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Sunday October 27, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday October 27, 2013 MYT 10:18:52 AM
When Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said heard she had won a much coveted seat in the Umno supreme council, she was shocked.
“I didn’t believe it when people told me. I had thought Umno wouldn’t accept me because for the last five years, I had nothing. I was not a minister, not even a chairman of a GLC.
“I started in politics with something (Puteri Umno chief 2002), then along the way it became nothing.”
“The only thing that was significant was that I had offered myself to challenge Datuk Seri Shahrizat (Abdul Jalil) for the Wanita Chief post,” says Azalina, who is former Youth and Sports Minister and Tourism Minister and was a rising star in the party before hitting a snag some five years ago.
In 2009. when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak became Prime Minister, he did not appoint Azalina – who was being investigated for corruption (and who has been cleared since then) – into his Cabinet nor did he give her a post elsewhere.
He and his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin advised her to concentrate instead on her constituency.
And the Pengerang MP did just that for a solid five years, going from a federal to a grassroots leader.
“I know every street, every house door, every back door, every family in my constituency now,” she says with much pride.
In the five years while Azalina was largely out of the public eye, it wasn’t like she was doing anything politically. She has been the Pengerang division chief for two terms – the only woman in Umno currently who is heading a division (not the Wanita wing of a division but the division itself).
But it came as a surprise when Azalina, who seems more at home in her jacket and trouser suits than a baju kurung, wanted to take on Shahrizat for the Wanita top post.
The idea, she discloses, actually came from a 23-year-old girl in her team who suggested using Facebook to gauge younger Wanita members’ response to such a contest. And the response was so overwhelming that she even had Malay men telling her she should run.
Even though it created a buzz, Azalina withdrew from the Wanita contest upon advice from the Umno president.
She says Najib discussed with her about focusing on contesting a supreme council seat instead and that Shahrizat agreed to give her full Wanita backing for the seat and fulfilled that promise.
“I don’t know if my withdrawal gave me the win or not. But I am grateful to the Umno president and Datuk Shahrizat for making me understand,” she says.
Although Azalina is one of two women elected into the supreme council (the other being Datuk Seri Rosnah Abd Rashid Shirlin), she does not think she was picked because she is a woman.
“I don’t see it as a gender thing,” she says.
She points out that the voices of Wanita, Youth and Puteri are already being heard through their respective wings and the Wanita, Youth and Puteri chiefs are automatically in the supreme council and there would also be a few more appointed into it later, so she feels that the delegates were not basing their votes on the Wanita, Puteri and Youth “quota”.
“Perhaps it is based on personality or those that delegates think are able to bring change. Maybe they see me as a good orator or that I am of the group who have no position. I am extremely close with NGOs and believe there must be more bipartisanship. Perhaps they see me as a voice of reason or it could be that I won because I represent centre middle Umno. There are many variables.”
On election day, Azalina ran into Shahrizat at PWTC and was congratulated and kissed by her. But she admits that none of the other Wanita supreme council contenders had called her up to congratulate her on her victory.
“Why should they? I get more congratulations from the men than the women,” she says, in typical Azalina style.
She sees herself as an underdog.
“I think it is wonderful that the masses in the party decide who they want to pick. So I don’t have to bodek a leader to be voted in. Look at me. I am what I am. I am someone who is extremely unorthodox. I appreciate that delegates allowed people like me to get in,” she says.
Azalina denies this is a comeback for her. “How can it be a comeback if I never left?”
As for Rosnah, the other elected female supreme council, she too is from the Puteri stock, but hers is quite a different journey from Azalina.
A few months before the recent Umno election, Rosnah who was then the Puteri Umno chief and over the 40 age limit and thus unable to continue to lead the movement, approached the Wanita chief in her Papar division to see if she could now play a role in the Wanita wing.
Because the incumbent Papar Wanita chief wanted to retain the post, Rosnah who is also the Papar MP then asked her if she (Rosnah) could offer to be her deputy and the two agreed on this.
The previous Papar Wanita deputy was then elected into the division level and Rosnah moved in to become the new Papar Wanita deputy chief.
“The message I wanted to send to the Wanita is that the Puteri are never a threat. And the message I want to send to the Puteri is to have a smooth transition,” she says.
Rosnah has also embraced being in the Wanita wholeheartedly.
She contested and won a seat in Wanita exco during the recent Wanita Umno election.
But before that, she made sure she met up with the key players of the Wanita wing, including Shahrizat, to make her intentions known and indicate her interest.
Her decision to contest a post in the supreme council, however, came much later.
She says Sabah chief minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman suggested that she go for it.
“But I was worried about contesting both the Wanita exco and the supreme council because if you are a woman, and get voted in the Wanita exco, delegates usually won’t vote you into the supreme council too.
“So I actually thought I would not make it into the supreme council. Or that if I did, I would only get number 24 or 25. So I was so surprised to see the results,” says Rosnah, who emerged as number 15 in the 25-seat supreme council.
Papar, Kota Belud, Tuaran and Semporna put her in the top spot in their respective divisions, and all divisions in Johor and Selangor picked her as well.
A grateful Rosnah says she feels she wants to work even harder now that she has been elected to the supreme council.
She describes the number of women who got into the supreme council as “not impressive”, saying she had hoped that not just two out of the nine who contested would make it in.
Unlike Azalina, Rosnah who has got into the Wanita mainstream, received congratulatory messages from four of the Wanita who had also contested for the supreme council but lost.
“They told me ‘Congratulations. We are proud of you’. I feel blessed that the Wanita has accepted me quite well.”
For her, the message from the delegates this time around seems to be that “they want younger blood”. And although Rosnah was a Puteri exco when Azalina was the Puteri chief, interestingly she openly backed Shahrizat from the start when Azalina had wanted to take on the Wanita chief for the post.
“I know it’s not conventional not to support my former boss (Azalina). I respect her as an ex-boss but I wanted Shahrizat to remain as Wanita chief,” she says.
Rosnah, Azalina and the other Puteri girls make it a point not to share with each other their intention to contest for posts in party elections because they do not want it to be misconstrued as a Puteri plot against the senior Wanita line-up.
“So I never knew Azalina was going to contest the Wanita chief post (which she later withdrew) and I didn’t know she was contesting the supreme council post like I was. And it is the same with (former Puteri chief) Datuk Noraini Ahmad. I never knew she was contesting the Wanita exco seat until she publicly declared her intention.”
Determined to break the glass ceiling
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