Saturday, December 4, 2021

Malaysia’s first woman chief minister around the bend?

Mas Ermieyati Samsudin of Perikatan Nasional is widely speculated to be the coalition's candidate for chief minister in the Melaka state election.

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On any normal day, the small village house at the side of a dusty road in Melaka would be just that.

But with the state election looming around the corner, it has been transformed into an operations centre buzzing with socially distant activity.

Outside, tents have been set up and the dark blue of Perikatan Nasional (PN) flags covers the fence.

Slowly, the gate swings opens to let in a white Mercedes Benz carrying Mas Ermieyati Samsudin, the coalition’s candidate for the Tanjung Bidara seat.

As her car pulls in at the house, the 44-year-old continues typing on her phone. She has just returned from visiting the construction site of a hall and is busy updating her status on social media.

For Mas Ermieyati, and every other candidate contesting the election, such updates are a must. With authorities wary of sparking off another wave of Covid-19 infections, all physical campaigning activities have been banned, meaning that candidates must rely heavily on social media in order to get their message across to voters.

Mas Ermieyati Samsudin checks through banners to be placed around the constituency as part of Perikatan Nasional’s campaign in Melaka.

Inside the house, Mas Ermieyati, a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, explains her decision to run in the Nov 20 polls.

“Actually there is no need for me to contest this election as I am already an MP as well as a deputy minister,” she said in an interview with MalaysiaNow.

“But I wanted to contribute a seat for PN,” she said. “I felt that the election this time around was important as it would be a symbol for the 15th general election to come.”

Mas Ermieyati, who has held her federal seat of Masjid Tanah for two terms, said the political scenario had shifted from where it was three years ago during the 14th general election.

Now, she said, the Malay vote could swing from Barisan Nasional (BN) to PN.

Malays represent some 95% of the 10,000 voters in Tanjung Bidara which is under her constituency of Masjid Tanah.

“I felt that the election this time around was important as it would be a symbol for the 15th general election to come.”

For one, Mas Ermieyati is relying on the PN brand, and the image projected by its chairman, former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

“During the pandemic, he focused on helping the people,” she said.

She is confident that this, coupled with the integrity he had shown, will be enough to deliver the “wow factor” for her campaign.

While PN has not announced its candidate for chief minister, Mas Ermieyati is widely regarded as its pick, given her decision to contest the election in the first place.

Neither BN nor Pakatan Harapan (PH) have announced their candidates either, although DAP has called for former chief minister Adly Zahari to be restored to his post.

PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, meanwhile, is reportedly still wavering between Paya Rumput candidate Shamsul Iskandar Md Akin and former chief minister Idris Haron, who is representing the party in the Asahan constituency.

BN adviser and former prime minister Najib Razak, on the other hand, has announced Sulaiman Md Ali, whose loss of majority support triggered the Melaka election, as the bloc’s sole candidate.

But talk is also rife that Melaka BN chairman Ab Rauf Yusoh is a candidate for chief minister as well.

Mas Ermieyati Samsudin peers out from behind banners showing her face alongside that of Perikatan Nasional chairman Muhyiddin Yassin.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Mas Ermieyati, a former Puteri Umno chief, said her duty in the election is clear.

“My job is only to win the Tanjung Bidara seat,” she said. “That is the responsibility given to me by the party leaders.”

But in the event that she finds herself occupying Seri Bendahara, the official residence of the Melaka chief minister, she would be the first woman in the country to hold such a position.

The possibility is further highlighted by the distinct lack of women candidates in the Melaka election – far fewer even than the 30% for which activists have been fighting.

Mas Ermieyati said her focus in Tanjung Bidara is on several aspects including tourism which brings in a sizeable amount of revenue for the state.

“Tanjung Bidara has a lot of potential,” she said. “People can enjoy themselves along the entire stretch of beach, not like the beaches in Klebang or Jasin.”

This is important as many have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are struggling to stay afloat, she added.

She is also working on ways to diversify the source of income for fishermen in the area who have been bringing in fewer and fewer fish.

She faces Zainal Hassan from PH and Rauf of BN in the race for the seat.

But while she was once below Rauf during her time in Umno, she said the contest now is nothing out of the ordinary.

“There have been many clashes like this, it’s normal,” she said.

She has even navigated a virtual collision with Najib Razak before, when the former prime minister responded to her jibes about football.

“He is my former boss,” she said, adding that Najib was a good person. “I respect him as a former prime minister.”

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