High-risk Shahrizat walking dead
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 17:11
A constant drip, drip of damaging leaks have put paid to the tenacity and popularity of Shahrizat — Wanita Umno chief since 2009 — reducing her to excess baggage on Barisan Nasional’s general election escalator.
It would be disastrous if, amid the outpouring of widespread public spleen, Shahrizat sees a chance to exact revenge for the Opposition’s exposure of her family’s alleged rancorous abuses in the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) at the hustings.
The NFC scandal seems to have engulfed more than just her family and her political camp. Barisan Nasional (BN) is in the spotlight, as are some of the main players in the current NFC drama — all giving added oxygen to an enthused opposition.
The crisis is a gift for a relieved opposition that had been struggling for political traction and has been re-energised by BN’s difficulties caused by the NFC mess.
It is also being greeted with delight by many BN politicians who had for years resented Shahrizat’s power and who now feel unleashed — and somewhat ashamed of their previous timidity.
Shahrizat is facing a maelstrom of criticism over her decision to remain as head of Wanita Umno. Her resignation as women, family and community development minister has been described as a half-hearted decision to allay public furore.
Her decision failed to stem broader questions about the influence and performance of the 1.3 million-strong women’s wing that has remained the most unswerving group and is poised to play a crucial role for Umno in the general election.
To be sure, many in and outside Wanita Umno find it difficult to defend the hammer blow of the NFC allegations that has thrown Shahrizat into the ring.
They are finding it hard to calibrate the fine margins required to navigate the apparently cut-throat waters of politics and business.
The sordid affair has played out at breakneck pace in the media — denials of wrongdoing by Shahrizat’s family and never-ending startling accusations by the Opposition — and prompted soul-searching at the highest levels of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration.
A propensity to delay difficult and weighty decisions in the NFC upheaval again hurt the administration and threatened to overshadow Najib’s reform pledges.
The NFC crisis proved very damaging because it made it easier for the man-on-the street and rural Malays — who form the core of Umno’s support — to relate to it than the more ambiguous financial matters.
Yet, far from intimidated by her husband, Datuk Seri Mohamad Salleh Ismail, the National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp) executive chairman, being charged with criminal breach of trust and breaching the Companies Act — and the possibility of her three children in the dock for related charges — Shahrizat opted to stay on as Wanita Umno head.
Clearly, Salleh’s case — that will delve into whether the family of one of Umno’s biggest calling cards had used part of the RM250 million ringgit loan from the government to the NFCorp to buy condominiums and real estate, both here and abroad — threatens to tarnish the government ahead of widely expected elections this year.
Shahrizat’s decision ramped up public anger as withdrawing from the cabinet when her tenure as senator ends on April 8 was seen as a dismissive: “What resignation?”
Her tenure becomes legally void when her term as a senator ends as, under the constitution, only a member of Parliament or a senator can become a minister.
Was there real remorse on her part? If Shahrizat had done nothing wrong, should she have resigned? Many questioned: By resigning, is she admitting she did something wrong?
In a nutshell, she did nothing more than what we already know — when anybody’s term is up, they step down unless asked to stay.
The MCA Youth, among others in the ruling coalition, wants her to stay away from the next general election until she is cleared of influencing the Cabinet to award the NFC project to her family.
MCA Youth is adamant that Shahrizat staying on as Wanita Umno chief would negate BN’s move toward political transformation. Even if the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the police find her innocent of power abuse, Sharizat would be a liability to BN in the general election.
Her presence in the general election would be contrary to Malaysian society expressing its preference for accountable governance with increasing boldness.
Unless and until that change occurs, Najib’s continued pursuit of genuine democracy will fail to achieve stability. Najib cannot afford this issue to be raised cyclically as political fodder because its divisive nature makes it ideal to pit parties with opposing ideologies against one another.
Shahrizat may have proven in the past she could combine levity with hubbub, but in all fairness, her leadership has suffered significant setbacks from this controversy.
It comes at a wrong time and sets in motion a roller coaster process for her, Umno and the BN heading into the general election.
Personally, I don’t think Shahrizat knows what it means to step down graciously. I don’t know how sacrifice, accountability and decency feature in her “resignation”.
It’s proper for her to be no longer Umno Wanita supremo, unless she wants to serve Pakatan Rakyat’s cause better if she remained.
Shahrizat is high risk. She has reached a dead end.
Multiple award-winning journalist Frankie D’Cruz is Editor-At-Large of The Malay Mail. He can be reached at [email protected]