Why not Wan Azizah?

IT is without a doubt that the Selangor Mentri Besar crisis issue is highly polemicised. From the very first step – dubbed the “Kajang Move”, with the resignation of the former Kajang assemblyman – right up until the submission of candidate names to the Selangor palace in the last two weeks, the replacement of Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim has been the seemingly unending talk of town.

The merits and demerits of candidates have been proposed, debated, and even derided. Yet it is without doubt that we stand at the cusp of a historic moment in Malaysian history, which is the very real possibility that a female politician will be appointed by Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah as the new Mentri Besar.

Some detractors have expressed various excuses to imply that PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and one of the key candidates for the MB post, is not qualified to hold such a high position in government: Among them that she is a woman. That she is the wife of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. That she is inexperienced. And that she will not be able to govern independently.

We are living in the 21st century. The question of a leader’s gender should have no place in the calculus of contemporary politics in a cosmopolitan state like Selangor, nor should male chauvinists be allowed to enforce a glass ceiling on political talent. Everywhere we look today, modern democracies around the world have accepted that women are as capable as men when it comes to leading organisations – be they corporations, central banks, and especially governments.

Thus, the gender of a leader should not even be a criterion.

That Dr Wan Azizah is the wife of Anwar is a reality and one that she can never walk away from, just like the reality that Corazon Aquino is the wife of Benigno Aquino, Jr. In fact, I hypothesise that to submit solely that a person is the “X of Y” where X is a familial or nuptial relationship is an inept, oversimplified and hollow argument; it is in fact an extension of the gender argument and bias discussed earlier.

In short, one should judge a character by what she or he has done or not done. In other words, a leader should be judged by his or her actions and how it impacts the lives of not only the organisation led, but also the public.

Without doubt, Dr Wan Azizah has been through trials by fire ever since she (reluctantly) donned the mantle of leadership of the Reformasi movement. Having been a doctor serving the people for 14 years, she has now served as a politician for 15 years.

In this one-half decade, she was elected thrice as a member of parliament and once as a Selangor state assemblyperson. She has served as the Opposition leader in Parliament, leading Pakatan Rakyat, where she brought to fore key issues.

But more than that, Dr Wan Azizah is a symbol of perseverance in the face of adversity; of service to the people above one’s self; of tirelessly working for the betterment of the nation.

And like Mdm Aquino, Dr Wan Azizah too had no experience. No experience in graft, in corruption, in benefiting cliques or cronies.

What she does have, in my experience of working with her, is the ability to patiently listen before making a decision.

Therefore to say that Dr Wan Azizah will not be able to govern independently is to belittle her experience as a consultative and firm leader. Her detractors often mistake her polite and soft-spoken demeanour as weakness; they forget that her quiet, resolute character is a symbol of strength and that she’s a torchbearer in the fight to lift the dignity of all Malaysians.

Perhaps one day soon, Malaysians will no longer discriminate a leader because of gender.

Perhaps one day soon, we will realise the capacity of all Malaysians to lead – regardless of gender – not only in politics, but in business, academia, and all other fields.

Perhaps one day soon, we will not think twice about having a female mentri besar. Or a female prime minister!

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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