It’s not about Kak Wan, it’s about new blood in politics

By Pauline Wong

Over the past week, there have been many divided opinions over the fielding of PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail yet again for the PKR stronghold of Permatang Pauh.

wan azizah shah alam

Wan Azizah isn’t the ‘problem’, lack of new blood is.

Wan Azizah, who is 62 this year, had contested for her husband Anwar Ibrahim back in 1999, when he was jailed for abuse of power and sodomy in 1998. At the time, she was the face of the Reformasi movement, having led the charge of the party — birthed from the sole purpose to fight for Anwar — during the elections.

She easily retained the seat that Anwar has held since 1982, and come May 7 this year, it looks as if she may do so again.

But this deja vu has divided even the most hardcore of supporters.

Many groaned when it was announced that Wan Azizah would contest in the seat, and the most cruel of critics called her a ‘recycled’ candidate. Some supported the decision, but even they had doubts over whether the PKR president and Kajang ADUN would have time for the constituents of Permatang Pauh.

Even Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan in a Facebook post was frustrated enough to urge Pakatan Rakyat (PR) supporters to vote for Barisan Nasional (BN) just this one time, to show that the former cannot take voters for granted in what it assumes is an impenetrable stronghold.

Indeed, Wan Azizah as a candidate for Permatang Pauh is probably not the wisest choice to make at a time when PR is on shaky grounds, thanks to PAS and its push for hudud, and the refusal of the Islamist party to fully endorse Wan Azizah as a candidate.

However, for those who raised hue and cry over her candidacy — did you not see this coming? Surely you did. Because who else could stand besides Wan Azizah, or any of Anwar’s family members for that matter?

Bear in mind, however, that to criticise Wan Azizah as a recycled candidate is undermining the strength of a woman who has held her family and the party together during Anwar’s ‘wilderness’ years, and to pin the attention on her is missing the point entirely. She is a capable leader in her own right, and very few can challenge that assertion.

The point here is: Why isn’t there anyone else to stand in Permatang Pauh?

When Anwar was convicted of sodomy in February and sent to jail for the third time, there was a silver lining in a dark cloud that more young leaders could step out of the shadow to take his place and find their time in the spotlight.

But this seems to have been stopped dead in its tracks — one reason is that PKR is still obsessed with Anwar and his family, yes, but the other is in the nature of our political sphere: It is simply not attractive to new talent.

In Rompin, where a by-election will be held on May 5, BN has fielded Hasan Arifin, a former Deputy Mentri Besar and two-term assemblyman to stand in a traditionally BN stronghold. He too, is a ‘veteran’ by any definition, at 62 years of age — the same age as Wan Azizah, mind you.

In fact, although the last general elections saw BN fielding (reportedly) almost one-third new faces, it did not mean all candidates were of quality, seeing that the Kepala Batas seat (held by Abdullah Badawi for years) was given to Umno Youth information chief Reezal Marican Naina Marican, who famously declared Umno as ‘God’s choice’, and BN even fielded Perkasa’s Zulkifli Noordin in Shah Alam.

Malaysian politics is a merry-go-round of the same faces: who gets fielded where is based on who has the most ‘prominence’ in the media and who is most connected.

Even PR is not spared its so-called ‘family dynasties’, although in recent times, DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang has been vocal about the need for old blood to make way for young blood in politics, openly declaring so at a ceramah the night before the verdict of Anwar’s trial.

However, in Umno especially, division-level politics is down and dirty, filled with sabotage for ‘unwanted’ candidates and a minefield of ‘who you know’, rather than ‘what you know’ — which is probably why self-made candidates like Saifuddin Abdullah, who did not come from a political family or background, lost Temerloh to PAS Youth chief Nasruddin Tantawi, who objects to the concept of Valentines’ Day.

There are exceptions, to be sure, on both sides of the divide. One can name some of the more young and intellectual of politicians in both BN and PR ranks (and they are among those who actually understand the Goods and Services Tax, thankfully, unlike a certain Deputy Finance Minister), but the fact remains that politics is a game for those far too accustomed to having power and they are keeping it by all means necessary.

(Perhaps this is why the BN government does little in the way of grooming future political leaders, merely choosing the en-masse brainwashing of the youth with catchy, meaningless slogans like IM4U, the stifling of critical student minds, and the forced-manufacturing of ‘obedient’ citizens via a factory of oppressive legislation.)

Critics like the Umno-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia have said that the candidacy of Wan Azizah, then, is a case of keeping the power in the hands of Anwar and PKR, but as always, they seem to be suffering from a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. 

The problem is not that Wan Azizah is a candidate (again), it is there are no candidates, as yet, that can take her place. Her candidacy is merely a manifestation of the larger problem at hand: that politics needs new blood on both sides of the divide, and not just old faces made up to look new.

Politics needs to have a better reputation to attract the right kind of quality candidates in its midst. This means the hierarchical nature of politics needs to be broken apart, and merit and talent must be the way forward for a better Malaysia.

Otherwise, what they say of insanity applies: that it is doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.

– The Rocket

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