Thin line between politics and family

Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz fended off criticism about appointing his son as his special officer but the cosy nexus between politics and family exists in almost every political party.

Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz almost outshone superstars like Bruce Lee and Marilyn Monroe a few days ago – or at least their models at the wax museum in Shah Alam.

The Tourism Minister hammed it up with them – he tried out a kungfu move on Bruce, stroked Marilyn’s cheek and draped an arm over the shoulder of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who looked happier than he ever looked when alive.

It was rather too much action for a museum but not even the owner of the museum was about to tell him that.

Besides, Nazri might have told him, “I don’t give a damn”, because that was what he said when the media queried him about his son being listed as a “special officer” on the Tourism Ministry website.

It will probably go down as one of his more famous or should it be infamous quotes?

Nazri has since explained that his son Muhammad Nedim is not a gazetted officer but is employed as an aide to help him in constituency duties.

Nedim’s name would not have attracted much attention had it not been for the fact that he does not have a sterling reputation and has made news for all the wrong reasons in the past.

The most used photo of Nedim shows him looking uber cool in aviator glasses and smoking a cigar and, truth be told, very few people can associate him with political work.

The minister was his usual macho self when brushing off media questions about it but he also came across as rather defensive.

Family in politics is always a tricky matter.

Even when everything is above board, there is always that element of doubt of a conflict of interest, somewhere and somehow.

But, as everyone would have noticed, the Pakatan Rakyat side which is always so quick to jump on everything and anything Umno has been strangely silent.

No prizes for guessing why – very few politicians have not dabbled in a bit of nepotism now and then.

“For Nazri to employ his son is not something unusual. Both sides of the political divide do it,” said author and social historian Dr Neil Khor.

The reality, said Dr Khor, is that Malaysian politics has developed in such a way that there is only a thin line between the business of politics and family business.

Barely a day after the Nazri-and-son episode, a Chinese language paper reported that two exco members of the Penang government also had family members on the payroll.

PKR’s Abdul Malik Kassim, state exco member for religious, domestic trade and consumer affairs, had employed his sister as his administrative assistant in his Komtar office since 2008.

Another state exco member Chong Eng, who is also the DAP women’s chief, had her newly-graduated son on the payroll although she has insisted that he was hired at her personal expenses.

The public tends to be very accommodating when small and struggling parties in the opposition have family members in their hierarchy.

Family is loyal and dependable and you can send them to pick your laundry and run other personal errands and they cannot complain that it is not part of their job.

But today, parties like PAS, DAP and PKR are in power in several states and people are watching.

The same applies to the Barisan Nasional which used to get away with a lot but the freedom of the Internet has made politics akin to living in a house without curtains.

Everyone and everything is up for scrutiny.

The public is often more concerned about whether such arrangements are done at the expense of taxpayers’ money.

But for members of political parties, their gripe is whether politics and family deals an unfair disadvantage to those who are not part of the family.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was quite particular about this. His elder son Datuk Mokhzani dabbled in Umno Youth politics without getting anywhere and Datuk Mukhriz only made it big after his father’s exit.

Datuk Seri Hadi Awang also deserves credit. The party wanted his son to be a candidate in the general election.

But he was adamant that it would not be appropriate unless he stepped aside.

Sarawakians were not impressed when Tan Sri Taib Mahmud’s son Datuk Suleiman won in the general election and went on to become a deputy minister because the handsome and debonair politician was better known for his highflying lifestyle than his political acumen.

Family ties are to be found in almost all Malaysian political parties.

Lim Kit Siang’s son is now the leader and Chief Minister of Penang.

Karpal Singh has two sons deep in DAP politics.

In MCA, there is Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek and his first born Tee Yong, the Labis MP.

Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu’s son Vell Paari was a very influential MIC figure when his father was up there but is struggling now.

Many used to think that Khairy Jamaluddin’s position in Umno was thanks to his Prime Minister father-in-law.

It was only after Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped down that Khairy was assessed for his own merit and it is only now that they are convinced the Youth and Sports Minister has got what it takes to be there.

Then there is the papa-mama-daughter triangle of power in PKR.

People did not mind when the party was struggling in the wilderness because the party had to use whatever resources to hold together. But now the family is being looked at for what it is – nepotism.

“But all these people get elected so what does that say about us? We get the government we deserve. At some point, there will be problems because family interests may trump public interest,” said Dr Khor.

Politicians have made so many promises about new politics the last few years.

But nepotism is a close cousin to cronyism and they are simply so old politics.