12 July 2013

Selangor’s atom ant—mighty Hannah Yeoh

No offence, but you expect someone who breaks a glass ceiling to be, well, just a little taller. But Malaysia’s first woman state assembly speaker is all of five feet tall, and a bit.

Still, Selangor speaker Hannah Yeoh (pic) is a couple of heads taller than some of her most avid fans.

“I was at Sunway Pyramid recently when a 12-year-old girl came up to me and asked for my autograph. After I signed it, the girl said to me ‘I love you’.

"It was then that it hit me, I am not just a politician but a role model for the younger generation,” said the eldest of three siblings and wife to her husband of five years.

The mother of two young girls is aware of the impact of her role, not just on a whole generation of Malaysians but also on her assembly, as the youngest state speaker, at 34, in this country’s history.

She takes a firm but kindly approach to the assembly of Tan Sri’s, Datuks and demi-Datuks, that is to say, the soon-to-be’s and the wannabees.

Speaking to The Malaysian Insider, she said: “At the assembly, you have people who are older than you, some who are Datuks and Tan Sri’s. It is playing by the same set of rules but at the same time we have to be courteous and polite.”

She added: “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be a speaker. But I enjoy being in that role and when I look back now, I feel there is really nothing more that I can ask for in life.

“For a law graduate, you aim to either be a top lawyer or to be a judge. But I never imagined I would be the speaker of a legislative arm where laws are made here. This is like a dream come true for me.”

Fun fact: When talking about Barisan Nasional reps, Yeoh confidently, correctly and easily refers to them as the opposition.

"I figured out that as elected reps, all they want at the assembly is to be heard. I could accommodate that. I am also mindful that there are only 12 assemblymen from the opposition this time round.”

Yeoh said she is for a strong opposition to ensure check and balance and that was why she gave them more time to speak up.

“Whenever the debate got heated, I did not switch off the microphones. I feel that the assemblymen should know how to behave themselves, since this is telecast live.”

Yeoh added that she was satisfied with how the proceedings went for six days in the last meeting as they were able to debate the Sultan’s speech, the Supplementary Bill and the motions brought by the assemblymen.

She said: “Before the first sitting, I was anxious because I was not sure whether I would be able to control the floor when both sides debate. But after the first day, I felt more at ease and comfortable with the role.”

But what was the most difficult moment during the last assembly? “Controlling myself from bursting out laughing on many occasions," said Yeoh.

“There have been times when I had to cut short a question from first-term assemblymen as it was not related to the issue being discussed. You should see the look on their faces. It's priceless.” – July 12, 2013.


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