‘Arabic-speaking Zahid should be special functions minister’


PETALING JAYA: If the post of a special functions minister was meant to maintain ties with the Middle East, then isn’t current Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi the best person for the job?

This was the question posed by political analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi.

Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz had said that Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s appointment as the new special functions minister was decided as having a senior minister looking into the country’s relationship with the Middle East is “very important”.

“Zahid studied in a religious school, and he can speak Arabic. So shouldn’t he be the one to work on our ties with the Middle East?” Awang Azman told FMT.

“Another suitable candidate for the post would be Jamil Khir Baharom, who is the minister in charge of Islamic affairs. And he has dealt with the Middle East on the issue of increasing the haj quota.

“Did he not deliver what was required of him?”

Awang Azman, who is also an associate professor at Universiti Malaya, then pointed to the example of former MIC president S Samy Vellu, who in 2010 was appointed the country’s special envoy to India and South Asia for infrastructure to further boost Malaysia-India strategic investments in infrastructure matters.

“He had the necessary and suitable background to justify the appointment.

“But (in Hishammuddin’s case), his appointment looks a little… awkward, if maintaining ties with the Middle East was the reason for it,” Awang Azman said.

Law expert Abdul Aziz Bari rejected outright Nazri’s rationale, saying it is “nonsensical”.

“Hishammuddin is a non-Arabic speaker. He is more of an Anglophile. So to say that his appointment is to boost ties with the Middle East is a joke,” Aziz said.

Since Najib made the announcement yesterday afternoon, pundits have speculated on Hishammuddin’s appointment and suggested that he would, after the 14th general election, take over the prime minister’s post instead of Zahid.

Awang Azman believed this to be true and said the appointment may be a strategic move on Najib’s part.

“Blood is thicker than water,” he said in reference to the family ties between Najib and Hishammuddin. The two are cousins.

Besides Hishammuddin, there have been others who held the portfolio of special functions minister in the past. They include Ghazali Shafie (appointed in 1970), Daim Zainuddin (1998), and Mohammad Effendi Norwawi (2004).