Malaysia’s Crisis Hurts Najib Heir-Apparent as Criticism Swells


(Bloomberg) – Malaysia’s handling of the search for missing Flight 370 has turned the official groomed to become the country’s next prime minister into a lightning rod for criticism, hurting his chances to lead the nation.

Hishammuddin Hussein, the defense and acting transport minister, has led almost all daily press conferences held since the Malaysian Air plane dropped off air-traffic controllers’ screens March 8. The relation of three prime ministers and the grandson of the ruling party’s founder has stoked ire among passengers’ families and China’s government with his self-contradictions and failure to provide definitive answers.

“People are trying to find somebody to blame,” said Ahmad Rafdi Endut, senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia. “Given that he’s the minister in charge of finding this airplane, people easily pinpoint his weaknesses. I believe he’s doing as best as he could.”

With satellite data showing the plane ended up in the southern Indian Ocean and the reason for its disappearance unknown, any lasting impact on the reputation of Hishammuddin, 52, remains unclear. The man who beat the son of another ex-premier for the post of vice president of the biggest ruling party has risen through the ranks of the United Malays National Organisation since attending a high school known as the Eton of the East, earning a law degree and practicing as an attorney.

As minister of home affairs last year he oversaw a land, sea and air operation to evict Filipino Muslim insurgents, and took on the defense and acting transport portfolios after an election last May.

Malaysians Unite

“The search for MH370 is bigger than politics,” Hishammuddin said March 18, referring to the hunt for the flight that was bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. “I urge all Malaysians to put our differences aside and unite during this difficult time.”

Hishammuddin, his senior aides and the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to or declined requests for comment.

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