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Published: Sunday December 8, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday December 8, 2013 MYT 9:48:03 AM

Seeking a firm footing

Under the microscope: Ermiyati being greeted by her supporters at the Puteri Umno meeting at the 67th Umno general assembly in PWTC. Ermiyati did not quite get off to a good start at the recent Puteri assembly.

Under the microscope: Ermiyati being greeted by her supporters at the Puteri Umno meeting at the 67th Umno general assembly in PWTC. Ermiyati did not quite get off to a good start at the recent Puteri assembly.

Puteri Umno chief Mas Ermiyati Samsudin’s maiden speech at the Puteri assembly wasn’t exactly inspiring. And as a new MP, she has yet to make any impact in parliament either. Some wonder if she ever will, while others say she should be given a chance.

EMY (Mas Ermiyati Shamsudin) doesn’t have the bodek culture. She is more of a grassroots person. The grassroots find her appealing. So says former Puteri chief Datuk Seri Azalina Othman of the newly anointed Puteri leader.

“Different leaders have different styles. Some may not be good orators but they may be good administrators,” Azalina adds.

Ermiyati, who is a lawyer, did not quite get off to a good start at the recent Puteri assembly.

Her speech did not have the “wow” factor and certainly did not create ripples of excitement.

If anything, it came across as disjointed and a mishmash of thoughts. Even her delivery was bland.

Admitting that the speech could have been better, Ermiyati says she had to be away in Belgium for a week, so it was written and put together by a bunch of friends and colleagues.

“I didn’t have the time. When I got back, I only had two days to prepare,” she says in this interview.

Some Umno members listening to Ermiyati speak at the Puteri assembly were alarmed at what they saw as a “lack of aura” and wondered aloud how she would do if she had to take on her peer in PKR’s Srikandi wing, Siti Aishah Shaik Ismail, who is a popular and powerful orator, in a debate.

But Ermiyati believes she is up for it.

“Like it or not, Puteri has to take up the challenge. We must be ready. Even for myself, I am still equipping myself with knowledge. I have to train and prepare.

“But I am not afraid to debate. We have to face them one way or another and I am willing,” she replies, when asked if she is willing to debate Siti Aishah or PKR’s other young leader, Nurul Izzah Anwar, on issues like the GST.

At 37, Ermiyati isn’t exactly a newcomer in politics. In fact, when Puteri was set up back in 2001 with Azalina at the helm, Ermiyati was one of the youngest exco members.

And she has been in the exco under successive Puteri chiefs Datuk Noraini Ahmad and Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin for more than a decade. She never really stood out, however.

Even as the new Masjid Tanah MP, she acknowledges she is still finding her footing.

“Yes, I have not made an impact – at least not yet. Insya Allah. I will try my best. Usually, they let the more experienced MPs in parliament speak first and when it comes to us newcomers, there is only five minutes or so left. So I am still learning the ropes,” says Ermiyati, who was the special secretary to Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Ali Rustam Mohd Ali for seven years. But it would be wrong to underestimate her.

She has plenty of experience when it comes to work at the grassroots and NGO level because her one-time boss, Ali Rustam, was heading the Belia 4B NGO for years.

And Azalina thinks that will be one of Ermiyati’s strengths.

“She’s got this NGO background and she’s already a youth leader. She would definitely be moving in that direction.

“Puteri can’t survive on its own. It has to pair itself with other groups. I think that is the right approach,” says Azalina.

True enough, Ermiyati is already thinking of how to work with the NGOs. “I think Umno doesn’t properly engage with all the NGOs, which is why the NGOs seem more inclined towards the Opposition.

“But when I talk with the NGOs, I think we can actually tarik (engage) them and work closely with them. I’ve told my girls we really need to do that,” she says.

Azalina is chairperson of the bi-partisan Women’s Caucus in Parliament and Ermiyati is her secretary.

“Ermiyati has been following, understanding and listening to the caucus issues closely and I find her to be open-minded.

I would like her to be more vocal on women’s issues,” says Azalina who points out that even though the new Puteri chief is not as outspoken or aggressive as some, she is a team player who has a consolidating approach in leadership, which is a good thing. “She has been working in the background for a long time and has a grasp of issues and challenges.”

Ermiyati does not want to take a “yes-man” approach when it comes to the movement.

“There are government policies we do not support, like the electricity tariff hike. It burdens consumers so we don’t agree with it.

“The young leaders in Umno don’t always have to agree with what the government does,” she says.

In her maiden Puteri speech, Ermiyati talked about how women are concerned about crime and security and called for stricter enforcement, more patrolling, and greater awareness to tackle the issue of safety.

“Why do a campaign for only 60 days? It should be for 365 days,” she says.

She has also proposed the setting up of a task force to review the Child Protection Act to make it more “inclusive” and mete out stricter punishment for offenders.

And she called for a Puteri friendship bureau to be set up to extend a hand to youngsters “regardless of race, gender, profession and background”.

She has also asked for new female members in the party between the ages of 18 and 35 to be automatically made Puteri members and not Wanita members unless they specifically request to join the latter.

During the Umno general assembly yesterday, the Wanita agreed on this proposal so this looks set to become a reality.

Ermiyati is also asking for the three-year age limit before a new Puteri member can contest a post to be abolished, so that newcomers can immediately contest for a post in the movement.

She also made a bit of boo-boo in one of her proposals. She called for ilmu rumahtangga (domestic science) to be taught in schools and universities, saying that the current two-day marriage course is not enough because divorces are happening at a rate of three per hour, which is too high. “I believe if women are exposed to comprehensive domestic science, they will be more successful in their marriage,” says this mother of four.

Asked later why she was singling women out, Ermiyati says she had overlooked this and meant to include boys as well.

But none of the Puteri speakers touched on this.

Azalina points out that the Puteri movement always gives the girls freedom to speak up and say what they want.

“Puteri is not Wanita. In Puteri, there is no structured way of talking or thinking. I don’t think Noraini, Rosnah or Emy will stop the girls from speaking up on women issues like the Islamic family law, divorce rights, women’s rights or issues raised by Joint Action Group for Gender Equality.

“But did the girls bring it up? No. They were more concerned about automatic membership and wanting to remain in Puteri until they are 40. “If you talk about empowering women, there are a lot of issues that women still lack in the country that the Puteri should be pushing for.

“They could have raised things like ‘Why can’t we have a solely Women’s Ministry dedicated to focusing on women issues instead of having a Women, Family and Community Development Ministry?’

“The question is, how do you use the platform you have? And what are you going to fight for?

“If you are talking about your own political survival, (and) your position, then the movement won’t survive.”

Azalina points out that the permanent chairman made a number of sexual innuendos in chairing the assembly.

“But did any of the Puteri stand up and say something? No they didn’t, because they wouldn’t be popular if they did that.

“When Puteri was formed, I had the idea that they were allowed to be different because they are young.

“If you are in Puteri to be popular, of course you are not going to raise issues that affect young women. How are you going to talk about polygamy and divorce rights because it is going to be uncomfortable?

“Are you there to be popular or are you there to be effective? I wish Puteri had raised more women issues like sexual harassment and divorce because the Wanita is not raising that at all.”

Tags / Keywords: Politics, Umno General Assembly; Umno Puteri

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