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News analysis

Another mansion, another politician, another controversy in Malaysia

Malaysian politician's 'castle' sparks controversy and political fallout

Few people outside of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) had heard of Datuk Adam Rosly, but all that changed when pictures of his new house on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur went viral. The house has been variously described as a "Disneyland castle", a "Legoland model" and even a "palace".

The intriguing part was that Mr Adam, who is Ampang PKR Youth chief, is already a Datuk at the age of 28 while the source of his wealth remains a mystery.

But everyone loves a millionaire and the politician, who recently became a father, also owns a fleet of luxury cars, including two Mercedes-Benzes, a BMW and a Range Rover.

Like many people of his generation, Mr Adam tends to live out his life on social media, posting pictures of himself doing political work, at the wheel of his new Mercedes, having a lobster meal and of his second home in Putrajaya.

His detractors claim that the house is worth RM7 million (S$2.26 million), but Mr Adam said he got it at a bank auction for RM1 million.

It was, however, a house screaming to be noticed. The mish-mash architecture with its three conical roofs, stands out among the humbler structures in the Malay urban kampung enclave of Ampang.

Malaysian PKR Youth chief Adam Rosly (above) owns a bungalow, worth S$2.26 million according to his detractors. The house (right), with its three conical roofs, stands out among the humbler structures in the Malay urban kampung enclave of Ampang.
The house, with its three conical roofs, stands out among the humbler structures in the Malay urban kampung enclave of Ampang. PHOTO: SIN CHEW DAILY

There are six Astro satellite dishes on the roof, and part of the roof on the second floor is designed for outdoor entertaining.

Malaysian PKR Youth chief Adam Rosly (above) owns a bungalow, worth S$2.26 million according to his detractors. The house (right), with its three conical roofs, stands out among the humbler structures in the Malay urban kampung enclave of Ampang.
Malaysian PKR Youth chief Adam Rosly (above) owns a bungalow, worth S$2.26 million according to his detractors. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PKR politicians are blaming their former colleague Badrul Hisham Shaharin - better known as Chegubard who posted pictures of the house on Facebook last Sunday - for the unwanted publicity.

Within days of his Facebook expose, Red Shirt leader Jamal Yunos, the poster boy of the Malay right wing, was demonstrating outside the house and ferrying reporters over in a helicopter to take pictures of the house.

When PKR politician Khairul Anuar Ahmad Zainudin heard about Mr Adam's house, he said the first thing that came to his mind was the "istana Datuk Zakaria Deros" scandal in 2006.

Mr Khairul was then in the Youth wing and had demonstrated outside the palatial residence of the Umno politician on the outskirts of Klang town in the state of Selangor.

He said the incident was one factor in the fall of former Selangor chief minister Khir Toyo.

Mr Zakaria was a popular Umno assemblyman who got into trouble with the law as he had built the house without approval and not paid assessment for 12 years.

The house - which had a swimming pool, 16 bedrooms, 21 bathrooms and bowling lanes - became a symbol of all that was wrong with Dr Mohd Khir Toyo's government.

An ornate arch over the gate to Mr Zakaria's house had the words Damai Abadi (eternally peaceful), but the house brought only infamy to his family.

His career crashed and he suffered a fatal heart attack several days after Selangor fell to the opposition in the 2008 general election.

That sad episode ought to have been a cautionary tale for all politicians, but history tends to repeat itself.

The late Parti Islam Se-Malaysia spiritual leader, Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, and his simple kampung house was commended by all, but, said social historian Neil Khor: "When Nik Aziz died, that era died with him. Be realistic, politicians want to move up. No one in his right mind expects a politician to live like an ascetic."

What is it about politicians and their residences that people find so fascinating?

During the 2009 Umno Youth election, pictures of Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir's house with its resort-style swimming pool were circulated to raise questions about his personal fortune.

Said Dr Khor: "When there is inequality between the haves and have-nots, there will be distrust for those who have unusual wealth.

"If you are a 28-year-old politician and your main calling card is a castle in Ampang, it creates doubts."

Moreover, as political commentator Eddin Khoo pointed out, houses and cars are the more visible parts of a politician's life. They cannot be stashed away like cash and jewellery.

While Mr Khoo finds it unacceptable to stalk somebody's house the way Mr Jamal did to Mr Adam, "having said that, why do politicians need to show off their wealth or demonstrate this sort of nouveau riche values? It really reflects our political culture when people use wealth as a demonstration of power".

Mr Adam has since taken down pictures of his house and cars from his Instagram account on the advice of his party colleagues.

Despite the controversy, he is said to be well-liked in the youth wing and has used his wealth for welfare programmes in the community.

Speculation about Mr Adam's wealth and lifestyle will probably go on for a while longer. He has not really explained the source of his wealth besides saying he is a "successful businessman" and that there are many rich young men like him.

As for his title of Datuk, he pointed out that, like Mr Jamal, he was bestowed the honour by the Pahang palace this year.

Accounts that his family is in the furniture export business or that he has an affluent adopted father who is a Tan Sri have all come from other sources.

PKR does attract many well-to-do middle-class supporters, especially around the Klang Valley.

However, said former PKR Pandan division chief Zakaria Rahim: "Our party likes to talk about integrity. Before we came to power, we condemned those who abuse their power. We should walk the talk now that we are in power."

Supporters of opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan have asked Mr Jamal to go check on the even bigger houses of Barisan Nasional leaders instead of picking on PKR politicians.

But the point is that Pakatan rose to popularity promising to be different or, as US president-elect Donald Trump would put it, to drain the swamp.

Too much power caused Barisan in Selangor to go into decline and lose power. Likewise, the new regime in this state is starting to look like the one it replaced.

Said Mr Khoo: "When we talk about change, it is not just change from one government to another. We also need to transform the political culture."

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Another mansion, another politician, another controversy in Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe