WOMEN, POLITICS & INTEGRITY
THE unprecedented move by the deputy head of Wanita Umno, Kamilia Ibrahim, to burn all bridges with the party and stand as an independent is a shocker. For a senior leader representing more than one half of the members to sever ties with the party days before the general election, speaks volumes of her position and relationships within the party hierarchy. Obviously, the top leadership did not see the second in command of the women’s wing as a winnable parliamentary candidate.
For any political party, the eleventh-hour defection by a member, especially a senior leader, would be considered an unforgivable offence and a betrayal of the highest order. In defying an integral part of Umno’s constitution relating to the elections, Kamilia had clearly committed political apostasy, the punishment of which is nothing less than expulsion. For such a serious breach, there would be no redemption.
In many ways, Kamilia’s conflict was a toss between her personal and professional integrity. At the personal level, Kamilia’s disappointment at being bypassed for a parliamentary seat must have overwhelmed her and rendered her inconsolable. Professionally, as the deputy head she must have felt betrayed that the Umno women who had slogged long and hard to realise the party’s mission alongside their male compatriots, were not given their rightful share of the election cake
Kamilia did not think a state seat was good enough. She must have felt strongly that as an MP she would be able to do more. Among the other national issues, she would be able to forefront the hopes and aspirations of women to fight abuse, discrimination, unfairness and injustice. As one of the few women’s voices in Parliament, she could advocate issues that have been historically overlooked such as domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment. She could join the growing voices outside pressing for women’s more prominent role.
The promise of a 30% equity across leadership positions in the government and corporate sectors, in the judiciary and enforcement agencies and on the boards of GLCs and public-listed companies must be realised sooner rather than later.
With her legal background Kamilia could be a credible voice in the BN leadership to push for the 30% equity that women deserve in every aspect of the country’s development. The offer of a state seat was not good enough. Considering the assurances that women will be accorded better political standing commensurate with their support, this was a big let down.
Whatever her predicament, one must acknowledge Kamilia’s contributions to the movement. One must give her due credit as a long-serving member of the Wanita executive council and later as deputy head and Supreme Council member. Kamilia must have agonised long and hard over the idea of leaving the party to stand as an independent. There must have been many considerations over and above the purely personal that made her decide to throw caution to the wind.
For all the talk about putting more women in leadership executive and legislative positions, the last Parliament had only 10% female MPs while in the state assemblies, women made up a dismal 8%. To quote Marina Mahathir, a champion of equity and justice for women, “This is far below the 30% allocation for women designated in the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women which Malaysia has signed and promised to implement. To ensure that we get the 30% of political decision makers, it is obvious that we need far more than 30% of the nominated candidates to be women.”
Politics, if it can be considered a profession, is unwieldy to say the least. A party may have transparent rules and a constitution but by and large, when it comes to decision-making such as choosing winnable candidates, it is the negotiating and bargaining – behind closed doors among exclusive groups – that move the cogs. When you have male-dominated political parties overseeing male members who are prepared to go to all lengths to defend their bastion of power, it is little wonder that women who are less aggressive are pushed to second place.
It is high time women realise that to be really successful in politics they must undergo a total game change. It is not enough to uphold the virtues of integrity and to be earnest and honest; forthright and straightforward; conscientious and hardworking. Successful politicians are more than anything else smart tacticians and clever strategists. They must be able to read the situation and anticipate the thinking of their bosses. Women who are politically ambitious must also be trained to develop a more strident outlook to match that of their successful male compatriots.