DECEMBER 28 — From the first time that she entered the political arena as the candidate for the Parliamentary seat of Permatang Pauh after her husband’s incarceration, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (Kak Wan) has been treated as the seat warmer for Anwar until whenever he is released and available to contest in the election. The latest such gambit is the suggestion by Kit Siang that she should be made interim prime minister if the Opposition wins the next general election.
Is that paying equal respect to women as candidates in the political process? Is that paying equal respect to Kak Wan? Does that suggestion accurately reflect the position that the Opposition coalition has on women as political candidates? And overall, what are opposition supporters to conclude about the standing of women within the opposition?
These are of course not the only times that Kak Wan has been suggested to be the seat warmer for Anwar. During the hare-brained ‘Kajang Move’ in 2014, Kak Wan was supposed to be the “interim Mentri Besar” for Selangor except that the plans went awry and Asmin Ali ended up as the MB instead. The consequences of this ill-thought-out political scheme had even more serious consequences for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition when PAS was ejected from the coalition.
Women are NOT seat warmers for their husbands
In 2008, Kak Wan had to resign her seat to make way for her husband to retake the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat in a byelection even though either the Chief Minister of Penang or the MB of Selangor could have relinquished their seats for Anwar since they already had enough on their plates in looking after their own respective states. Nonetheless, as far as I know, no feminists at that time raised any objections even though Kak Wan was already an elected Member of Parliament in her own right.
Considering that she is now being considered to be “interim Prime Minister” candidate, isn’t it strange that in 2008, none of the men in Pakatan Rakyat thought that Kak Wan deserved to keep her parliamentary seat while alternative arrangements could have been made to accommodate Anwar such as I have suggested above? This is a basic feminist demand.
However, during the so-called Kajang Move, “feminist” arguments were suddenly proffered to justify Kak Wan being the “interim Mentri Besar of Selangor” when it was evident that the choice of Kak Wan or Azmin Ali was the bone of contention between DAP, PKR and PAS. Concerned Malaysians should note that this was the real cause of the ejection of PAS from the Opposition coalition and not the Hudud issue as it is often made out to be. After all, Hudud has been part and parcel of PAS ideology since the Islamic party started decades ago.
Should the MB for Selangor be decided on merit or can feminist arguments be used to justify Kak Wan as the “interim” MB? Note that it is not clear if the argument is for Kak Wan to be MB in her own right, on her own strengths, or whether this is an argument for why she can’t be the “interim” MB!
Is there hope for an eternal “interim” coalition?
So long as the Opposition Coalition cannot envision a leadership without Anwar Ibrahim, it will be continually thinking in “interim” circles while excuses will continue to be shoveled out for why there cannot be a Shadow Cabinet at this stage. As for policies, their differentia specifica visavis Barisan Nasional is not clear. This is the core weakness of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, not anything else. Real feminist issues like that of ensuring a greater representation of women will be relegated to such tokenistic concessions as being the “interim Prime Minister” or whatever.
Is the lady for turning?
“The lady’s not for turning” was the statement made famous by Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister in 1980 when she stood her ground against the men in her party. Although we do not agree with her policies, this turn of phrase shows that she was a woman with a mind of her own and she was not about to be any man’s “interim whatever”!
It is this principle that needs to be seen to be rigorously upheld if women’s political participation is to be taken seriously and given the equal respect it deserves, by both the opposition party leaders and their supporters.
* Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.