The women's minister is among the many condemning voices of the Bersih rally and its architect. But it is Shahrizat who has failed to meet the people's expectations.
COMMENTIt is said that adversity brings out the true reflection of a character. How so true, as seen from the diverse reactions to the “walk for democracy” to be held by election watchdog Bersih 2.0.
The number of police reports against the July 9 rally are mounting, as are the dissenting voices condemning the walk and the face behind it, that of Ambiga Sreenevasan, who heads Bersih 2.0, a Coalition for Free and Fair Elections.
Liberating the electoral system from the many years of abuse and manipulation is no easy task and this, Ambiga knows fully well.
However, for those with hidden agendas, the rally is everything but “welcomed” while the person behind it, Ambiga, formerly president of the Malaysian Bar Council and recipient of the United States’ 2009 Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage Awards, is anything but patriotic.
One such condemning voice comes from Shahrizat Jalil, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister who joined Wee Choo Keong (Wangsa Maju MP) in accusing Ambiga of harbouring political ambitions.
Belittling the rally, Shahrizat, who is also Umno Wanita chief, said the July 9 event is politically motivated and a Trojan horse of the opposition, referring to the Pakatan Rakyat coalition of PKR, DAP and PAS.
“I am disappointed with Ambiga’s leadership. I had high expectations of her in keeping the people united. I am very sad because she is trying to incite street rallies. She knows we have laws and must go through civilised ways to seek redress.
“I agree with Wee who said Ambiga should join a political party if she harbours political ambitions. She can join a political party or form her own,” Shahrizat said.
The minister added that Bersih is not a non-governmental organisation but a vehicle used by the opposition to cause street riots.
She claimed that Bersih 2.0 was trying to do a “Tahrir Square” in Malaysia, instigating people to revolt against the Barisan Nasional government. (Tahrir Square in Cairo made news when in January this year over 50,000 protesters gathered and demanded the resignation of president Hosni Mubarak.)
“It is the opposition’s way of using Bersih since the former cannot secure a win in the coming general election,” Shahrizat said.
According to the minister, feedback showed that the people was against street rallies.
“We urge the police to maintain peace and harmony in the country. In Malaysia, we have laws to deal with pressing issues. The people are supporting Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and this is causing the opposition to feel threatened,” Shahrizat said.
Shahrizat vs Ambiga
So much said, Shahrizat makes for a better press relation officer instead of a people’s minister. Unlike Ambiga who has no inclination to become the messiah of the people, Shahrizat, however, will do whatever it takes to earn brownie points from her political masters.
If she feels Ambiga’s decision to proceed with the rally has let her down, Shahrizat must remember that she as the representative of women has for a long time now been disappointing the women in their fight for justice.
For instance, Shahrizat showed little interest in helping the Penan girls and women who for many years have been crying out for help against the rapes committed by timber loggers.
Shahrizat was just as indifferent when in 2008, former Cabinet minister Jamaluddin Jarjis was reported to have sexually molested a restaurant worker. She again was nonchalant when the Labour Department director-general ridiculed the proposed Sexual Harassment Act.
Shahrizat was again silent when it was reported that her male colleague, Rais Yatim, who is Information, Communications and Culture Minister, had allegedly raped his domestic worker.
Shahrizat was also quiet when Besant Singh, a National Service trainee, cried foul after he found his hair snipped while at the training camp in Sungai Bakap in Penang early this year.
What did Shahrizat do to help alleviate the difficulties faced by 19-year-old Tan Hui Linn who is legally blind in her right eye after both she and her mother were splashed with acid by Tan’s father?
Despite her ordeal, Tan, a student of SMK Convent Datuk Keramat, Penang, scored 9As and 1B in her 2010 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination. Tan’s mother died soon after the attack due to massive burns on her body.
Has Shahrizat offered any assistance to victims of snatch thefts who are badly injured in a struggle with the assailants? What about the victims who lost their lives to snatch thieves – what has Shahrizat’s ministry done for their families, to lessen their suffering?
Again, why was Shahrizat quiet when a female politician, Nurul Izzah Anwar, in May this year received a text message threatening to kidnap her three-year-old daughter? The threat was to get Nurul, who is also PKR vice-president, to back down from supporting her father and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.
(Shahrizat was the MP for Lembah Pantai for 13 years before losing it to youngster Nurul who made her debut in the 2008 general election.)
Recently, a letter to the editor highlighted the pathetic treatment meted out by the one-stop crisis centres to assist rape survivors. Shahrizat is still quiet.
Where is Shahrizat while 41 families from the Ladang Bukit Jalil estate struggle to keep the roof over their heads intact after City Hall ordered them out, citing the excuse that the 26-acre land they once called home will be turned into a burial ground?
Shahrizat fails people’s expectations
It is not Ambiga but Sharizat that is being payed by the taxpayers to look into their woes. And thus far, Shahrizat has failed the people.
Shahrizat’s unwillingness to speak against injustices suffered by the people by virtue of her being their minister is proof that she plays her cards very carefully.
That being the case, just what are the issues that this minister finds worth highlighting?
While Shahrizat is having sleepless nights, Ambiga is unflappable, determined to carry on with the walk, albeit facing a death threat.
Dissenting voices like Shahrizat’s know fully well that a clean electoral process will jeopardise their chances at the polls, hence the repetitive objections towards the July 9 walk.
Politician first, woman second
It was the very Shahrizat who once remarked to the women’s groups that “she is a politician first and woman later”. Little wonder then that she had no qualms making personal attacks on Ambiga, who has the people’s right to a free and fair election at heart.
Still, it is utterly frustrating that the women’s minister herself has decided to speak up against the move to clean up the electoral system. In the process, Shahrizat has unwittingly undermined the efforts of a fellow woman at bringing about the desperate changes needed to the system.
Condemning both the rally and Ambiga has placed Shahrizat in the same boat as those male chauvinists who think little of women’s emancipation. Shahrizat’s sexist mentality speaks volumes of her unwillingness to take a firm stand against all forms of discrimination against women.
It is no hidden secret that Shahrizat is planning for a long stay in politics. However, disparaging a fellow woman committed to changing the electoral system has only dented Shahrizat’s image as a woman’s minister.
And lest Shahrizat forgets, it was the very same Ambiga who made Malaysia proud when in 2009 she was among the eight award recipients feted by United States first lady Michelle Obama and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton for championing women’s rights.
Clearly, it is not Ambiga but Shahrizat who has disappointed the people.