It worked for a while – firstly in promoting everything that the new PM was doing that, to his supporters, were worthy of mention and at the same time be condescending towards the critics.
But since Anwar’s recent appointment of his daughter Nurul Izzah as senior adviser to the Prime Minister on economics and finance, the tables have turned.
The critics are now mocking the Anwar diehards on how hard are they trying to not notice the nepotism in the appointment.
While their banter may seem to be flippant, the crux of the matter is that the definition of nepotism kept on being defined and re-defined.
It used to be defined simply as those in power keeping it within the family and the longer version is of being the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives, friends, or associates, especially by giving them jobs.
But backed to the wall, Anwar’s supporters lapped on caveats and justifications made by advocates that nepotism is no more nepotism if it is pro bono or that the daughter is qualified.
For good measure, just re-define the proverb, hence making two wrongs make one right.
Then start digging for appointments of children and relatives by earlier leaders of those in the opposition so as to justify the appointment of Nurul Izzah.
The flurry of defence sometimes is not well thought out. But economist Jomo K. Sundram’s take on it is quite interesting, though not necessarily with wit.
Insisting that he was not in favour of such appointment, Jomo however added a new twist to the argument. Jomo said the claim that Nurul Izzah is unqualified for the position “also implies inherited gender bias in the Malaysian political scene, pointing out that there was hardly any public furore when male politicians gave preferential treatments to their male relatives in the past to advance their relatives’ political careers.
“When the fourth PM Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi appointed his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, I don’t think many people raised that as an issue when he (Khairy) was running the so-called ‘fourth floor’.
“Similarly, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad assisted his son Mukhriz Mahathir in his political career, I didn’t hear these things being said. Did anybody ask anything about this? I hear this being said especially of Nurul Izzah. I think here you cannot discount the gender question.
“I think the fact she is a woman is part of the reason why people might think she has no mind of her own. Of course it is not publicly stated, but these are the implicit assumptions,” said Jomo.
It is actually quite surprising that Jomo chose Khairy and Mukhriz as examples in defending the appointment of Nurul Izzah.
In the case of Khairy and the then all powerful “fourth floor” of the Abdullah era, they were the main issue that led to Abdullah’s downfall in the 12th general election after an impressive performance in the 11th polls.
Mukhriz did not get into public office until 2013, a decade after Dr Mahathir had retired. Mukhriz’s second stint as the Kedah Mentri Besar after the 2018 polls was part of the Pakatan Harapan promise for Kedah, believing that the voters would support the coalition with him as the candidate.
As such, in Khairy’s case, critics of nepotism did not care about gender. As long as it is practised, it is to be condemned. In the case of Mukhriz, he did not get anywhere near to his father’s office when latter was helming the nation, something which Jomo and supporters of Nurul Izzah’s appointment seem to ignore.
Then again, Jomo and the rest of the nation, supporters or opposition to Anwar and Nurul Izzah should be placing much more scrutiny on the practice of nepotism and cronyism with regards of the father and daughter tag team.
Anwar who adopted the reformasi (reformation) slogan after being sacked from office, had also adopted the Indonesian reform movement’s battle cry against KKN – Korupsi, Kolusi dan Nepotisma (Corruption, Collusion and Nepotism).
In Malaysia, collusion was somehow dropped, maybe it required a bit more explanation for mass support, leaving corruption and nepotism as the twin cry against the government of the day.
And that continued to be the political battle cry of Anwar and Nurul Izzah, who went on to assume the title of Puteri Reformasi (Princess of Reform).
Given the fact that they had worn the reform agenda on their sleeves, the standard set on them should, by any measure be much higher than others, especially when it concerns the issue of corruption and nepotism, their staple since the heady days of street demonstrations.
Instead, they seemed to have faltered even at the most basic of their reform agenda, at least on the nepotism part.
While they can be expected to furnish new caveats when failing to observe their own promises, the manner their supporters go the extra mile to justify their failings should be of bigger concern.
When Anwar appointed Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as his Deputy Prime Minister, the argument put forth was that it was on the King’s decree.
As the justification starts to wear thin, the PM urged the public to subscribe to the maxim of innocent until proven guilty, ignoring a basic principle of reforms that leaders must not only e clean but must also be seen to be clean.
When Anwar reneged on the promise that the PM must not take up the Finance Minister’s portfolio, his apologists claimed that it was necessary under the current political and economic climate.
And now the Nurul Izzah and nepotism furore and again their apologists ignore the danger of the precedents being set.
As caveats after caveats are offered when reforms’ promises are being reneged upon, the seeds of future political monstrosity are being planted.
Then they grow strong and rooted.
- Shamsul Akmar is an editor at The Malaysian Reserve.