Since the day Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak got embroiled in the Scorpene scandal, the stench of corruption has clung to him like a cheap, musky perfume.

Last week, on the first day of the Jubilee trip for Prince William and Kate Middleton, Najib was basking in the expectant pleasure of playing host to the royal couple. In an article in the Huffington Post, Najib was effusive about Malaysian-British ties.

By the second day, the world reverberated with news about a magazine which intended to publish topless photos of Kate. Instead of reporters writing positive things about Malaysia, all focus was on the the couple’s next move.

Najib’s chance to improve his reputation, both locally and abroad, were scuppered. In the run-up to GE13, political interference, religious strife and institutional violence were playing havoc with Najib’s image. How ironic that the publishers responsible for the attack on the Duchess of Cambridge were French. The pictures were of Kate on holiday, in France.

It must have been galling for the PM that the French magazine is called ‘Closer’. Najib might have felt the French are getting too close for comfort, for he has already been unsettled by the French investigators into Scorpene.

azlanAttempts by six government agencies to intimidate Suaram and ‘punish’ it, have proven unsuccesfull. Its annual reports and funding have been scrutinised. The Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) denies being heavy-handed but the average Malaysian wonders if the same amount of zeal would have been put into companies that have previously been accused of unacceptable practices, corrupt activities or money-laundering.

Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi told Utusan Malaysia of his anxiety that foreigners were manipulating Suaram: “I am worried if Suaram becomes a tool for foreigners. This is because Suaram's action of accepting foreign funding and being an irresponsible social critic against any government policies indirectly fuels this concern.”

Months, earlier, Zahid did not exhibit the same concerns concerning allegations that a subsidiary of the French defence company DCNS had paid RM142 million for highly classified government documents. 

Nor did Zahid show any concern that defence purchases were inflated. Even the sultan of Johore expressed outrage at the price of the Rapid Intervention Vehicles (RIVs).

Zahid does not care that these purchases are excessive or dogged with problems. The exorbitant prices of the Scorpene submarines were high enough to buy a brand new nuclear submarine and still have some loose change. Even the drug cartels of South America were able to build a submarine, from scrap metal, to transport tonnes of cocaine, under the noses of the authorities, along rivers.

Some pundits argue that Najib’s downfall is being orchestrated by those in Umno who eye his premiership and that the vendetta against Suaram is being engineered by his rivals. The truth is that extra help is unnecessary. Recent comments by cabinet ministers will quicken Najib’s and their own fall from grace.

Information, Communications and Culture Ministers Rais Yatim told the Malays to stand united but moments later, as an afterthought or admission of guilt, said that the government “championed all races, including the non-Malays”.

NONEThe Education Ministry backpedalled when their guidelines for recognising gays and lesbians in schools caused a public outcry, as the ministry was seen to endorse bullying and bigotry.

Najib said that our culture did not include mooning but he was silent about veteran Malay soldiers performing butt exercises in front of Ambiga Sreenevasan’s house, in May. Nor did he criticise those who had urinated on photos of opposition leaders. Perhaps the behaviour is part of the culture of the Umno elite.

On the receiving end

Why should Umno feel wounded? The opposition is used to the deplorable acts of Umno, but after 55 years of dominance, Umno finally knows what it is like to be on the receiving end.

The judiciary appears to champion only males with bright futures but ignores the plight of rape victims. Najib, who is the de facto Women’s Minister, did not empathise with the public. He failed to consult the women in his cabinet, or even the self-styled First Lady Rosmah Mansor. Despite a 30 percent quota for women in positions of leadership and power, Najib’s cabinet has only one woman, the Tourism Minister, Dr Ng Yen Yen.

NONETo be fair, Najib may have tried to consult Ng (left) but found she was unavailable. Ng has been criticised for allegedly abusing her ministerial status which has earned her the ignominious title of ‘The Tourist Minister’.

Najib’s heart may have skipped a beat, with the French connection in the furore surrounding the Duchess of Cambridge. He must have held his breath, just in case the foreign media also focused on his own French scandals, but he needn’t have worried. Fickle minded people who are concerned by what Kate wears or doesn’t wear, are a bit like Umno and their fixation with sex. Normal people have better things to preoccupy their time.

With the news being dominated by topless pictures of Kate, the foreign media did not write anything about Sabah, under its Chief Minister Musa Aman. What follow-up stories might they have unearthed about the stripping of virgin jungle, allegations of Musa’s corruption, the Swiss investigation into his finances and the alleged backhanders from timber merchants?

Similarly, the abuses under Najib’s rule, like the violence against opposition party members, police beatings, deaths in custody and the falsification of immigration records to boost electoral numbers, went unnoticed all because some French editor wanted to grab the headlines.

What Zahid said is true. Malaysians need to sort out their own internal problems. Umno cannot be entrusted to resolve these, and so the rakyat has its work cut out. Najib has admitted that he is averse to change. Perhaps, Najib’s French dalliance will be known as the French curse.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak', this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.