Plane search puts minister on defensive

2014-03-24 11:18
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Video

The faces of missing Malaysian flight 370

2014-03-24 11:42

CNN provides a look into the lives of some of the people aboard the missing Malaysian flight 370. Watch.WATCH

Kuala Lumpur - Hishammuddin Hussein's wife is a princess. His cousin is prime minister, and he's been mentioned as a possible successor. But right now, as the face of his country's effort to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, he is the man who has delivered more than two weeks of frustrating news about one of the most confounding searches in aviation history.

The bespectacled 52-year-old defence minister has come under fire for just about everything that's gone wrong with the unprecedented hunt — from delayed radar tracking data to confusion over when police searched the homes of the missing plane's pilots. His handling of the search could affect not only his own future but that of Malaysia's ruling party, which has been struggling to stay in power after six decades in charge.

"He is going to be hindered by the perception [of Malaysia's] handling of the crisis," said Bridget Welsh, a political scientist at Singapore Management University. "Those who see it negatively will associate it with Hishammuddin."

The tech-savvy minister, who tweets regularly and has a Twitter following in excess of 600 000, tried to overcome some of that criticism Saturday when he read out a handwritten note passed to him at the end of a press briefing that bore the latest clue: A Chinese satellite had spotted debris that might belong to the jetliner.

"I've been accused of not informing the world about the information," he said. "This is coming to me as quick as you are seeing it on TV right now."

For Hishammuddin, who also serves as acting transport minister, much is at stake. As one of Malaysia's most senior politicians and a member of its elite, he has been touted as a possible future candidate for prime minister — a position previously held by both his father, Hussein Onn, and his uncle Abdul Razak.

Hishammuddin's family connections go even farther than that. His grandfather, Onn bin Ja'afar, founded the ethnic Malay party that has dominated politics here ever since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957.

Contradictory statements

His wife, Tengku Marsilla Tengku Abdullah, is a princess from the state of Pahang, north of the main city, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia has a constitutional monarchy, and the king's role is largely ceremonial; the title is not handed down along family lines but shared among sultans from nine states who each take a turn as monarch for five years.

As a boy, Hishammuddin attended an all-male boarding school that was founded to educate the children of nobility. He studied abroad and obtained a bachelor's degree from the University of Wales in 1984 and a master's from the London School of Economics in 1988 before returning home to practice law.

In 1995, he transitioned to politics, winning a Parliament seat. He ascended through government ranks to hold multiple Cabinet positions, including the portfolios of sports, education and the powerful home ministry.

Since the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight went missing shortly after take-off on 8 March with 239 people aboard, Hishammuddin has braved television cameras almost every day. He has been subjected to criticism and probing questions that Malaysia's ethnic Malay Muslim rulers are unused to, and his responses at times have been seen as condescending and defensive.

Asked about accusations the plane search had been disorderly, Hishammuddin once retorted: "It's only confusion if you want it to be seen to be confusion." Another day, he called on a reporter to apologise for asking a similar question, saying: "I have got a lot of feedback saying we have been very responsible in our action. It's very irresponsible of you to say that."

Welsh said contradictory statements and a sluggish response degraded confidence in the government and hurt its credibility. "They are responding to it rather than leading," Welsh said.

James Chin, a political science professor at Australia's Monash University, said Malaysia has been ridiculed over its handling of the crisis and Hishammuddin's career has taken "a step backward."

Few countries in the world, however, have had to lead such a difficult search, and Malaysia has had little experience handling a crisis of such proportions.

Graft and racial insensitivity

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi acknowledged some initial missteps but blamed those on the government's "eagerness to deliver information." Hishammuddin, he said, should be commended. "He has given his best effort."

Hishammuddin has sparked controversy before.

During a 2005 speech at the annual assembly of the United Malays National Organization, the linchpin of the ruling coalition, he waved a traditional Malay sword known as a keris that is seen as a symbol of Malay nationalism. Minority Indians and Chinese said the move fueled racial polarisation.

In 2009, Hishammuddin came under fire for siding with Muslims who had stomped on and spat at the severed head of a cow to protest the relocation of a Hindu temple to a Muslim neighbourhood. Cows are sacred animals for Hindus.

Last year, when Hishammuddin was home minister, he drew criticism after armed Filipino insurgents invaded a coastal village on Borneo island, sparking one of Malaysia's worst security scares. The government — just as with the plane crisis — was accused of reacting slowly and not being transparent.

Malaysia's ruling coalition has been shaken in recent years by rising public resentment over perceptions of government graft and racial insensitivity. Last year, an opposition alliance won the popular vote for the first time, though it fell short of obtaining enough Parliament seats to oust the ruling party.

Hishammuddin has insisted the current search is "above politics".

But Welsh, the analyst, said Malaysia's handling of the disappearance was making both Prime Minister Najib Razak and Hishammuddin more vulnerable. Hishammuddin, she said, is taking "the bullets for Najib."

NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
4 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

 
/Africa
 

Autobraking: See just how good they are!

Just how good are automatic brakes on cars these days? Two VW models have been praised by top UK research centre Thatcham. Find out why...

 

Stay safe

Pro's and con's of accredited driver-training
Juvenile pillion riders? Play safe...
Need a family ride? SA's top Mommy Cars
Mom's driving-school dream come true
Traffic Alerts
Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Something may be concerning you and this puts a dampener on your spirits. You may need to take a closer look into documents, forms...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.