Feisty Tourism Minister no stranger to rebukes

After four decades in politics, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz has said he will retire before the next general election.
After four decades in politics, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz has said he will retire before the next general election.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - There has hardly been a dull moment in Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz's long political career. But when he was moved in 2013 to the tame tourism portfolio after nearly a decade as law minister, it seemed like it would also take the maverick of ruling Umno out of the spotlight in Parliament where the atmosphere has become highly charged since the opposition made huge gains in 2008.

As it turned out, quite the opposite happened. In the past two years, the 61-year-old has seen more than his fair share of controversy, culminating in an unprecedented attack by him on the Johor Crown Prince that many of his Umno colleagues would find unthinkable, given the almost sacred regard the Malay majority have for the royalty.

In 2009, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz accused former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad of being a 'bloody racist'.

"He should keep out of politics because, otherwise, he will be subject to the same rule and we will whack him," Mr Nazri had said on June 13 after Tunku Ismail Ibrahim made a thinly veiled attack on Prime Minister Najib Razak. Some Malaysians have criticised the minister's remarks as insolent and uncivilised.

Mr Nazri is no stranger to rebukes, having been vilified often for his acerbic statements, including in 2009 when he accused former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad of being a "bloody racist".

This came after the latter defended the National Civics Bureau from accusations that it was promoting pro-Malay doctrine in the civil service and education.

But criticisms have not stopped Mr Nazri from speaking bluntly. In March, he poured scorn on those - including party colleagues - who supported Parti Islam SeMalaysia's push to implement hudud, the Islamic penal code that allows for amputation and death by stoning as punishments. He said "they are all stupid" to pursue "an exercise in futility" as it went against the Federal Constitution.

As the minister, a former lawyer, has said before in defence of his earlier remarks, he must uphold the law first "even if it goes against the grain of my party's struggle".

Mr Nazri has also been in the spotlight because of his son, Mr Nedim, who has been linked with murder and assault cases, in 2004 and 2012 respectively, although the 32-year-old was cleared of these allegations by the police.

After pictures surfaced in 2012 of Mr Nedim driving a Hummer SUV allegedly owned by timber tycoon Michael Chia - who has been repeatedly accused of money laundering and illegal logging in Sabah - his father boasted that his family was being stalked because he was like a Hollywood film star.

"I'm a rich man, I'm powerful, good-looking. Wealthy. So what can I do?" Mr Nazri said, adding that he did not use the Hummer, but his own car with the vanity plate WVJ6 - which stands for wealth, victory and justice.

Soon after he became tourism minister, Mr Nazri was accused of nepotism after appointing his son as a special officer in the ministry.

He responded by saying that Mr Nedim, the youngest of three siblings, was not on the government's payroll and that such appointments were paid for by the minister himself.

But after four decades in politics, the feisty Mr Nazri has said he will retire before the next general election.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline 'Feisty Tourism Minister no stranger to rebukes'. Subscribe