A politician getting attacked personally isn’t really a new thing. Take a look at any political news on social media, and chances are you’ll find comments or even news that touches personal aspects of a politician that had nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs.
For instance, Azalina Othman, a minister in the Prime Minister’s department was often a target of personal attacks due to her supposed lack of traditional femininity. Earlier this year, the Facebook pace Otai BERSIH (NOT affiliated with Bersih 2.0) uploaded an image of Azalina with a caption saying that nobody would be willing to marry or rape her.
Otai BERSIH insulting Azalina is a form of personal attack against a politician by the public, and our friends at AskLegal had written an article on what may happen if you decided to do the same.
However, to document all the personal attacks by the public against politicians would be too much content to cover, so in this article we will only explore some examples of personal attacks between politicians, and what the consequences were.
1. Suddenly claiming someone to be a different race
The Insulted: Tun Dato’ Seri Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, former Prime Minister, current leader of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM)
The Insulter: Dato’ Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Home Affairs
So What Happened?
Recently, Zahid Hamidi, made an interesting announcement when he revealed what he claimed was a copy of Mahathir’s old blue IC. But what’s so interesting about someone’s IC? As it turns out, the name on the card was alleged to be “Mahathir a/l Iskandar Kutty“.
In a recent Umno divisional meeting, Ahmad Zahid had produced a photo on his smartphone of the said identity card, claiming that Mahathir is actually of Indian parentage. Zahid had also claimed that Mahathir had been exploiting the Malays for all the 22 years when he was the Prime Minister.
“So he (Mahathir) was right when he said Malays are forgetful, because he is the son of Iskandar Kutty. This is the person who fought for the Malay agenda in order to use Malays.” – Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as reported by MalaysiaKini.
This claim was based on the usage of ‘a/l’ (anak lelaki, or son of) instead of the ‘bin’ commonly used by Malays as well as the name ‘Kutty‘, which is a name commonly used by Malabari Malayalee families. While the Malay Mail Online had pointed out that Ahmad Zahid did not specifically state that the person on the IC is Dr Mahathir, he did reference Dr Mahathir’s catchphrase of how Malays forget easily (Melayu mudah lupa) as well as the 22 years of power.
Ahmad Zahid, however, had stressed that he was not making a personal attack, as the matter ‘coincidentally’ came to his attention as he is the Home Minister, and the National Registration Department (NRD) is under his ministry.
Mahathir, however, had denied that the alleged blue IC shown by Zahid was his, as he had not returned his old IC to the NRD when he got a new one. This raised the question on how Zahid’s claim that he had obtained the image from Yazid Ramli, the NRD’s director.
“If the old identity card has the name which was cited as mine before, please present the card for inspection by experts to validate Zahid’s allegation,” – Mahathir Mohamad, as quoted by FMT.
Marina Mahathir, the daughter of Mahathir had also dismissed Zahid’s claim as Iskandar wasn’t Mahathir’s father, but his grandfather.
“It should be Mahathir bin Mohamad because my grandfather’s name was Mohamad bin Iskandar,” – Marina Mahathir, for FMT.
In an interview with FMT, Marina had also said that Zahid is also sexist in addition to racist, as he did not mention the fact that Mahathir’s monther, Wan Tempahwan, comes from a long line of Kedah royal household courtiers.
2. Asking a wheelchair-bound person to stand up
The Insulted: the late Karpal Singh s/o Ram Singh, former MP for Bukit Gelugor
The Insulter: Datuk Ibrahim Ali, MP for Pasir Mas
So What Happened?
In 2008, after the general election, Datuk Ibrahim Ali had contested and won a seat as a PAS MP for Pasir Mas. However, Karpal Singh pointed out that Ibrahim Ali was then in the Dewan as an independent candidate, and therefore would like to know Ibrahim Ali’s exact position in the Dewan.
However, Karpal pointing that out interrupted Razali Ibrahim (the Muar MP, not the Pasir Mas), who was trying to ask the first question of the sitting. This prompted Bung Mokhtar to stand up and interject. A bit of name-calling between Karpal Singh and Bung Mokhtar ensued. Ibrahim Ali then teased Karpal Singh for not respecting the House by not standing up when speaking.
Karpal Singh is wheelchair-bound due to a car accident back in 2005.
Ibrahim’s comment irked the opposition, with Fong Po Kuan demanding that Ibrahim retract his statement, to which Ibrahim simply told her to shut up.
A few days after the comment, some thirty angry citizens in wheelchairs appeared at the Parliament to demand that Ibrahim Ali as well as Bung Mokhtar apologize for the discriminatory statements against Karpal Singh, among other things.
“I never offended the handicapped as I only had a problem with Karpal Singh. I hope you all do not misunderstand. There are groups that politicized the issue and took advantage of you all. Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I love very much all the disabled people,” – Ibrahim Ali, as reported by the Sun Daily.
However, the handicaps later booed Ibrahim and refused to accept his apology after he said that he would not be apologizing to Karpal Singh. Bung Mokhtar took the same stance as Ibrahim, insisting that he had done nothing wrong.
“It was never in my mind and heart to discredit or look down on the disabled. In my constituency, I take care of them and build houses for them, but I did not see Bukit Gelugor (Karpal Singh) representing the disabled. As a disabled, he should act like one but his mouth is not like a disabled. I did not mean to hurt the disabled, if I am wrong, I apologise,” – Datuk Bung Mokhtar, as reported by the Sun Daily.
3. Turning the Parliament’s leaky roof into a sexist issue
The Insulted: Fong Po Kuan, MP for Batu Gajah
The Insulter: Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin, MP for Kinabatangan
So What Happened?
This happened back in 2007, when the Bandar Kuching MP, DAP’s Chong Chieng Jen called attention to a leaking roof in a part of the Parliament.
While some may think that a leaky roof isn’t much to argue about, apparently things are different in the Parliament. Some MPs were in the opinion that it’s not worth talking about, while others see the leaky roof as an outcome of rampant corruption. This led to a heated argument, and eventually, someone can be heard making the now-infamous remark at the 4:02 mark:
“Mana ada bocor! Batu Gajah tiap-tiap bulan pun bocor la!” (Where got leak? The Batu Gajah MP also leaks every month!)
The Batu Gajah MP in question happened to be a lady named Fong Po Kuan. The quote, supposedly referring to Fong’s menstrual cycles, was reported to have come from Datuk Bung Mokhtar, and his statement was supported by Datuk Mohd Said Yusof, the Jasin MP.
The sexist remark earned them both a 40-minute meeting with Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, after which they apologized to all women in the country if their remarks had insulted them. However, when asked by the press whether the apology was also extended to Fong, they were reported to refuse to refer to her.
While there’s no telling whether they are really sorry for the incident of not, something did came out of it. In 2012, an amendment was made in the Dewan Rakyat’s Standing Order 36 (4), which now reads:
(4) It shall be out of order for Members of the House to use offensive language or make a sexist remark.
Fong had commented that the amendment was a ‘good move’, but added that the Speaker must be ‘gender-sensitive’ and ‘impartial’ as well. Fong had since suggested a gender-sensitivity training course for all members of Parliament.
4. Accusing a minister of being an inexperienced gangster
The Insulted: Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, Sarawak’s Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister
The Insulter: Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, Tourism and Culture Minister
So What Happened?
Following the newly-implemented tourism tax, Abdul Karim had told the Borneo Post that the new tourism tax was a glaring example of the federal government imposing tax laws in Sarawak without consultation. After the quote was published, Nazri warned Abdul Karim to watch his mouth when issuing statements that goes against the federal government.
“Learn to be a minister before you open your mouth and remember that in politics you shouldn’t talk so big. If you think you’re a gangster, there are bigger gangsters than you… You’re a new minister and still wet behind the ears (setahun jagung) whereas I’ve been a minister for years and years. Come and see me, don’t talk so much.” – Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, as reported by FMT.
The PBB Youth Chief, Fadillah Yusof had stated that Nazri’s statement was an insult to Abdul Karim, as the Sarawak government had put its trust on Karim to lead the state’s tourism portfolio.
While his previous statement might have been harsh, Nazri was later reported to be open to a meeting with Abdul Karim to talk things through. However, Nazri had defended his statements, particularly the setahun jagung comment, as it is a Malay idiom which depicts the time it takes for corn to fully grow, which is around three months.
“So I didn’t mean any insult when I said he (Abdul Karim) was a ‘setahun jagung’ minister. It means he is a new minister. He was appointed as a minister less than three months ago and you cannot deny that he is a new minister,” – Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, as reported by the Star Online.
However, Nazri stood by his ‘gangster’ comment.
“Why can’t he say, ‘I am a new minister. I will seek clarification from the Federal Government’. That is better, isn’t it? I said he is a ‘gangster’ because he straight away ‘whacked’ the Federal Government,” – Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, as reported by the Star Online.
Whether this particular spat caused it or not is up for debate, but Sarawak had soon after withdrawn itself from the Putrajaya’s Malaysia Tourism Board with immediate effect.
“The state government deems that the participation of its representatives in Tourism Malaysia is not necessary as this is duplicating the role and function of the Sarawak Tourism Promotion Board,” – Sarawak’s Chief Minister Office, in a statement to MalaysiaKini.
5. Offending both a race and a gender with one pun
The Insulted: Teresa Kok, MP for Seputeh
The Insulter: Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, MP for Pasir Salak
So What Happened?
This incident happened during question time of a Parliament session last November, and… well… here’s a video of the incident, courtesy of Free Malaysia Today.
Just in case ain’t nobody got time to watch a video, what happened was that while discussing the Bersih 5 rally, Tajuddin alleged that Teresa Kok was giggling, which prompted him to lash out with
“Why is Seputeh going ‘kekekeke’? The only woman with a ‘Kok’ is in Seputeh,” – Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, as reported by FMT.
This statement caused an uproar, with opposition MPs calling out for Tajuddin to retract his statement, deeming it sexist in nature. The Deputy Speaker at that time, Ronald Kiandee, had defended Tajuddin’s statement, saying that Tajuddin was merely referring to Teresa’s family name. However, Khalid Abdul Samad, the Shah Alam MP had insisted that that was clearly not what Tajuddin was going for, and that everyone in the House knew exactly what he meant.
Kasthuriraani Patto, the Batu Kawan MP was then seen protesting Tajuddin’s comment in the video, but she was mocked by Tajuddin. This caused Amanah’s Shah Alam MP Khalid Abdul Samad to snap and call Tajuddin ‘sial‘.
The MCA would later slam this particular comment for vulgarity towards a Malaysian Chinese’s family name, as well as an allusion to male genitalia.
“While we sit on the opposite fence and are aware that Teresa Kok’s comments are frequently intended to find fault at MCA, nevertheless our party does not tolerate any form of vulgarities by male MPs,” – Senator Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun, vice-president of the MCA, as reported by the Sun Daily.
Chew added that Tajuddin should apologize for his insult towards women as well as the Malaysian Chinese. Tajuddin, however, remained defiant, insisting that he had merely referred to her surname and was not attempting to insult her.
“Why should they feel offended? I wasn’t making fun of her surname. If I call her by her surname correctly, am I wrong? Her name is Teresa Kok right?” – Tajuddin, as reported by FMT.
In politics, statements carry a lot of weight
Why are personal attacks are so common in Malaysian politics? A statement for Malaysian Digest by Prof Datuk Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff, a political analyst, may provide a clue.
“The one problem with politicians in this country is that they let their emotions get in the way of politics, without the right principles, knowledge and goal to develop the country,” – Prof Datuk Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff, to Malaysian Digest.
Agus had described Malaysian politics being sometimes leaning towards extreme hatred, as opposed to some Western countries that champion the objectives of a party instead of personally attacking their opponents with verbal abuse.
However, politicians can be likened to celebrities in that their statements can either make or break their careers. And as the cases above had shown, reputation can be severely damaged when the attack not only offend the intended target, but community groups as well.
The leaky roof comment not only offended Fong Po Kuan, but also female politicians as well. Asking Karpal Singh to stand up drew ire from the Malaysians Against the Discrimination of the Disabled (Madd). And as for the Sarawak Tourism issue, although it wasn’t explicitly stated as the reason Sarawak withdrew from Putrajaya’s Tourism Board, it was reported that Sarawakian politicians were offended by Nazri’s comments.
Like the other examples, Zahid attacking Mahathir with his Indian parentage may offend others as well. Datuk Ibrahim Ali, the PERKASA Chief had commented that Zahid’s remarks about Mahathir’s lineage may be interpreted as racist. Ibrahim had further commented that Zahid’s remark should not have come from someone who holds a high post, such as a deputy prime minister, claiming that his action was unstatesman-like.
“I was called a racist, a far-right. So many things… but I will tell you this, if I was in KDN, you’ll never hear me say such a thing,” – Datuk Ibrahim Ali, Chief of Perkasa, for the Malay Mail Online.
Hisommudin Bakar, the director of Ilham, a research firm, had said that Zahid’s remark is likely to upset the Indian Muslim community, who numbers around 200,000 in Malaysia.
“It will upset older Umno members and young people who are going to vote for the first time. What more the Indian-Muslim community ,” – Hisommudin Bakar, for The Malaysian Insight.
Some political tactics may backfire, so perhaps it would be wise to adopt the old adage of thinking before you speak.