06 July 2013

Call it the Umno dilemma: two spirited, headstrong women who believe they have unsullied reputations and are fit to contest the top position in Wanita Umno.

They are completely deaf to opinion outside the party and totally cheered their party’s strong showing in the last general election, where it won the largest share of national seats – 88 out of 222.

What about Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil’s critics? Malaysians remember that her family snared a RM250 million grant from the government for the National Feedlot Corporation project.

They also know of the expensive condominium purchases, luxury cars and how the venture failed miserably. She has critics from Perlis to Johor who think she should make way for younger leaders.

Shahrizat’s response? "They can go to hell."

What about Datuk Azalina Othman’s critics? Malaysians remember the reports about corruption in the Tourism Ministry, the allegations that ended her once promising ascent in Malaysian politics.

Azalina is equally nonchalant about the negativity surrounding her offer to contest the top position in Wanita Umno.

She said: “My records are clean. If I am on-the-go now, winning the Pengerang seat even, that means I do not 'owe' the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) anything.

"What wrong did I do when I was the Youth and Sports Minister? What did I do? I had executed my tasks very well!"

News that both these women are offering themselves for the top post in Wanita Umno was greeted with chuckles and in some quarters, disbelief.

Leading some to wonder whether this is the best that Umno can throw up: politicians with baggage.

The more thoughtful party members worry that with a half-a-million new voters to come onstream every year till the next polls in five years, Umno is tempting fate by just focusing on what is acceptable to the party and not the larger population.

These members noted that the majority of young Malaysians voted for the opposition in GE13, believing that BN leaders were corrupt and tainted. In five years, this group of voters is going to be even larger.

Former Wanita Umno leader Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz said that the party cannot afford to adopt a business as usual attitude and the wing needs credible and trustworthy leadership at all levels.

"There are 'challenges' which Wanita Umno is being confronted with and party members need to ensure that they do not choose leaders to merely fill party positions," the former International Trade and Industry minister said.

She advised party members to only bear in mind the party's future, which will be reflected in their choice of leaders.


Till today, only Shahrizat and Azalina have thrown their hats into the ring. So is there just a paucity of leaders in Wanita Umno?

Professor Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin does not think that is the case.

"There are capable young leaders in Umno, but the type of politics practised is such where the warlord will pick his or her desired predecessor from their followers."

Shamsul says this system ensures that the “welfare” of the warlord is still taken care of, despite him or her having left the political arena, similar to how the warlord would have cared for his or her followers in the party.

"It is a vicious cycle in Umno's leadership, including Wanita Umno," says Shamsul who is also Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's (UKM) Institute of Ethnic Studies director.

Another academic, UKM's senior lecturer from the History, Politics and Strategic Studies School, Dr Kartini Aboo Talib also said that the problem with Wanita Umno has nothing to do with the shortage of capable candidates.

"Leaders like Datuk Noraini Ahmad who is the Parit Sulong Member of Parliament, Sungai Besar MP Datuk Noriah Kasnon and Papar MP Datuk Rosnah Shirlin have all reached the right age to lead the wing from the very top. However,” she noted, “the leadership pattern in Wanita Umno is such that it does not provide or allow for much opportunities to others to lead.”

But the warlord patronage theory does not explain how Azalina could challenge Shahrizat or how Rafidah could have been ousted by her number two.

Pre-selection of candidates

Shahrizat, who defeated Rafidah in 2009 for the Wanita Umno crown, says she is all for more women contesting the top position. “The more the merrier and I welcome more women to come forth and offer themselves to lead Wanita Umno."

Perhaps one clue to the issue of limited challengers is that there is actually a pre-selection of contenders by the very top ranks of the party.

Party secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor is aware that there is some concern over the quality of candidates offering themselves to contest the party elections. He told The Malaysian Insider that the final decision on the list of candidates rests with his office.

"The Umno secretary-general's office will decide on the matter after vetting through many criteria of the aspiring contestants. We will check their track record in the party, their standing with party members and many other factors before allowing them to contest."

"They can offer themselves to fight for any party posts but we call the shots," said the Federal Territories Minister. – July 6. 2013.



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