Displays of wealth spell trouble for politicians

THERE were reports that Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor was in tears after the High Court decided she would have to defend the corruption charges against her.

Actually, there were no tears because she is one tough lady. But Thursday's court decision spells danger ahead and she left the court looking tense and upset behind her rainbow-coloured face mask.

The trial of the once-most-powerful woman in the country has reached a new level and although one is innocent until found guilty, the court of public opinion has been cruel and unforgiving to her.

"She is used to being up there but she has been brought crashing down," said a journalist covering the trial.

Public opinion of Rosmah has been based less on what has transpired in her trial than on her conspicuous lifestyle during her days as Malaysia's "first lady".

The power of social media and the way it drives public opinion is a cautionary tale for politicians and their families.

Political analyst Dr Azmi Omar said the lifestyles of many political leaders and their family members contributed to the fall of the Barisan Nasional government.

The salaries of ministers and deputy ministers simply did not justify the way they were living and spending and the public equated it to corruption.

"Flaunting their wealth is damaging but this is a value system that is measured against one's house, cars and what you are wearing," said Azmi.

The government, said Azmi, has changed twice in three years but the tendency among politicians to show off has not changed.

Datuk Seri Rina Harun recently came under the magnifying glass after she paid off an RM1.3mil debt to avoid bankruptcy.

Opposition politicians are asking her to explain how she managed to fork out the payment based on her salary as Women, Family and Community Development Minister.

Rina's bankruptcy problem has been around for several years but it would not have stirred this much attention had it not come on the heels of an amazing makeover.

She has been the toast of the town after losing weight, going from size XL to a svelte and elegant figure.

She attributed her transformation to exercise, a proper diet and hard work. But there have been unsubstantiated accounts that she underwent a gastrectomy surgery because her weight was impacting her health.

However, admiration turned to criticism when pictures of her modelling a variety of stylish baju kurung in her ministry went public.

The photo shoot backfired and the backlash began with people questioning her priorities as a minister and mocking her poor command of English.

"It's another example of leaders being carried away by who they are, it makes people angry. I can't emphasise enough how ordinary people are suffering.

"Yet nobody in the government says anything. It's sad that those in PAS are keeping quiet when they are supposed to uphold values like simplicity and living modestly," said Azmi.

Azmi, who has friends on both sides of the political divide, is disappointed at how politics has turned out to be more of the same such as the latest bombshell allegedly involving several PKR leaders.

MACC's arrest of Perak PKR deputy chairman M.A. Tinagaran, a wealthy businessman who is said to own a security company, sent shockwaves through his party.

Reports about his arrest were slammed by another top Perak PKR leader as false reporting.

However, on the very same day, MACC let go a terse press statement confirming everything that had been reported.

No names were mentioned but the brief MACC statement contained loads of information. The individual, who had links to a former minister, was being investigated for allegedly receiving bribes from a company for a project involving a certain ministry in 2019.

A total of RM1.2mil in cash had been confiscated from the home and office of another person described as a proxy of the former minister.

MACC also seized a luxury car that the former minister had been using. Accounts totalling RM77mil of the individual and the company had been frozen while two directors of the company have been arrested.

Of course, the allegations are a drop in the ocean compared to 1MDB, but Azmi said it seems like the political culture has not changed.

"These days, with social media scrutiny, there is nowhere to hide. Before the courts can judge you, social media has already decided," said Azmi.

Ironically, it was also Tinagaran's lavish lifestyle that drew public attention and possibly piqued the interest of MACC starting in 2018.

His gorgeous wife would post pictures of extravagant gifts from her adoring husband – Rolex watch, Mercedes sports car, designer shoes and their new home which she described as "our dream castle".

Former PKR politician Badrul Hisham Shaharin, better known as Chegu Bard, splashed the pictures on his Facebook page, accompanied with a critical commentary of PKR leaders.

One of the pictures showed the famous birthday cake that went viral last year – a replica of the green-domed prime minister's office with a figurine of PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the words,"PM8 happy birthday we need your leadership".

Also in the photo were Tinagaran, Anwar and PKR vice-president Dr Xavier Jayakumar, who was then in the Pakatan Harapan cabinet.

Chegu Bard had also exposed the "Disneyland castle" belonging to former PKR Youth leader Datuk Adam Rosly in 2016.

Adam was then only 28, with no visible job, but owned a palatial home that sported six satellite dishes and a fleet of luxury cars.

People love to live their lives on social media but when there is inequality between the haves and the have-nots, displaying one's wealth creates resentment and suspicions.

As writer and culture activist Eddin Khoo once said: "Houses and cars are the more visible parts of a politician's life. They cannot be stashed away like cash and jewellery."

Azmi said that politicians claim they go into politics to serve the people and country.

"But they leave so much to be desired with their broken promises. It has been a never-ending saga of disappointments and letdowns," said Azmi.

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