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4:28pm 02/02/2023
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Political dynasties in Malaysia
By:Murray Hunter

The recent appointment of Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar as economic advisor to her father as prime minister has tapped into deep emotion and even ridicule this week.

Some are saying Nurul is not qualified. Others are claiming nepotism, while a few are arguing she is a loser in the last general election and shouldn’t have any job.

Political dynasties have been common in Malaysia, starting with royalty itself.

Madrasas and Islamic school tradition has seen these small institutions pass on from fathers to sons over countless generations.

Even businesses have dynasties, where the reigns of management are passed on from fathers to children.

Nurul’s appointment has led to similar ridicule that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi received when he appointed his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin as advisor. He became the leader of a group known as the “fourth floor boys” who copped the blame for everything that went wrong in Badawi’s administration.

Mahathir Mohamed nurtured his son Mukhriz Mahathir, who has suffered politically as a consequence of Mahathir’s “crash through or crash” style of politics.

This dynasty has stalled as Mukhriz appears to be drifting in the wilderness without any party grouping willing to associate with him.

There is also very little outrage over the wealth gained by Mahathir’s children over the last two decades.

Tun Razak Hussein’s son Najib Razak was prime minister for nine years before Mahathir defeated him in the 2018 general election.

Onn Jaafar, who organized opposition to the formation of the Malayan Union and served as chief minister of Johor before Merdeka, was followed by his son Hussein Onn who went on to become prime minister.

Hussein Onn’s son Hishammuddin Hussein had a long stint as a senior minister, but is now suspended from Umno for six years.

Political dynasties have been common in Malaysia.

On the opposition side of politics, Lim Kit Siang, co-founder and long-time leader of DAP, is the father of Lim Guan Eng who served as chief minister of Penang and finance minister in the Pakatan Harapan government led by Mahathir.

None of the above dynasties have received the same ridicule as Anwar’s own family.

Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was a reluctant politician, stepping into the Reformasi movement and holding Anwar’s seat of Permatang Pauh after her husband was jailed in 1999.

Wan Azizah became deputy prime minister in the Mahathir-led Pakatan government, while Anwar was pardoned soon after the 14th general election in 2018. She ascended into the position by popular sentiment at that time.

Their daughter Nurul fought for Anwar’s freedom since 1999. She was part of the Reformasi movement and slayed a sitting minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil in Lembah Pantai back in 2008. Her win was considered a near impossible win at that time.

Nurul was seen as one of the heroes of the Reformasi movement, where all that knew her followed her career with interest.

That is not to say there wasn’t a group of middle-class Malays who were critical of Anwar and his family in politics. This factor has cost them some support within the Malay demographic.

Perhaps the wisest move for Nurul would have been to make herself ready for the coming state election, particularly in Selangor.

A Pakatan Harapan victory in Selangor is by no means a certainty. Nurul’s participation as a candidate would go a long way towards ensuring a Pakatan victory.

This would not be without risk for Nurul. However, this is the nature of politics, to take risks to advance the party.

Nurul could then serve an apprenticeship as an executive councilor that would provide her the experience to become a federal minister sometime in the future.

One can understand Anwar as a father wishing to emotionally protect his daughter. Again, Nurul may have valid personal reasons for not pursuing this political track.

US President Donald Trump had children involved at the heart of his administration. His son-in-law Jared Kushner was one of the key persons behind the Abraham Accords which brought more Arab recognition of Israel.

Nurul’s appointment as an economic advisor is much better than Rosmah making the self-appointment as FLOM, with an office and all in the prime minister’s department. Hillary Clinton’s influence within the Bill Clinton presidency was substantial.

The great loss in Nurul’s appointment is that she may not play a critical role in the coming Selangor state election.

Rest assured that Azmin Ali will be leading the Perikatan Nasional attack on Pakatan, with the aim of becoming menteri besar once again.

I hope there will not be any regret.

(Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic and researcher. He was an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Perlis.)

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Anwar Ibrahim
Nurul Izzah
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