Frustrated in his continuing attempt to bring down Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has turned his sights on a new and vulnerable target – the prime minister’s big-spending wife, Rosmah Mansor.
“He is going to go after her with everything he’s got,” said a longtime political operative. “When [Mahathir] was trying to drive out [former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi] in 2009, he went after Dollah’s wife [Jeanne Abdullah]. He even criticized Dollah’s former wife after she had died. He will use any weapon he can get his hands on. He is not going to let up.”
Mahathir has been attacking Najib over a wide range of issues including the indebted state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the eight year-old murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, the rising cost of living, the implementation of a goods and services tax and the falling popularity of the United Malays National Organization, which he lays at Najib’s door.
It is unknown how much traction Mahathir has. Many view him, at age 89, as a man long past his time and a curmudgeon who has attacked every prime minister the country has ever had. Although Najib’s poll ratings have been falling, the country – as Mahathir points out – faces serious economic headwinds from retreating commodity prices and steep government debt, which is as much to blame for Najib’s popularity woes as anything. Sources who have met with Najib and his advisers say they are unconcerned about Mahathir’s attacks. The prime minister has skillfully pulled UMNO cadres into Kuala Lumpur for repeated votes of confidence.
The government-controlled press resounds with praise for him. Blogs allied with Najib criticize Mahathir, saying he only wants to replace Najib with his son Mukhriz as prime minister, a charge Mahathir denies. Mahathir has unleashed allied bloggers as surrogates to go after Najib as well.
But in Rosmah Mahathir has an inviting target: a portly 63-year-old woman whose imperial ways and enormously expensive rings, watches and handbags have long attracted attention. The bags she has been photographed carrying typically cost $9,000 up to $150,000 each, and, if the New York press is to be believed, she also likes to sip top-shelf champagne while hobnobbing with US entertainment figures, an image at odds with being a good Muslim wife.
An irreverent website called Mywatch recently posted pictures of Malaysian politicians’ wristwatches. According to the website, Rosmah was photographed on four different occasions wearing different watches including a Richard Mille Lady RM 007 [US$134,000], a Hublot BB Black Magic 114 [US$22,150], a Hublot BB Black Magic 48 Baguette [US$63,000] and a Franck Muller Master Square Date Diamonds [US$42,500]. A sensational 6,000 word story in the New York Times on Feb. 8 alleged that its reporters had seen invoices and other documents showing Rosmah had ordered diamond, emerald and ruby rings and bracelets in Hong Kong in 2008 and 2009 that ran into the millions of US dollars.
On April 20, in his blog Chedet, Mahathir called attention to the couple’s extravagance. “There are many things about his personal behavior that I thought were not right. But I was prepared to overlook them, including he and his wife’s lavish lifestyle,” he wrote.
At one point, as protest was rising over the goods and services tax, Rosmah went online to complain about the RM1,200 salon construction cost of her huge hairdo.