ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Najib flies to wife's defence
Publication Date : 09-12-2013
Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak has defended the use of a government jet by his wife Rosmah Mansor by giving two examples of her public service that he had never before told Malaysians.
Najib said that her international "networking" had helped Malaysians during an emergency in 2011 when students had to be evacuated from Egypt at the start of the Arab Spring and demonstrators took to the streets to topple then President Hosni Mubarak.
In one case, a Malaysian student was wrongfully detained by Egyptian police on suspicion of being a spy, Najib said in a speech at the end of the three-day United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) annual assembly that was telecast live to millions of Malaysians watching from home.
UMNO is a component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, representing the Malays.
"I asked my wife to call the wife of (former) President Mubarak, Suzanne Mubarak, to appeal for the student's release. Within two hours, the student was released," he said to loud applause from the 3,000 delegates at the assembly.
In the mass evacuations of thousands of Malaysian students from Egypt, Rosmah managed to get Saudi Arabia to allow them to use Saudi soil as a transit point - without getting visas - before they flew back to Kuala Lumpur. The Saudis even provided two large 747 jets free of charge to fly them back.
"These are among the contributions of my wife for the people of Malaysia," he said to cheers and claps from the floor.
Rosmah has been attacked by the political opposition in recent weeks after it emerged that she used one of the government jets reserved for use by the Malaysian king and the prime minister on official business.
She had flown to Qatar to attend a women's forum as a representative of Malaysia. The opposition called this an abuse of power and waste of public funds, as she is not an elected official.
While Najib did not refer to those attacks, he was clearly trying to answer the critics with his explanation on what she had managed to do with her international network in the Middle East.
Earlier in his speech, he accused critics of using "bullets" to attack his wife, when they could not find any to shoot at him.
The prime minister, as UMNO's president, in his hour-long winding-up speech promised to change the party's Constitution so that only Sunni Muslims could become its members.
This is seen as an indirect slap at rival Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) whose deputy president Muhammad Sabu was on Sunday accused by Home Minister and UMNO vice-president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi of being a Shi'ite, a sensitive matter in staunchly Sunni Malaysia.
Najib also said he heard calls by delegates to make sure more Malay companies get contracts dished out by government-linked companies so that they could share the economic pie.
The annual UMNO assembly caps a tough year for Najib, who won the May general election for his Barisan Nasional coalition and led his allies to victory in the October party elections.