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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Shopaholic maybe, but give Malaysia PM’s wife a break

Shopaholic maybe, but give Malaysia PM’s wife a break

POOR old Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The Malaysian leader is doing a great job and many believe he has the potential to surpass his late father, the much revered PM Abdul Razak Hussein.

Najib’s bold and innovative 1Malaysia campaign to reduce Malay preferences and inch towards a more ethnically meritocratic society is the best thing to happen to his country for a long time.

However, it’s a tough sell, especially for his United Malays National Organisation, the dominant party in the ruling coalition.

Unable to gain traction by attacking his policies, Najib’s opponents, within and without UMNO, have combed the gutters for ammunition.

And this month they have hit upon his wife, Rosmah.

Now it has to be admitted that, like all of us, the woman has her faults.

Although now 59, she remains at heart a bright lights, big city girl with shopaholic tendencies.

When she buys, she goes for the best and doubtless there is some basis to the reports of her purchases of armfuls of designer handbags, silk scarves, expensive jewellery and so on.

It’s indiscreet, perhaps even unseemly, in a premier’s wife.

So there’s nothing wrong with writing about it and lampooning her beehive hairstyle and kitschy accessories.

But after doing so and having a good chuckle, please move on.

For this is no way to go after a prime minister, and if the guttersnipes are not careful they will destroy one of their best-ever governments.

It would not be the first time a national leader has been undone by his wife’s perceived misbehaviour; although, unlike Najib, in most cases their downfall was justified.

Let’s face it, this region has had, and still has, more than its fair share of dragon spouses.

The list is long and unsavoury, and while its extant members are best unnamed, they are well known from the way their absurd honorifics are too numerous to fit into a single line.

Business tycoons laud them with full-page adverts, while ministers genuflect before them as if they are figures of real import rather than plump, over-madeup appendages.

In April, the death occurred of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Nhu, who earned the original “Dragon Lady” moniker for her attitude to opponents of her brother-in-law, President Ngo Dinh Diem.

When news came of yet more protesting Buddhists committing self-immolation, the haughty Nhu said she rejoiced at hearing about “another monk’s barbecue show”.

Soon after reading her obituary, I was in a Makati restaurant, when the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, sauntered past with a retinue of security men and assorted toadies.

The Filipina dragon lady is, of course, infamous for the 1,060 pairs of shoes in her closet and the 175 paintings on her walls, including works by Botticelli, Canaletto and Michelangelo.

Imelda and Nhu are the extremes, and Rosmah is not yet in their category.

Sure, she over-indulges and gets far too much sycophantic coverage in Malaysia’s state-controlled media.

But let’s cut her some slack.

The woman has degrees in sociology and anthropology and uses her intellect and industry on behalf of many charitable organisations.

I have met her only once, although I’ve interviewed her husband many times, but her fearlessness in speaking out impressed me.

When we met, one of Najib’s fellow UMNO leaders, Rahim Tamby Chik, stood accused of raping a 14-year-old schoolgirl and was trying to exonerate himself.

Other luminaries gave wishy-washy reactions to this. Not Rosmah.

She told me: “Rahim has been crying on people’s shoulders, but we all know he is guilty. He’s done it before. And he’s corrupt, too.”

Those who call it like it is, as Rosmah does, are invaluable.

And Najib, who is fawned over by other partymen, needs a smart and forthright foil to argue back with him.

Besides, he loves the woman. So give them a break and let him get on with the excellent job he is already doing.



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