Monday, August 26, 2013

‘We can no longer think about what Umno wants’


Monday, August 26, 2013 - The Malay Mail 

DATUK SERI Azalina Othman Said’s recent announcement to contest the Wanita Umno chief post in the coming party polls came as a shock and ruffled many feathers. Just when many thought her political career had hit a wall, the Pengerang MP is being seen by some as an option to the incumbent women’s wing leader Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. She puts her candidacy in perspective in 10 questions posed by The Malay Mail.

THE MALAY MAIL (TMM): In a recent interview, Shahrizat accused you of hurting the ‘mother-daughter’ relationship in Wanita Umno. She said you created disunity among the Wanita and Puteri wings and former Puteri members. Did you?
DATUK SERI AZALINA OTHMAN (DSAO): If it is mother-daughter relationship she is talking about, then she should encourage the daughters to move forward and lead. A mother always wants her daughters to eventually take over the leading role.
Besides, in Umno, we practise democracy. We advocate transformation. And at the end of the day, it is up to the delegates to decide if they want change.
Why should we stop the delegates from making their own judgment? It is all about what the grassroots want. It is not about creating disunity, but empowering them to make a decision.
I am just offering my services. It is up to the delegates to make a choice. Competition is a good thing for the party because there are options.
Contests in Umno are not unique or new. In any case, I may not be the only one standing for the post. There can be other candidates. Will all of them be deemed to be creating disunity?

TMM: Shahrizat has insinuated that you are a proxy candidate, and perhaps there are others like you who will get into the battleground. Are you a proxy candidate?
DSAO: Yes, I am a proxy for all Wanita in the party. There is a call for change and I am representing them.

TMM: Why did Shahrizat say you were not bringing a ‘youth transformation’ agenda to Wanita Umno, but rather segregating them by creating disunity among Wanita, Puteri and former Puteri members?
DSAO: I have served my time in Umno and rose through the ranks. I was the protem head of Puteri Umno (2001-2002) appointed by then-Umno president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, elected head of Puteri Umno, vice-president of Umno (2002–2004) and was a member of the Umno Supreme Council. I am still relevant, but it is not about me. I believe I can assist in the 14th General Election by having the youth back Umno. I believe I can bring unity to the party with my experience over the years through those who have worked with me and brought changes in the past. Again, this is a democratic process, not a process of divide and rule. Anyway, there has been a contest before and Shahrizat herself challenged Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz. Was she splitting the party then? Win or lose, it is offering the delegates a choice. It is their decision.

TMM: What sort of differences are you having with Shahrizat?
DSAO: Personally, I respect every individual for their work. Likewise, Shahrizat has done her share. I do not practise cronyism or nepotism. I accept challenges, empower women, create awareness and promote more women leadership. Are these seen as differences with her? I do not know.

TMM: Why are you taking her on? Is it because you think Shahrizat has outlived her usefulness in Wanita Umno?
DSAO: I am not taking her on. I am offering my services to Wanita. Like I said earlier, I may not be the only candidate vying for the post, so I cannot be seen as taking her on.
It is a democratic process where everyone is eligible to contest if they want to. Whether she has outlived her usefulness is not for me to say. That is why we have an election for the delegates to make their call.
I am also contesting the post because, besides feeling I can make a change, I want women to be more relevant, and I feel I can make that happen.
The government’s commitment to ensure women occupy 30 per cent of decision-making has still not been met, and this is one area I intend to improve.
The women at branch and division levels should have a stronger voice and be given more recognition.
It is my hope to make Wanita and Puteri Umno more relevant. We are talking about the younger generation who will be making a difference for the future.
It is already happening and unless we address the situation immediately, we could be courting trouble. I am not just talking about Umno but Barisan Nasional (BN) as a whole for the next general election.

TMM: What do you think has been Shahrizat’s biggest achievement in Wanita Umno?
DSAO: Her appointment as adviser to the prime minister with cabinet portfolio. She has obviously been given this status because of her past contributions and the prime minister still sees her as relevant. This is the second time she has been appointed adviser (former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi appointed her special adviser to the prime minister for women and social development affairs). This must be her biggest achievement.

TMM: How would you interpret her appointment as special adviser, with ministerial status, to the prime minister?
DSAO: It is in recognition of her services. In any case, it is the prerogative of the prime minister.

TMM: Do you think there’s a necessity for the position? Are critics right in saying it will undermine the status of the women’s ministry, which already has a large machinery to lead on policy and implementation of women’s issues?
DSAO: Whether it is necessary or not, I suppose Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim, the minister of women, family and community development, made her stance when she said: ‘She’s not an adviser to my ministry.’ Shahrizat’s role is still unclear, thus it would be unfair to make any comments at this stage.

TMM: Do you view her appointment as political patronage?
DSAO: I suppose only the prime minister can answer that. This is a democratic process, and I’m sure the prime minister has his reasons.

TMM: Have you found the correct strategy to do battle with her and is your support among Wanita members encouraging?
DSAO: Whether or not I have found the correct strategy, I am letting the people decide what they want for the future. I am offering my services because I believe I can bring about change.
Through Wanita Umno, I hope to see that the women representation is given priority and achieve the 30 per cent quota for decision-making positions.
There needs to be transformation at Wanita level to make us relevant, heard and rejuvenated. I plan to bring change and new approaches to the Wanita wing as I don’t want to see a tsunami of young people against Umno in the 14th General Election.
Contest in the Umno elections should be viewed as healthy competition to ensure that the party remains relevant to the Malays and BN. The party cannot be complacent.
What can the Opposition do that we cannot do better? We need to have new leaders to guide the younger generation to embrace Umno’s struggle.
We can no longer think about what Umno wants. We have to think about what the rakyat wants. It is their perception that counts in the end. We are here to serve them. What the public thinks is what matters.
In Wanita Umno, it should not be about who is married or who wears the tudung or the baju kurung. It should be about who can bring about change and make Umno relevant to present times. Wanita Umno should not just accessorise Umno, but be a relevant wing to meet the challenges of the party.
Wanita Ummo should also be seen as making a stronger representation of women and be heard. We cannot just leave it to the NGOs to be the voice of women. The recent uproar over Malay girls being barred from the Miss Malaysia pageant saw no reaction from Wanita Umno.
At the end of the day, it is all about KPIs.
These are the issues I intend to work on and the people on the ground are aware of it. It is now left to the delegates to decide what they want for the future.
If Wanita Umno doesn’t accept me and the change I’m bringing, so be it. But at least I offered myself. I’m not going to be a sore loser. I will accept whatever decision that is made.

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