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Sunday October 27, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday October 27, 2013 MYT 12:07:49 PM
by shahanaaz habib
Working out a strategy: Umno delegates casting their votes. Wanita Chief Shahrizat is ‘disappointed but not surprised’ that only two women were elected into the supreme council and wants to begin identifying potential Wanita leaders and creating an individual brand for them which will set them apart.
Only two women made it into the Umno supreme council in the recent party election. That has made a disappointed Wanita Umno wing want to shake things up and push for change.
MANY people these days are into branded designer goods, so how about a branding of people? Can branding make a person well-known, popular and generate mass appeal? And get that person elected?
Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil is looking to find out.
The Wanita Chief who is “disappointed but not surprised” that only two women were elected into the supreme council in the recent Umno election wants to begin identifying potential Wanita leaders and creating an individual brand for them which will set them apart.
“You must have a brand. As a group, Wanita is very strong but we need to brand our leaders individually and promote them.
“I want them to break the glass ceiling in politics,” says Shahrizat.
Nine women contested for the 25 seats in the supreme council, which is a larger number than usual. Normally only one or two women make it in.
The two who won this time – Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said and Datuk Seri Rosnah Abd Rashid Shirlin – are actually ex-Puteri chiefs who had cut their teeth in that movement rather than the Wanita.
And both seem to have their own unique “brand”.
Azalina is unconventional, vocal, fearless and able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the men to make her voice heard and Rosnah, a deputy minister, is well liked and even received the highest number of votes for the supreme council seat in a number of divisions in Sabah, the state she’s from.
“Azalina is a name. People know her. She is a division chief, a very strong MP, an ex-Puteri chief, (and) a former minister. She has a strong CV already,” says Shahrizat.
“Rosnah is a deputy minister and is also a (well-known) name.”
The norm in Umno, she feels, is to give seats to personalities with positions in government, such as ministers, deputies, mentris besar, chief ministers and people who are well-known and have a brand name, with the remaining going to the Wanita and Youth wings as an afterthought.
“It’s not even a gender thing.”
The seven Wanita who lost in their bid for a post in the supreme council are former supreme council member Datuk Dr Noraessah Mohamad, deputy minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Saddique who fractured her legs and wasn’t able to campaign (and it is no secret that she does not see eye to eye with Shahrizat), Datuk Raja Ropiaah Raja Abdullah, Datuk Maznah Hamid, Datuk Rosni Zahari, Datuk Hamidah Osman and former Wanita chief Datuk Dr Siti Zaharah Sulaiman.
The fact that none of these Wanita stalwarts made it also speaks volumes.
Some say it is a signal from delegates to the Wanita from different camps to get their house in order. Others argue that these women have been there too long and they just want change and fresh faces. Then there are those who say that offering nine candidates from Wanita was a mistake because that split the votes for the women.
They point to the fact that Umno Youth endorsed four candidates for the supreme council and three out of the four won.
But Shahrizat dismisses limiting the number of Wanita candidates contesting, especially when they are always trying (unsuccessful so far) to push for a 30% representation.
“I couldn’t just offer two or three. If we did that, people will ask what is the meaning of us asking for 30%? We are caught between a rock and a hard place. We had to make that move (for more candidates).
“We did not stop anybody who wanted to contest. I was hoping four women would get in but only two did. This has to stop. The Wanita can’t be taken for granted. We have to make members gender conscious as that is the only way to push the women up,” she says.
Shahrizat’s Kepong division voted for four women – Maznah, Raja Ropiah, Azalina and Rosni – for the supreme council.
“Usually it’s only one and this is the first time we gave our votes to four women. Breaking through the iron barricade is not easy,” she adds.
After the May general election, the Prime Minister inadvertently dealt a blow to Wanita Umno when none among their ranks were made full ministers, which is unprecedented because the Wanita have always had a minister or two in Cabinet.
But Shahrizat says people should not read too much into this because a number of Wanita were made deputy ministers.
And she insists she does not want to play the blame game.
In the recent Umno election, about 40,000 of the 146,000 delegates were women from the Wanita and Puteri wings.
“Why aren’t the women at grassroots level also pushing for Wanita representation at the top before we castrate the men? My biggest challenge is to set their minds free. Women must vote in other women because for so long women in this country have always made way for men. Then they complain when they don’t get the seats. Let’s look at ourselves first.”
She points out that at the recent divisional level election, 69 of the 191 divisions have new Wanita chiefs, which marks a 36% change.
And she is excited that a number are women in their 30s and early 40s who are professionals and successful.
“That gives me a bigger spread to choose from and brand,” she says.
Shahrizat also thinks it is high time to elevate the Wanita.
“We are the bedrock of Umno. Remove us from the political scene and the party will collapse. I don’t want the Wanita to be one of three wings (alongside Umno Youth and Puteri) any more. I want us to be acknowledged as the backbone of Umno and not a wing.
“I don’t want Wanita to be token any more, token representation, token candidates, token opportunities. If I convince the Umno president to allow this, I believe we will be treated differently administratively. And it will be a mental shift for the women. It’s about giving women the confidence, setting dreams and goals for the future,” she says.
Different pathways to the Umno supreme council
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Government, Umno polls, UMNO elections, politics
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