By Kee Thuan Chye
I wonder, when Najib Razak has his private moments, what does he think about?
Does he think about what a liability his wife, Rosmah Mansor, is turning out to be? About the bad press that has been mounting against her and her allegedly extravagant spending and her use of the government jet to go to Qatar? And now her son’s purchase of a RM110 million condo in New York City?
Lavishing that amount of money at a time when Malaysians are being compelled to pinch pennies is obscene. It also shows up the glaring contrast between the lifestyles of the ruling elite and those of the common people. While the ruling elite forces us to tighten our belts in the face of rising prices, its own family members appear to be having a whale of a time.
It may be claimed that Rosmah’s son, Riza Aziz, came to great wealth through his own talent and initiatives, like investing successfully in Hollywood movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street, and is therefore entitled to his enjoyment of luxuries, but the next question that begs to be asked is: Why, in the midst of the brain drain Malaysia is suffering, does he not come back instead to contribute his talent and wealth to developing his own country? And helping his stepfather to achieve the goal of making Malaysia a high-income nation?
In his private moments, does Najib think of reining Rosmah in? Of sitting her down and having a good talk with her about the need to be sensitive to his position as prime minister, and certainly not to do anything that could inadvertently hurt his public image?
But then, does he even think that what she does is politically unbefitting? Is he at all concerned that it has angered Malaysians? Well, from his ardent defense of her at the recent Umno general assembly, at which he praised her for her “contributions” to the country – which avowedly amounted to only bringing Malaysian students home from crisis-torn Egypt – it would seem not. He appears more concerned about protecting her feelings.
One might well ask: Is he languishing under some kind of stupor?
In his private moments, does he think about the association he is alleged to have had with the late Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was blown to bits with a C4 explosive allegedly by his former bodyguards? Although attempts have been made by government agencies to expunge her from Malaysian memory, culminating in the acquittal of the accused by the Court of Appeal last August, has her ghost been exorcised from Najib’s mind? Or does it come back to continually haunt him because the mystery remains as to who would want her killed? Does it bother him that as long as it remains unsolved, his name is not quite cleared? At least, not as far as the public is concerned?
Does he, when he sits alone by himself or lies in bed before falling asleep, think of the bad press he himself is getting? Of late, the worst must be about the rise in prices because of his allowing the petrol and sugar subsidies to be cut, and electricity tariffs and toll rates to be raised. So much so that there are groups calling for the Government to be toppled.
Does he feel any pang of conscience thinking about the rakyat’s suffering while he is spending the rakyat’s money like there is no tomorrow? In November, the news weekly The Heat gave an excellent breakdown of his spendthrift ways. For instance, he and Rosmah spent RM17 million on overseas travel between 2008 and 2011.
Then in 2012, the rakyat had to pay RM134,317 for Rosmah’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bangladesh, plus RM140,000 for an overnight stay in Dubai’s luxury hotel, Atlantis. Doesn’t this go beyond the bounds of decency and the limits of the rakyat’s tolerance? Why should we have to pay for these expenses when Rosmah holds no public office and is therefore not a representative of the Malaysian government? And why must she stay at Atlantis when RM140,000 can go a long way towards funding the needy?
Incidentally, about two weeks after that report came out, The Heat had its licence suspended.
In his quiet moments, does Najib think about the impracticality of his being finance minister as well? Doesn’t he have enough on his plate already as prime minister? Does he want to keep the finance portfolio so that there won’t be checks on his spending of public funds? And he can give his own Prime Minister’s Department a budget allocation of RM15 billion, which, according to The Heat, is 3.5 times the allocation for the entire state of Sabah?
Is holding two jobs too much for him? To the extent that between 2009 and October 2013, his government paid private consultants a hefty RM7.2 billion to give advice and even create the education blueprint although we have 1.4 million civil servants from whom it could surely tap some great ideas?
More important, is holding two jobs making Najib lose control of the way the country is going?
His ministers come out and say the most horrifying things, and he lets them. Like telling the police to shoot suspects first and ask questions later. Or telling the public, “You fight with me, I fight you, I kill you.”
His ministers clamour for preventive detention to be revived and Najib tamely agrees, breaking the promise he made in 2011 that preventive detention would be a thing of the past.
The Malay right-wing group Perkasa makes provocative statements that incite ill feelings against non-Malays and non-Muslims, but Najib doesn’t even say a word, not even to reassure the targets of attack. In fact, when he’s expected to say something to reduce tension over a heated issue, he often plays mute.
Then there’s religion. He’s allowing it to split Malaysians. In his Maal Hijrah address on November 5, he vowed to uphold the word ‘Allah’ for the exclusive use of Muslims – even if the world laughed at Malaysia for doing so.
Now the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) is setting out to track down Christians who use ‘Allah’ to refer to God. It is also reminding churches in Selangor that a 1988 state law forbids them from using ‘Allah’ and 34 other Arabic words, including ‘nabi’ (prophet), ‘injil’ (gospel) and “Insya’Allah” (God willing).
And yet Najib could still say at Christmas that Muslims should not offend Christians and Christians should not offend Muslims. After having taken the combative stance during the Muslim day of celebration a month before, he now said that although there were differences in their interpretations of the concept of God, these should not lead to disputes because “Islam and Christianity can be said to have common origins”.
Most pertinently, he reiterated that he was not interested in winning an argument because he was more keen on preserving peace, harmony and stability. If he truly means this, he should right away retract what he said on November 5, and issue a directive to all government agencies to drop the dispute over the use of ‘Allah’.
Forget about the court verdicts – the High Court ruling allowing the Catholic weekly The Herald to use it, and the Court of Appeal’s decision against it. These are arguments, after all.
Acknowledge that both religions have common origins, which is also the reason for the Christians using ‘Allah’. Acknowledge the history of the use of the word. Not only here, but even in Arab countries, the centres of Islam. Acknowledge that in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, there is no restriction against Christians using the word.
If Najib dares to stop the dispute, he will move nearer his much-touted 1Malaysia. If he dares not, it will simply remain a salesman’s slogan.
But does he really give a toss? In his private moments, does he agonise over doing the right thing? Does he even do his own thinking or does he leave it to consultants? Is he too much in a stupor?
Well, if I were his uncle, I would advise him to break out of his stupor. But then again, could he?
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the book The Elections Bullshit, available in bookstores.