AUGUST 3 — Azmin Ali has been in politics for over 40 years, beginning as special officer to now Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
The ex-menteri besar and three-time MP and also assemblyman is synonymous with Selangor politics for the past 20 years. He was PKR’s state leader and party No.2 until his public and ugly spat with his mentor split party and country and brought Perikatan Nasional (PN) to life and national power.
He needs no introduction.
Based on his CV, the longevity and breadth of presence, the Hulu Kelang state seat race seems a no-contest.
Maybe and maybe not.
In his way stands a promising young woman, Juwairiya Zulkifli. A local fizzing with potential, and one term completed — Bukit Melawati — in the state house.
She is no stranger to Azmin, having served him at Selangor when he helmed it.
Both move away from their previous seats and square off in Hulu Kelang for different reasons, Azmin’s not so flattering.
This is going to be a proper slugfest.
The information systems graduate from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia is much younger at 38 and probably has less fear of reformasi reputations. She was in Form One when Anwar was arrested in 1998. More so, most voters are closer to her age.
There’s the other thing. Gender. Which may matter more than usual come August 12.
The ongoing six elections’ political analyses often overlook women as a factor.
No, the columnist is not over-enamoured after a visit to a local cineplex to catch Barbie — what will be a generational statement of intent, whether people are with it or against it. Nor is he claiming belatedly to be a gender expert or proponent.
But half — or slightly less since there are 110 men to 100 women currently in Malaysia — the voters are women.
It is not ignored that voters are complicated and gender alone does not win votes. But the stark ghosting of it as an election factor astounds, in the face of over-the-top emphasis about race.
Race is far more prominent by its airtime, but surely gender is not in a parallel universe. If between 50 per cent to all Malaysians in the history of time voted on race, based on diatribes online and in the media, maybe 10 per cent can be influenced after race by gender?
In a contest of few issues, can it not creep in to be the tie-breaker? In a race where Azmin and Juwairiya are both Malays, could gender have a say?
Not necessarily whether the candidate is female or not, but whether female issues are championed by candidates. In the absence of active articulation of female centric issues, the general voter assumes the candidate’s gender shapes inclinations about those issues.
Juwairiya is the deputy chief of PKR Women.
The reaction to race is always weighed but voters are hardly asked on female issues. Perhaps race is over-inflated because politicians can never stop talking about it?
Further, pundits expect low turnout.
Gender might bring a few more to come vote in Hulu Kelang, even if race is still in their minds.
Security, for instance, is a major issue for women as it affects mobility, access and opportunities. From call centre service representative on night shift to lawyers needing to meet persons of interest after work, safety is a major concern among women.
A hint of it was present when the ministry of transport announced plans to extend female-exclusive coaches to the MRT system.
Same goes to equal recognition under the law, from employment barriers to parenting independence, both parents deciding without gender ascendancy for children
With a greater number of them in the workforce, childcare is a high priority. There are a wide range of daycare options, organically developed, but most women want better and certainly safer choices.
Workplace daycare facilities would be brilliant. A politician holding a conversation about how to realise it through partnerships with the employers, imagine that?
Instead our politicians are too busy telling voters who to hate more.
Which brings us to the general tone of our politics and its appeal to women. The brutish and antagonistic reality now is likelier put them off. Which explains why the consumption of online political news among women is disproportionately low.
Various management and behavioural books already outline the more inclusive and compromise driven attitudes women lead with as leaders or receive with enthusiasm as group members.
The “us vs them” divisiveness of present politics may seem immature to women who may see it as just testosterone fuelled rather than purpose aligned.
This is not a catch-all analysis of female disposition but a glance at how the angles may not be consistent with the dominant male way of looking at national politics.
Whether women would choose a different way is academic because they have never been presented with the option before. A whole offering with a strong and active female consideration rather than the usual tactic to list female issues almost like an afterthought.
This is because none of the parties and coalitions are willing to elevate female think into their national strategies except generously allowing for women’s wings in their parties and coalitions.
Hardly a strategy meeting has a smattering of women in it.
When these decision makers are only hammers, then all problems look like nails.
It’s always the same, clearly constructed to the male narrative primarily.
Which explains as alluded to earlier the feeling it’s a wet blanket these elections. Hearts are not fluttering, only the dread that the leaders prime their followers to vote in order to prevent the ultimate nightmare scenario, a green wave or liberals in your daughters’ bedrooms, depending on which kool-aid is consumed.
So, the large middle among voters is circumspect about the elections.
Low turnout is inevitable unless people have a reason other than the other side sucks, as retold in horrendous fashion by their venerated leaders.
Over at Hulu Kelang, it is already Day Six of the campaign and eight more before voting.
Jue is only one of the many younger female candidates in their early career.
They may be part of the larger machine still dictated by their national leaders but they have the chance to show that they can substantially infuse their candidacy with a more modern, progressive look, one that does not propose to realise a gender battle but to tilt the overall discussion to have a greater gender balance, which is not preposterous to hope for.
Or head to the hackneyed race booth. Nothing new there. Malaysia needs new. Maybe new is on the cards at Hulu Kelang and other contests across the country.
By the way, Lysistrata may not be the worst book to read this election season.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.