Malaysia's UMNO Keeps a Scandal-Plagued Pol
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak apparently is having considerable trouble persuading Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the minister for women, family and community development and the source of a controversy over alleged misuse of public funds, to quit the United Malays National Organization.
It was announced three weeks ago that Shahrizat, who also serves as the head of Wanita Umno, the women’s wing of the party, would step down from the ministry when her Senate* term ends on April 8 as a result of what has become known as the Cowgate scandal. Her husband, Mohamed Salleh Ismail, and other members of the family have been accused of misusing a major portion of a RM250 million soft loan from the government to establish the National Feedlot Corporation, to slaughter cattle under Islamic dietary rules.
Mohamed Salleh Ismail has been charged with criminal breach of trust and violating the Companies Act in relation to allegations of misuse of RM49 million of the funds given to the company. According to a report by Malaysia’s Auditor General, the money was steered into the purchase of things that had nothing to do with the project to slaughter 60,000 cattle annually. The Auditor General found that the project had never come remotely close to meeting its goals. Subsequent allegations have involved the purchase of condominiums in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, travel for the family, a Mercedes-Benz sedan for Shahrizat and other items.
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reportedly has repeatedly told party leaders Shahrizat must go, party insiders say, and her main protector, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, is also said to be backing away from supporting her.
“Dr M wants her out and his people have told me so,” a source told Asia Sentinel. “So does Muhyiddin who is distancing himself from her. So she is quite alone.”
However, political bloggers in Kuala Lumpur say Shahrizat apparently has demanded successfully that she stay as a member of parliament, and to keep her job as head of Wanita as well.
“It’s common knowledge that the PM doesn’t dare sacrifice Shahrizat or hold her accountable or even ask her to quit her Wanita post because he doesn’t dare take the chance of a revolt within Wanita Umno so close to the elections,” the source said. “Knowing Malaysian and Malay politics, I can see his dilemma.”
Shahrizat, the source continued, remains popular with the women’s wing of the party “and Wanita Umno are the biggest vote getters for Umno and Barisan Nasional. During campaigning, they are very effective, going house-to-house, using the soft touch to win hearts, giving away sarongs and gifts and so on. It’s easier for a woman to enter an opposition stronghold than for men and that’s where Wanita Umno’s usefulness is to Umno and the Barisan.”
Despite the fallout over the National Feedlot scandal, the current administration has tried to distance Shahrizat from the NFC, saying she was wasn’t involved with what her husband and children were doing. Read more.