THE question of having a woman deputy prime minister is not one for Malaysians, but the national leadership to execute, said political observers, in conjunction with International Women’s Day today and Pakatan Harapan’s offer of a woman deputy prime minister if it wins the 14th general election.
Dr Maszlee Malik of Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia said PH had taken a bold step by nominating president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to be the country’s No. 2 if the opposition pact forms the next government.
“Whether the people are ready or not, a bold step needs to be taken by any party, whether the ruling party or opposition, and PH has taken this first step. This needs to be recognised.”
Maszlee said Malaysians viewed politics through a more partisan lens, and as such, having a woman at the top or holding the No. 2 post is “not a big issue”.
University Kebangsaan Malaysia Professor Dr Kartini Aboo Talib, too, doubts that Malaysians are unable to accept a woman leader.
Research institute Ilham Centre executive director Hisommudin Bakar said the initiative to have a woman leader installed can only begin from the top, as it is political parties’ status quo to have men as leaders.
“Senior politicians still hold on to the status quo, rather than make way for the next generation.”
Malaysia has never had a woman prime minister or deputy prime minister.
Hisommudin said while there is a lack of studies to quantify Malaysians’ attitudes and acceptance of a top woman leader, there have been no objections to Wan Azizah’s candidacy for the deputy prime minister’s post on the basis of her gender.
“PH’s decision to name a woman as deputy prime minister is a bold decision, although the readiness of the people is not tested.
“If PH wins the general election, then it can be taken that a majority of Malaysians accept this decision.”
But Malaysia, in general, is still seen as being cautious in accepting women or youth in politics, compared with neighbouring countries and developed nations.
Southeast Asian neighbours Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and lately, Singapore, have had women prime ministers and presidents.
Maszlee said PH will have to “fight” to promote the idea of a top woman leader among the electorate, as women voters comprise 50.23%, or 6,664,474 people, of the electorate, according to Election Commission figures.
“The issue is not about whether they are ready. They have to start it.
“If they want to win, they have to fight for this issue because Barisan Nasional won with more than 60% of the women vote.”
Prime Minister Najib Razak has promised to increase the quota of women senators in the Dewan Negara if the ruling coalition is given the mandate in GE14.