Is Tengku Zafrul’s dapper persona attracting more investments from abroad than PMX’s backstory?

IT CAN’T be helped and you are forgiven if you find Investment Trade and Industry (MITI) Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz like a ray of sunshine in the bleak and gloomy Malaysian political landscape.

His ever-smiling demeanour, dapper corporate style and lack of historical political baggage is a real winning factor despite him never having won an election (explanation to follow).

Let’s just say that Tengku Zafrul was seemingly plucked out of nowhere by then “back door” eighth premier (PM8) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin following the resignation of PM7 Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the aftermath of the infamous Sheraton Move.

Royal pedigree

Although short-lived as PM8 when he took over the reins of power, the Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman whose administration reined in Barisan Nasional (BN) and PAS, handpicked the former CIMB Group CEO as finance minister in his newly formed cabinet.

Tengku Zafrul’s royal pedigree includes his late father businessman Tengku Abdul Aziz Tengku Haris Hafaz from the Selangor royalty while his mother Raja Datuk Zaharaton Raja Zainal Abidin from the Negri Sembilan royalty was the former Economic Planning Unit (EPU) director-general.

Married to Raja Datin Seri Utama Johanna Adrina Raja Arshad who hails from both the Selangor and Negri Sembilan royalty, Tengku Zafrul, his wife and four children are a photogenic family often featured in magazines like Nona.

Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz and his family (Pic credit: Tengku Zafrul’s Facebook)

A political innocent, the technocrat-cum-career banker had to be sworn in as a senator before taking up his ministerial post at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He even immortalised his short stint as the head honcho of the treasury in a book “Weathering the Economic Storm: A Journey Through the Unchartered Waters of COVID-19” which was later launched by both the King and Selangor ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.

Despite the changeover of PM when Muhyiddin was forced to resign in Sept 2021, in a move to keep Bersatu in government with UMNO’s Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaacob as PM9, Tengku Zafrul kept his Cabinet post.

Political survivor

When Ismail Sabri was pressured to call for the 15th General Elections (G15) in October 2022, Tengku Zafrul admitted he was an UMNO member and declared that he would contest under the Barisan Nasional (BN) ticket.

Recall that he lost to Pakatan Harapan-Amanah’s Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, a former health minister in the short-lived Pakatan Harapan government (2018 to 2020), the only time Tengku Zafrul ever stood for election.

As luck – or a good pedigree – would have it Tengku Zafrul was sworn in as senator a second time and appointed the MITI Minister under the unity government in December 2022, taking over from outgoing Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, the current Bersatu information chief.

Personable and well-spoken with media savvy acumen that is unusual with many politicians, Tengku Zafrul has an impressive social media presence with 395,400 followers on TikTok and 558,000 followers on Facebook (at the time of writing).

Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz is standing at the back row (far left)

A complete contrast to 10th PM (PMX) Anwar’s more casual and tie-less style, Tengku Zafrul is as dapper in a corporate suit and tie as he is in sports attire while keeping fit with running and cycling.

At age 50 with well-coiffed salt and pepper hair, he matches the long strides of the energetic 76-year-old PMX along the streets of New York at the recent United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

But he knows how to play the power game too, keeping a step behind as he travels the globe on missions to prepare the ground for the arrival of PMX in an effort to sell Malaysia as a preferred investment destination.

It would be nice if Malaysia had a PM like Tengku Zafrul who doesn’t need to carry the baggage of 25 years of political persecution as his claim to fame – something PMX emphasises at every interview by a foreign media.

That political naiveté and staying power exuded by Tengku Zafrul would indeed be a selling point as the world is wary and weary of endless political shenanigans in Malaysia.

While Anwar was honoured to guide a young man to embrace Islam after performing Friday prayers in New York, could it be Tengku Zafrul who is actually converting investors into giving Malaysia another chance? – Sept 25, 2023


Niza Shimi was a former journo with a leading mainstream English media.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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