KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak is hoping to curry favour with Umno’s “warlords” ahead of the coming party polls by reappointing Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil back into his Cabinet, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers have said.
The opposition MPs said the Umno president did not dare sideline Shahrizat, an influential leader of the powerful Wanita Umno wing, who is expected to defend her post in the election this October.
PKR vice-president N. Surendran said that by appointing Shahrizat his special adviser, it was clear that Najib was “bowing down to the warlords in Umno”.
“He dare not sideline Shahrizat because of her political influence in Umno,” he told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.
It was reported yesterday that the embattled Shahrizat, a former minister, will soon be made Najib’s special adviser on women affairs, even as the prime minister seeks to defend his post as Umno president in the coming polls.
Surendran added that it was “unhealthy” for the country’s political culture for Shahrizat’s alleged return to power through the “backdoor”.
“She has now entered through the backdoor,” he said, noting that Shahrizat was previously “forced to relinquish” her Cabinet position after the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) scandal involving her family members.
“It’s not healthy for Umno. It’s not healthy for the country,” the lawyer said.
Wanita DAP chief Chong Eng suggested that the move was aimed at helping Shahrizat retain her Wanita Umno post and ultimately bolster Najib’s bid to defend his Umno presidency.
“This is to give her position, the resources so she can sustain in Umno election, can help him to win in election, to have her as his team,” the Bukit Mertajam MP said.
Chong questioned the move, describing Shahrizat’s new role as being “redundant”, pointing out that there is already a minister playing the same role.
“We already have minister on women, family and community development,” she said, adding that Shahrizat’s appointment appeared to be an “insult” to Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim who is currently holding that portfolio.
Chong also said taxpayers’ funds should be put to better use.
“If he really needs an adviser, he will appoint an expert on women issue,” she said, pointing out that Shahrizat was merely another politician like Najib himself.
PAS vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar similarly linked the appointment to the Umno party elections in the coming months.
“To me, this is more for positioning Wanita Umno for Shahrizat and more towards helping Shahrizat to continue to hold the post of Wanita chief that will be challenged by Azalina,” he said, referring to former minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, who had openly declared her intention to gun for the women wing’s top post.
Mahfuz claimed the prime minister’s administration was “weak” because of his apparent need for many advisers.
He also criticised Shahrizat’s appointment which he viewed as being a waste of public funds.
“We already have a women minister, is there a need for an adviser?” the Pokok Sena MP asked.
The yet-to-be announced appointment will confer Shahrizat with full ministerial status and powers, according to a report by The Star on its website yesterday.
Shahrizat was previously appointed women, family and community development minister via her senatorship, but was effectively dropped from the Cabinet in April when this was not renewed following an expose that her family received a RM250 million federal loan to operate the NFC, a cattle-farming project.
This is the second time Shahrizat will be given a political lifeline after having won a similar reprieve in the aftermath of Election 2008, when she was defeated by newcomer Nurul Izzah Anwar in the contest for the Lembah Pantai federal seat.
The NFC scandal hit media headlines two years ago when the Auditor-General’s 2010 Report highlighted the failure of the NFC project in achieving its target of breeding 8,000 head of cattle in Gemas, Negri Sembilan, in 2010, besides noting National Feedlot Corporation’s (NFCorp) management failures.
Shahrizat’s husband Datuk Seri Dr Mohamed Salleh Ismail who chairs the NFCorp, the firm that runs the NFC, and the couple’s children were later alleged to have misused the government allocation of RM250 million for the project.
On March 12 last year, Mohamad Salleh pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal breach of trust involving some RM49.7 million with regards to the purchase of two condominium units and two other charges under the Companies Act.
Shahrizat had also filed a RM100 million defamation suit against PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli and Wanita PKR chief Zuraida Kamaruddin, two opposition lawmakers who were actively pushing for the former minister’s resignation over the scandal.