The truant-accused Hamzah, his red eyes and Malaysia's bilateral blunder

14 Apr 2023 04:33pm
Opposition leader, Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin of Perikatan Nasional. Photo by Mohd Halim Abdul Rashid
Opposition leader, Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin of Perikatan Nasional. Photo by Mohd Halim Abdul Rashid

KUALA LUMPUR - When talk of his frequent truancy in the August House was brought up, Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin began his explanation not with words but with a simple gesture.

The country’s opposition leader in the Dewan Rakyat lifted his finger and pointed to his left eye.

The eyeball was fairly veiny and reddened. The eyelid had drooped a bit and at times, it twitched, presumably involuntarily.

“I was suffering from retinal detachment. Bright lights were blinding,” he spoke in an interview with Sinar Daily, “It’s when the film inside your eyes gets cut off [ from the eyeball].

The surgery and the recovery period that the Perikatan Nasional (PN) secretary-general had to undergo left him unable to attend the recently adjourned parliamentary sitting.

“I wasn’t playing truant. I had already submitted my MCs to the Speaker (Datuk Seri Johari Abdul) and in fact, he even sent me a get well soon card,” the Larut MP remarked.

Hamzah’s recurrent absence in Parliament, along with two other prominent PN MPs; Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang, earned them the notorious nickname, the ‘invisible trio’.

“This is the problem. I’ve already told the Speaker, that to be fair, MPs who are on MCs must not be simply regarded as absent, he must say absent with permission.

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“It’s not just me who is on MC, for example, did you know that Hadi Awang also had to go for a surgery,” he disclosed.

Ostensibly, much damage seemed to have been done.

So much so, that a notorious rumour has it that there is a growing internal groundswell aiming to topple Hamzah and have him replaced with another prominent PN leader as the ‘numero uno’ in the opposition bloc.

Expectedly, Hamzah denied this, brushing it off as mere poppycock.

“We are united and together. Those who are making that news, that’s their agenda. Not us. I don’t care about them,” he riposted.

Accusation of his parliamentary absenteeism, nonetheless, was not the only bad optics Hamzah had to deal with.

His son, Muhammad Faisal, was charged in Sessions Court over fake invoices involving cooking oil subsidies and the hoarding of cooking oil exceeding the allowable limit.

“I only knew about the case on the very day he was charged.

“He did not want to tell me beforehand, said it was not a big deal, that he was only a shareholder [of the company] and that it was a compoundable offence.

“This is just a witch hunt, for the upcoming state elections. They are trying to make sure that they have something to be used against PN,” Hamzah retorted.

Now that they got his son, will he be next?

“I’m not next. They have already been trying to get me and they will try their best to do so,” he answered.

While he claimed that he was not worried with his political career, the former deputy foreign minister, did express his concern with the current administration governing the country.

Specifically, over what he deemed as the ill-advised and jeopardising remarks by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on bilateral matters that involves the sovereignty of Malaysia.

He was referencing the controversial statement by Anwar over Malaysia’s willingness to discuss the purported claims of overlapping China-Malaysia maritime borders in which the latter country has, for decades, consistently denied and did not acknowledge.

“When it comes to bilateral relations, if you want to tell something, you must make sure you have a proper statement otherwise, you will create misunderstanding between two countries.

“He must get his briefing from ministry officers, not the minister because our Foreign Minister (Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir) is a just a new guy. He doesn’t understand bilateral relations,” said Hamzah.

Anwar’s contentious gaffe further fuelled critics, with some hurling salvos of him allegedly selling the country by spinning the remark into a supposed quid-pro-quo recompense for the RM170 billion worth of investment commitments from China.

“You cannot say just because the other side has invested a lot of money, they can discuss matters such as this. Investments and claimants are two different things.

“It’s not about their claim, it’s about our country. An MOU (memorandum of understanding) will remain as MOU until one can see those things [materialise] in the country,” said Hamzah.

They may be political enemies now, but Hamzah said that he knew Anwar as a friend, back when the latter was the finance minister in the 90s and the former was a businessman.

Those days, he claimed, Anwar had good people advising him on government matters, and most importantly, he listened to them; that however was the past.

“Now, he feels like he knows everything,” Hamzah remarked.