Dennis Ignatius: Nazri’s appointment inconsistent with Anwar’s vision for Malaysia

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As a politician, Nazri has a troubling record.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s appointment of former BN secretary-general and UMNO supreme council member Nazri Aziz as his ambassador to Washington, a key diplomatic assignment, must come as a big disappointment to the many Malaysians who looked to him to set a new standard of governance, to make a clean break from the questionable appointments of the past.

Anwar has given many inspiring speeches about good governance, about wanting to reset Malaysian politics, about building a just and inclusive nation. It is clear he wants the world to see Malaysia in a whole new light. Is Nazri the best man to project Anwar’s new Malaysia in Washington DC?


As a politician, Nazri has a troubling record. Even at the height of the 1MDB scandal, he defended Najib Tun Razak, insisting that Najib was innocent. And now, he gets to represent Malaysia in the very country which called the seizure of stolen 1MDB assets “the largest single action ever brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative”. Does the Prime Minister not see how inappropriate that is?

When hundreds of thousands of Malaysians took to the streets in 2016 pressing for democratic reform, Nazri poked fun at them by calling for monthly demonstrations as a way of promoting tourism. Later, he described Bersih 5.0 rally participants protesting the detention of then Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah as “stupid and ignorant of the law”.

And then there’s his outrageously racist remarks during the Semenyih by-election when he said that non-Malays could not be trusted to uphold the constitution because they don’t swear on the Koran when they take their oath of office. He also cited the death of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim as an apparent example of how appointing non-Malays to key positions was detrimental to the community. Nazri was subsequently investigated for sedition but, of course, no action was taken against him.

Whichever way you look at it, appointing such a man as ambassador sends the wrong message and is entirely inconsistent with the Prime Minister’s aspiration to build a more inclusive and democratic nation in keeping with his Malaysia Madani initiative.

The Chief Secretary recently announced that the whole government is reframing its strategies and performance indexes to give full expression to the core values of Madani. Shouldn’t the Prime Minister himself live up to it?

The Prime Minister now says that the appointment was, in fact, made by former prime minister Ismail Sabri. It is a feeble argument. The former government may have begun the process but there’s no reason why the current administration should have felt obliged to go along with it.

Withdrawing a nomination, even after agreement has been obtained, is not unusual. It may be recalled that former Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Abdul Rahman had his nomination as ambassador to Indonesia rescinded in July last year.

Putting the blame on Ismail Sabri, therefore, does little to absolve Anwar of his own responsibility in this appointment, all the more so because it is his government’s first significant diplomatic appointment.

At the end of the day, what Nazri’s appointment tells us is that the whole manner in which key appointments are made needs to be thoroughly revamped. Certainly, the practice of recycling the same old jaded and baggage-laden compromised politicians to key positions ought to be done away with once and for all. Malaysia deserves better.

There is no shortage of highly competent men and women of integrity; we just need a better system, one that is free of the vagaries of politics and personalities, to seek out and appoint the best and brightest. It is the only way to raise the standards of professionalism and integrity in public service and restore trust and credibility to our national institutions.

Malaysians are expecting much from our tenth prime minister; I hope he will not disappoint us as so many of his predecessors have done. – Dennis Ignatius