The Leaderboard: Zulhasnan Rafique

Who is he?

Zulhasnan Rafique was recently appointed Malaysia’s fifteenth ambassador to the United States. Zulhasnan steps into this post from a diverse background, having served as an air force pilot, a parliamentarian, a businessman, and an academic. Earlier in his political career, he served from 2006 to 2009 as federal territories minister, which meant he was responsible for the administration of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, and Putrajaya, in the cabinet. He was elected as a member of Parliament from two constituencies in Kuala Lumpur in 1999 and 2004 and held a position within the top leadership of the ruling United Malays National Organisation, the political party headed by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Outside of politics, Zulhasnan attained the rank of major as a fighter pilot in the Malaysian Air Force from 1973 to 1985. From 1985 he was involved in several business ventures including a flour mill and an aerospace company. He served as chancellor of Geomatika University College Malaysia since 2014. Zulhasnan has been awarded the Malaysian honorific “tan sri.”

Ambassador Zulhasnan Rafique, right, during a media interview while serving as federal territories minister. Source: amrufm’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Why is he in the news?

Zulhasnan takes over as ambassador to Washington during a time of transition for U.S.-Malaysia relations. Zulhasnan will seek to maintain strong relations with the United States after the Department of Justice filed a civil forfeiture case to recoup funds allegedly embezzled from the Malaysian government fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad. Zulhasnan will also be tasked with redefining economic relations in the wake of U.S. government’s abandonment of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership of which Malaysia was a member.

What can we expect from him?

According to Zulhasnan, his appointment signifies Malaysia’s desire to “continue – even elevate and strengthen – the good relationship between Malaysia and the United States that has been existent since our nation’s Independence.” Zulhasnan added that he is “committed to deliver the best service and contribution towards achieving the aspirations and objectives of the Malaysia-United States bilateral relationship.”


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