UK & World News

  • 29 March 2014, 22:18

Missing Plane: Man At Centre Of MH370 Storm

Through all the twists, the turns, the false leads and the dashed hopes in the extraordinary case of MH370, there has been one constant.

His name is Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's defence minister and acting transport minister.

Every day but one, he has addressed a global audience from Kuala Lumpur.

In front of cameras and reporters from around the world he has tried to explain the inexplicable: how does a passenger jet simply disappear; why is his government unable find it?

With a style that has become his trademark, he has tried to clarify confusion. Often though he only seems to add to it.

Some see his manner as representative of a clueless, incompetent and corrupt government. Others see a man under immense pressure.

Having attended many of his news conferences, I have observed his body language and his facial expressions. Personally, I don't doubt his sincerity.

Yet it is true that he has been the source of many contradictions.

Perhaps though, this is simply the consequence of a mystery without precedent: everyone is clueless, but he is the unfortunate figure who has to demonstrate that to the world.

He heads the two Malaysian government departments which play the most critical role in this investigation.

At some point he will need to explain how the military he heads managed to lose a passenger plane. They should be monitoring their skies.

Mr Hussein's background is interesting. He is a well-connected man and a member of Malaysia's elite.

The 52-year-old is the cousin of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. His father was Malaysia's third Prime Minister, Tun Hussen Onn, and he is the nephew of the country's second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak.

His grandfather, Onn bin Ja'afar, founded the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which has dominated Malaysian politics since independence from Britain in 1957.

Until MH370 went missing, he was a potential contender to succeed Najib Razak as leader of the UMNO. 

Some will argue his performance since the plane went missing will impact his chances and may even dislodge the UMNO's six-decade long hold on power.

Mr Hussein spent many of his early years in the UK. He was privately educated at Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire.

From there he moved to the University of Wales in Aberystwyth and then to the London School of Economics where he secured a law degree. He is married to Tengku Marsilla Tengku Abdullah, a Malay princess.

He is an ethnic Malay, rather than an immigrant Chinese or Indian Malaysian.

In 2005 he was accused of invoking Malay Nationalism by waving a traditional Malay sword, a keris, at a political rally. Minority Indians and Chinese Malaysians said the move fuelled racial polarisation. 

Over the past three weeks he has repeatedly said the MH370 crisis is "above politics". He has defended his handling of the investigation and rejected accusations his performance has caused confusion.

"It's only confusion if you want it to be seen to be confusion," he somewhat cryptically told a reporter in one news conference.

Putting politics to one side, as he has insisted we should do, I have observed a man deeply affected by countless meetings with broken families and unbearably pressured by a global hunger for an answer to this most extraordinary of mysteries.

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