaysian women by example about handbags and diamond rings, Rosmah should probably better teach them the worth of their minds to the country.
Everything has to go through her
For all her spendthrift ways and Birkin handbags, Rosmah is probably most infamous for her alleged involvement in the 2006 murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu. Although, both Najib and Rosmah have denied any knowledge of Altantuya, tongues have never quite stopped wagging about the obvious attempts at cover-ups, and doubts about the innocence of Rosmah in this case never ceased.
As a self-proclaimed First Lady, a title that is quite begrudgingly acknowledged as hers because Malaysians prefer to reserve the title for the Queen, Rosmah hasn’t had a stellar record. But, more potently how is she affecting Najib’s career, which on its own is already badly mauled by corruption scandals?
But should the Prime Minister be held accountable for his wife’s extravagant ways? Afterall, he’s not the one walking around with RM1 million worth of handbags, or sporting a diamond ring that costs roughly double the GDP of the small island country Niue (although of course he is also implicated in the murder of Altantuya, but that remains a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes).
Then there is the whispering that has dogged her since Najib took over the Umno presidency. Anyone, be it a division leader from some remote area or a Class F contractor, needs her OK before he can get what he wants. And it is anybody's guess if and what she asks in return.
Fan or foe, no one can deny Najib is the leader of the country, whether he is corruption-free or corruption-filled. If Najib can’t lead his own wife, then how can he lead this nation? This is the recurrent theme in the recent pundit speculation on Najib’s future in politics. Rosmah’s actions have not only caused public dissatisfaction with her, but have seriously diminished Najib’s already wafer-thin credibility as a visionary leader.
Not only did his wife’s handbags, diamond ring and holidays cost millions of ringgit, but it could very well cost him his career and position.
Bonnie and Clyde
Now it needs to be acknowledged that the accusations, such as the purchase of the RM 24.4 million diamond ring, remain mere accusations, with Rosmah refusing to comment on the issue. But rumours don’t emerge from thin air, and if Rosmah has been wrongly accused, surely it would be wise for her or Najib to address the serious issue of wrongfully spending taxpayers’ money officially and respectfully. Instead she brushes the issue off with backhanded comments like, “I have no time to entertain such issue(s).”
So, curious to know who Rosmah Mansor was before becoming the “FLOM”? Before the Birkin bags, the alleged murder, the accusations of squandering taxpayers’ money on a lavish lifestyle and diamond rings; Rosmah Mansor was simply a Seremban girl. Like other Seremban girls she attended secondary school at Tunku Kurshiah College in Kuala Pilah, a boarding school for girls. But unlike other Seremban girls, Rosmah stood out from the crowd.
She achieved excellent grades in school, continuing to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Anthropology before pursuing a Master’s degree in Sociology and Agriculture Extension. Rosmah worked at Agriculture Bank Malaysia until 1983 and then became the Business Development Manager at Island and Peninsular Berhad until 1987, when she began her relationship with Najib. Little did Malaysia know that this duo would become Malaysian politics’ very own modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.
Undoubtedly Rosman was already a very established woman with the strength of character that rivals or even suppresses that of her husband’s when she met him. She is a force of nature, but without proper guidance or control, like all other forces of nature, she could inflict serious damage to the things she touches. The question is, will it be her husband’s career, Barisan Nasional’s position, or the people of this country that will suffer the consequences?


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