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Observers warn of prelude to more Nurul Izzah-like appointments

While such appointments are nothing new in Malaysia, concerns are raised about the possibility of more to come.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
3 minute read
Nurul Izzah Anwar waves after losing her Permatang Pauh seat at the 15th general election, Nov 20, 2022. Nurul was recently appointed as a senior economic and financial adviser to her father, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Photo: Bernama
Nurul Izzah Anwar waves after losing her Permatang Pauh seat at the 15th general election, Nov 20, 2022. Nurul was recently appointed as a senior economic and financial adviser to her father, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Photo: Bernama

Concerns have been raised that the appointment of family members to government positions could be a slippery slope to more, as debate continues over the move to name Anwar Ibrahim's daughter as his senior economic and financial adviser.

James Chin of Australia's University of Tasmania said the appointment of family members to such posts was nothing new in Malaysia. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said it had in fact been a reality since the country achieved independence more than six decades ago. 

"This has gone on for a very long time, on both the government and opposition sides," he said. 

"In fact, as far back as the 1950s, in the form of the federation, we already had this problem.

"We all know the political dynasty of Tun Razak, and of course Anwar's link family. So there's plenty to go around." 

Chin said the issue of concern was that the "children of nepotism" would be appointed as menteris besar or to key government positions. 

Anwar's daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, was appointed as his senior economic and financial adviser effective Jan 3. 

The move was criticised by those who cited the practice of nepotism, and who questioned Nurul's qualifications for the position. 

Nurul graduated in 2003 in engineering from Universiti Tenaga Nasional before furthering her studies in public policy in the US.

Anwar however defended her appointment, saying even he was appointed as finance minister despite not having a related educational background.

"Even I don't have a finance-related degree or certificate, but I was the minister of finance for eight years (in the 1990s)," he said. 
Anwar's family has long been accused of nepotism with both Nurul and her mother, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, holding top positions in their party PKR. 

Chin said this was a common feature in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia and the India subcontinent. 

"They have many political families, and they appoint their children or relatives to influential positions," he said. 
In Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the fifth prime minister, appointed his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin to an important position in his office when the latter was just 28, leading to the nickname "fourth-floor boy".  

Lawyer Rafique Rashid meanwhile voiced concern that Nurul's appointment could open the door to more due to the seniority of her position.

He told MalaysiaNow that the post should have been given to an individual with both experience and qualifications, regardless of whether he or she would be paid or not. 

He also questioned why Nurul's appointment was not revealed from the get-go. 

"Why announce it only after three weeks?" he said. 

"The important question is whether Anwar can act without bias or conflict of interest, and accept or reject advice from his own daughter." 
Adding that Nurul's position would allow her to meet and form relationships with important people and corporate leaders close to the national administration, he said it would also give her access to the profiles of local giants such as Petronas. 

He urged Anwar to reconsider her appointment, saying the prime minister already had people in place who could act as his adviser. 

"Rosmah Mansor worked pro bono too, but she was also given a lot of perks like her own office and car," he said, referring to the wife of former prime minister Najib Razak, who was said to have her own "First Lady of Malaysia" division. 

"All this time, Anwar has spoken of good governance," Rafique added. 

"He needs to be fair: if other people cannot do such things, neither should he." 

Political analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi meanwhile said that the prime minister's financial and economic adviser could be anyone from a wide range of fields. 

Awang Azman, of Universiti Malaya, said that as long as the position was free of administrative misconduct such as corruption, the appointment would not have a negative impact on the country. 

"Nurul has a lot of experience in tackling problems on the ground, as she has been involved in politics for a long time," he said. 

"She is also known in the country as well as abroad, and has a positive image among the people.

"I believe that this appointment could boost confidence in the Malaysia Madani government."