Nation's first woman DPM a reluctant politician no more


Gan Pei Ling

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is an ophthalmologist by training, says she has not had to work so hard since she was a houseman. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, June 14, 2018.

DURING her early years in politics, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was often portrayed as a reluctant politician. At other times, she was painted as the genial and long-suffering wife of the jailed Anwar Ibrahim.

Throw those descriptions away.

Today, she is the deputy prime minister who seems to be constantly on the move as she dives into her various roles, including as women, family and community development minister.

The ophthalmologist by training told The Malaysian Insight that she has not had to work so hard since she was a houseman.

“It’s a new dawn. What we have criticised the Barisan Nasional government for, it’s our responsibility now to better that.

“We’re the government now. We have to fulfil (our promises), deliver to the rakyat.”

Although often overshadowed by her more charismatic husband at public events, underlying Dr Wan Azizah’s quiet and dignified demeanour is a competitive, strong-willed character.

Two decades ago, the mother of six plunged into the muddy waters of national politics after Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister, and jailed for corruption and sodomy.

Dr Wan Azizah co-founded Parti Keadilan Nasional – now PKR – which she led from being a party with one federal seat in 1999 to an outfit that has the second-largest number of seats in Parliament today, at 49.

What drove and kept her motivated during the dark, early days of her political career?

She said it was the desire to bring about real change in the country.

“As a person, I’ll always do my best. I’m part of the process to change Malaysia for the better,” she said at her office in Putrajaya.

“Five years from now, I want to see us changed, from a kleptocratic government to a country with integrity and dignity.”

When she was named as deputy prime minister, Dr Wan Azizah personally requested for the women, family and community development portfolio from Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“People think of the women and welfare portfolio as a second or third portfolio. I wanted it because I think it’s important.

“It takes care of you from the cradle to the grave. It’s a large ministry. There is a lot that we can do, improve and optimise.”

Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail says she personally requested for the women, family and community development portfolio from Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, June 14, 2018.

On her first day of work on May 22, Dr Wan Azizah vowed to resolve the problem of undernourished children from low-income families, an issue that was highlighted in a Unicef study earlier this year.

She said there is much to be done, policy-wise, to ensure that Malaysia’s children are safe, as well as to address the gender imbalance in the workplace.

She said she is unfazed by the work ahead of her, though admitting that after 20 years as an opposition leader, she has not quite fully adapted to her new role in the government.

“I thought we would have a hung Parliament and it would take time (to sort it out),” she said of Pakatan Harapan’s historic victory on May 9, which ended 61 years of Barisan Nasional rule.

“But, we won outright. We made it. I took office. It’s surreal.”

She said she is not the only one still trying to adjust following the suprising polls results.

Dr Mahathir, who, at 92, is the world’s oldest elected leader, is also trying to adapt to the new dynamics of the PH government.

Dr Wan Azizah cited as an example the selection of ministers.

She said Dr Mahathir was supposed to announce the full cabinet list before Hari Raya Aidilfitri, but is taking more time to deliberate on his picks as there are many issues to take into consideration.

“The prime minister has also been given reminders time and again that he has to think about the 30% women target. He also has to think of the four parties.

“He told us, ‘Saya tak biasa’ (I’m not used to this),” she said, with a smile.

“I told him, ‘Kita pun tak biasa’ (We’re not used to this, too).” – June 14, 2018.


Sign up or sign in here to comment.


Comments


  • Better her than her husband who with the Selangor's MB are both manipulative, devious, untrustworthy, etc.

    Posted 6 years ago by Malaysian First · Reply

  • The Anwar women can be a shining pillar in our country..IF much can be done with women and family issues in this country, it does not matter what the men's politics are. The Anwar women can always shut them down - Pakatan or UMNO. That would be historical and remarkable to everyone everywhere.

    Posted 6 years ago by Bigjoe Lam · Reply