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Top women in Malaysian politics

We fail again to see political parties fielding 30% women candidates for GE15 as promised 


THE upcoming general election will see a total of 945 candidates competing for 222 parliamentary seats. 

However, less than 20% of them are women. 

This reflects the under-representation of women’s political participation in Malaysia’s parliamentary elections. 

Back in 1998, the Barisan Nasional (BN) government made the promise for 30% of women candidates while in the 2018 14th general election (GE14), Pakatan Harapan (PH) also promised to ensure at least 30% of policymakers appointed at all levels are women. 

Puteri Umno chief Datuk Zahida Zarik Khan speaking at a Puteri Umno gathering. Zahida is contesting at the Padang Besar parliamentary seat (pic: Bernama)

Yet, we fail again to see political parties fielding 30% women candidates for GE15 as promised. According to Pantau PRU15 data, PH fielded only 18%, followed by Gerakan Tanah Air at 13.3%, BN (11%), Perikatan Nasional (9.3%), Gabungan 

Parti Sarawak (16%) and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (12.5%). 

PKR candidate Wan Azizah (front) marches with supporters towards the P124 Bandar Tun Razak Parliamentary Candidate Nomination Centre in conjunction with the GE15 (pic: Bernama)

On that note, Malaysia currently ranks 103rd out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index 2022, behind Singapore at 49, Thailand (79) and Indonesia (92). 

Nonetheless, there are some key women political candidates to watch in this round that can take up the country’s administrative positions if their parties come to power.

Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said

Malaysia’s 1st lady Deputy Dewan Rakyat Speaker 

During her role as youth and sports minister, Azalina completely revolutionised the participation of Malaysian women in sports

Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, 58, has made several histories in the country’s political arena since she first joined Umno in 1990. The incumbent Pengerang MP joined Umno at the age of 27 and after 10 years in the party, she became the youngest woman ever to win a seat in the Supreme Council. In 2001, Azalina was entrusted with the responsibility to lead the Umno’s new wing Puteri Umno as its first chief when it was first established.

Besides becoming the first woman to hold the Deputy Dewan Rakyat Speaker in 2020, she was also the first woman appointed as youth and sports minister in 2004. 

During her role as youth and sports minister, she completely revolutionised the participation of Malaysian women in sports — she was an author of a sports book, founder of a sports festival and women’s sport and fitness foundation.

Prior to her political role, she started her career as a legal assistant in several law firms and later worked as a speaker on TV interview shows, namely Astro’s “Lidah Pengarang” and “Dateline” at NTV 7, covering various topics on politics, economic and social issues. 

In parliamentary affairs, Azalina was the chairperson of the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus in 2013 and served as the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the law. 

She stood out as a serious advocate of parliamentary democracy, has called for firm action in cases of abuse of children and judicious reform of the Attorney General’s Chambers. 

She also demonstrated a good grasp of facts and respect for the Opposition, while exercising confident and effective leadership. 

Among her notable “actions” in the Parliament in the past few years was the submission of the private member’s Bill to tackle the growing habit of party hopping among politicians. 

Recently, she led the motion for the tabling of a private member’s Bill seeking to amend the constitution to allow children born overseas to be granted citizenship through their Malaysian mothers. 

“It is my sincere hope that the government of the day prioritises measures that can be taken to allow citizenship for children born overseas to Malaysian mothers as is their birthright,” she said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh described Azalina as a thoughtful woman leader who will be fighting over the issues of citizenship, marriages, divorces and stateless children. 

This is no doubt why Azalina was previously appointed as Mentor Minister for the University of Malaya (UM) for two year-term from 2016 to 2018.

Hannah Yeoh

Known as an ‘accidental politician’, ex-lawyer Yeoh, was involved in politics in 2008, contesting in her home ground Subang Jaya’s seat with DAP ticket and won

Malaysia’s youngest and 1st female state speaker 

Incumbent Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh, 43, was sworn in as the Speaker of the Selangor Legislative Assembly at the age of 34 in 2013, making her the first woman Speaker and the youngest of any legislative body in Malaysia. 

Known as an “accidental politician”, the ex-lawyer was involved in politics in 2008, contest- ing in her home ground Subang Jaya’s seat with DAP ticket and won, despite not having any political background. 

Due to her age and inexperience, Yeoh faced a lot of age discrimination when she first joined politics. 

“As the first woman Speaker, I knew there would be no room for mistakes or else they will say a woman is not suitable to be Speaker,” Yeoh said in an interview with Prestige Malaysia. 

In 2018, Yeoh served as deputy minister of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM) in PH’s administration under former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

In her role as deputy minister, Yeoh was known as a fearless and vocal advocate for women’s rights, community and various other issues of public interest. 

She was also the brain behind the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021, which was passed in August this year.

During her tenure in the government, Yeoh has focused heavily on children’s rights issues as she believed that children are incapable of upholding their own rights and she wished to change that. 

Meanwhile, she was once investigated by the Bukit Aman under Section 505 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 over her tweet in March 2020 regarding the five-year plan to end child marriages.

Despite PH being only in power for a short 22 months, her ministry implemented the country’s first child sex offender registry, appointed the first children’s commissioner under Suhakam, ran successful campaigns on reporting sexual abuse and reducing the cases of baby dumping in Malaysia.

At present, Yeoh continues her political reform on nation-building and seeks to inspire Malaysians to play their respective parts in establishing a righteous nation which is free from corruption and racial discrimination.

Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri

Nancy is very vocal when it comes to issues related to the law, religion and rights of the people of Sarawak

Representing Borneo 

Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, 61, is one of the key politicians’ names from East Malaysia who is contesting under the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) ticket, a component party of the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS). 

Nancy has served as the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture in the PN administration led by Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin since March 2020 and MP for Batang Sadong since March 2008. 

Previously, she served as the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities in the BN administration led by former PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak from May 2013 until May 2018. 

Her appointment as a tourism minister coincided with the global onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a position she embraced with equal compassion and leadership, especially for those affected in the tourism economy. 

Nancy’s appointment as the tourism minister has made her the longest-serving female federal minister from Sarawak. 

She is an advocate for new thinking in the areas of tourism, arts and culture development and promotions, pushing for innovation and technological adoptions in these challenging times. 

She is also very passionate about bringing Malaysia’s culture and heritage to the forefront, something close to her heart, coming from the rich and culturally diverse Land of Hornbills. 

In GE14, Nancy was given the title “Iron Lady”, along with six other successful female ministers in the PM’s office at the time, and she demonstrated the title by fighting for women’s rights throughout her tenure.

During her time in Putrajaya, she never stopped empowering women, especially as the chairman of the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus, where she was very concerned about issues such as sexual harassment, the importance of women’s involvement in administration, and family and community matters.

Nancy is very vocal when it comes to issues related to the law, religion and rights of the people of Sarawak. Moreover, she is always wise to dismiss any statement made by MPs who make false statements related to the Sarawakians.

In her GE15 campaign, the GPS’s Santubong candidate’s main focus is to attract more youth participation in tourism. Nancy who is the current caretaker tourism minister said that discussions are already underway to organise several programmes to enhance youths’ involvement in tourism. She noted that her ministry has already organised programmes to enhance the involvement of youths in the tourism industry.

“Through my ministry, I have introduced a new tourism programme for young people and youths in tourism. We want to know the aspirations of young people regard- ing their views, how and what they expect from tourism. From there, I can interact with them (youths),” she told reporters recently.

The GE15 will see her first-time contesting in Santubong parliamentary seats, however, she is prepared to take the seat, especially as she has always been a voter herself in Santubong.

She said that the nomination in the area was also timely as Santubong is one of the seven “tourism belts” in Sarawak.

“I hope to improve tourism infrastructure in the area if given the mandate,” she said recently.

Nurul Izzah Anwar

Nurul Izzah sees that the country will progress towards the better protection of women if their participation improves in politics and at policymaking levels

PKR’s princess of reform’ 

Incumbent Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, 41, has always been vocal about women’s participation in politics. 

She views that electing more women leaders can help Malaysia to produce laws that are friendlier to women and protect the family institution better. 

Nurul Izzah sees that the country will progress towards the better protection of women if their participation improves in politics and at policymaking levels. 

The eldest daughter of Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim stepped into the political arena in 1999 at the age of 19 when her father was imprisoned. 

The PKR VP competed for the first time in GE12 in 2008 and defeated former Wanita Umno chief Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil in Lembah Pantai. 

She was known as a strong proponent of political and civil rights with a special interest in prisoners of conscience, committed to a holistic reform agenda to expand Malaysia’s democratic space. 

As an active member of the All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of All Places of Detention (APPGM), she reiterated her calls for national prison reform. 

Nurul Izzah is a strong advocate for parliamentary reform as she pushed for legislative power to be returned to MPs through the formal debating of private member’s Bills. 

Since 2011, Nurul Izzah has brought forward seven private member’s Bills, including the Industry Skills Education and Training Commission Bill 2018, the Racial and Religious Hate Crime Bill 2016, the Sedition Act (Repeal) 2013, the Petroleum Development Act 1974 (Amendment) 2012, the Printing Presses and Publications Act (Repeal) 2012 and the Revocation of Emergency Bill 2011. 

Her current work on the ground revolves around projects that empower the most vulnerable segments of her constituency. 

Some of her initiatives as MP for Permatang Pauh are the Removing Obstacles to Cervical Screening (Rose) programme, Permatang Pauh Women’s Project to upskill the bottom 40% income group women, and the Permatang Pauh Multidimensional Poverty Study. 

Meanwhile, Nurul Izzah also continues to call for the empowerment of Malaysia’s Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) committee. 

As TVET’s former chairman, she aims to make TVET certificate holders shine in their specialisation and skills which are constantly in demand.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition

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