MELBOURNE, Australia – Violence against wives of political leaders can be physical, sexual or psychological in nature. Both men and women can be affected by violence in politics, but personal attacks against wives of political leaders are just so low, say political observers.

Interestingly, Malaysian Opposition members love to harp on such personal attacks that target wives because of their gender and the acts of violence are gendered in form, such as sexist remarks, body shaming, exaggerating their lifestyles. Even suggesting that their politician husband divorce them is something unbecoming and unprofessional. This violence against wives of politicians is a violation of human rights, and by hindering them from having a say in their husband’s daily activities is a violation of their rights as spouses, these observers added.

NMH spoke to three professionals from different backgrounds on their reaction pertaining to a commentary by Professor James Chin that was published by CNA recently.

Azizi Khan, an entrepreneur in the digital finance industry based in Australia said that from an international perspective, the whole Najib-Rosmah saga was blown out of proportion mainly because of how the story was portrayed without being backed by claims.

“Not that anyone cared that much, unlike when Paul Keating called Mahathir recalcitrant back in the day when every Australian you meet would ask about a certain doctor who was relentless and rude.

“However, nobody here really asked about Najib. In fact, those who talked about him mostly had nice things to say about him, compared to what he is made out to be as a mastermind criminal,” said Azizi who pointed out that the Opposition politicians and their supporters and media who supported them have been using the same strategies back when Najib was prime minister of Malaysia for nine years.

Stale Narratives

“Now that he is no longer the premier, they are using the same stale narratives to ensure that Najib does not make a comeback since he seems to be gaining ground when it comes to popularity with the people.

“I am shocked to read comments about Rosmah’s pink diamond and handbags, her perceived extravagant lifestyle and the perception they gave that Najib was queen-controlled by her, in 2022! The Opposition should realise by now that these narratives don’t work anymore. If this is all they have to use to take back Putrajaya, then they can dream on,” opined Azizi.

Attacking the wives of political leaders is such a low-blow, say observers about attacks on Rosmah Mansor. – Screenshot of the commentary by James Chin in CNA

Bread And Butter Issues

Professor Dr Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang, agrees with Azizi that these narratives cannot be used anymore, especially at a time when the voters are mostly concerned about bread and butter issues and where their next meal is coming from, particularly among the B40s.

“After almost three years of being confined to their homes, loss of employment, losing their loved ones and trying to eke out a decent living, their primary concern right now is their health and well-being and how to move on after the pandemic.

“Harping on Rosmah again and again will create more sympathy for her and her husband rather than getting the desired reaction they hope for,” observed Prof Siva.

“The public should learn to separate politicians from their family members as this will only create more anger among the voters,” said this Professor in Political Sociology.

According to another academician, Assoc Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi, the article by CNA is seen as a personal attack on a former prime minister, especially about his wife to some extent. Referring to the following paragraphs:

  • “…persistent rumours in Kuala Lumpur circles that they are no longer living together.”
  • “Whether this will work remains to be seen although the easiest way to put a distance between Najib and Rosmah is to simply divorce her. This will definitely be the last option given she knows all of Najib’s deepest secrets.”

the associate professor said: I am afraid this will bring about a lawsuit as the element of personal affairs is involved, and as far as we know, the divorce issue was never raised between Najib and Rosmah.

“In any case, both main characters are in the midst of their respective court cases, but this article can influence the public perception towards Najib and Rosmah because it was written by a high profile academician.

“If this situation happens in Singapore, this issue will be a court case. But since Malaysia is not Singapore, there is a chance this will not happen,” said the Research Fellow for Universiti Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMCEDEL).

Interestingly, James Chin was also quoted to have mentioned about the court case involving Rosmah who was alleged to have solicited for funds from a contract awarded to a company for a project to supply electricity to rural schools in Sarawak. The article had also mentioned about the former prime minister’s wife insisting on her being called the First Lady of Malaysia (FLOM) and made mention of recorded conversations between her and Najib asking the latter to take the lead on certain issues.

“The reference to Team Najib and Rosmah in the same breath in the link (by CNA) may be dismissed as “news manufacturing” and virtually defamatory based on the highly personal and offensive statements,” said Joe Fernandez, a legal scholar (jurist) and longtime Borneo watcher.

“The court is only about law, not truth. The law is devoid of emotion. The court isn’t about ethics, moral values, theology, sin, God, justice or so-called civilisational values flogged by ancient civilisations.

“In the rule of law, the basis of the Constitution, there is a greater emphasis on the spirit of the law, read with the letter of the law. The letter of the law, by itself, isn’t law at all,” Joe pointed out.

Circumstantial Evidence

In Rosmah’s case, Joe said that the court has to find the spirit of the law, read with the letter of the law, or free her.

“Circumstantial evidence is inadmissible in a criminal case unless the accused refuses to be cross-examined and/or issues a statement from the dock. That happened in Sodomy II. The Test of the Burden of Proof was changed in Sodomy II from the criminal standard to the civil i.e. balance of probabilities. That’s how Anwar Ibrahim was convicted, suffered miscarriage of justice, and was pardoned by the Agong.

“The Test of the Burden of Proof in criminal cases is “beyond reasonable doubt”. This is a very high threshold, and the reason why the prosecution invariably lose most cases.”

He added that it’s true that the wives of chief executives are political “non-entities”. However, the Westminster model isn’t law but conventions. No court will consider Applications on conventions — i.e. the working of the Constitution — since it isn’t law.

The wives of chief executives in practice wield extraordinary power and influence by extrapolation and logical deduction and there’s no law against it.

“The husband will always speak to the wife. There’s no other person around. Pillow talk and the Kitchen Cabinet are real concepts but beyond the law.

“Rosmah, or any other wife of a chief executive, isn’t a political issue. All politics are about restructuring the distribution of power and the redistribution of revenue and resources,” Joe went on to say.

Court cases are not issues in elections. They remain confined to the court of public opinion and the court of law. The court of public opinion is only about law viz. cases in court, what should be in court and law.

The court of public opinion isn’t about politics. Politics is about public perceptions which has nothing to do with the wife at home. – New Malaysia Herald

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