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Analyst warns of reverse gear for Umno if Shahrizat returns to lead women's wing

Azman Awang Pawi says Shahrizat's candidacy will lead to questions about whether Umno is able to escape the grip of its old guard.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
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Former Wanita Umno chief Shahrizat Jalil. Photo: Bernama
Former Wanita Umno chief Shahrizat Jalil. Photo: Bernama

The reappearance of former Wanita Umno chief Shahrizat Jalil in the running for her old position is a step backwards for the party, an analyst says as Umno continues to struggle with its image of domination by warlords and the so-called old guard. 

Shahrizat, who once held the portfolio of women, family and community development, said she had entered the contest for the role again due to pressure from the grassroots.

But Azman Awang Pawi said she was banking on a revival of nostalgia, whereas the women leaders of other parties were largely younger and more energetic individuals. 

"If this is accepted by the Umno grassroots, the party will become less progressive in terms of its women candidates," he said.

Referring to Noraini Ahmad, the current Wanita chief, he said she was seen as young and progressive, and had helped to dispel Umno's warlord image. 

Azman, of Universiti Malaya, said Shahrizat's candidacy would also lead to questions about whether Umno was able to escape the grip of its old guard.

"This will not be good for its branding or efforts at rejuvenation if it intends to move forward," he told MalaysiaNow. 

At 70, Shahrizat is considerably older than many of her would-be counterparts. Wanita PKR chief Fadhlina Sidek, who is also the education minister, is 46 years old while PAS women chief Nuridah Mohd Salleh is 61. 

Over in Bersatu, Srikandi chief Rina Harun is 50 while Amanah women's chief Aiman Athirah Sabu is 51. 

Shahrizat, a former Lembah Pantai MP, was Wanita Umno chief for nearly a decade, taking over from Rafidah Aziz and holding the post from 2009 to 2018. 

She lost her Lembah Pantai seat to Nurul Izzah Anwar at the 2008 general election. 

She was also embroiled in the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal in 2011, involving her husband, Mohamad Salleh Ismail.

Analyst Oh Ei Sun said the grassroots support for veteran leaders was due to the time and effort such individuals had spent gaining the loyalty of those on the ground. 

"There are new political stars within the party who may have a wider appeal beyond the party as well," Oh, of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said. 

"But they tend not to spend the time and effort and resources in cultivating the party grassroots and rank and file, and are more like political meteorites who rise and fall rapidly." 

Azman meanwhile said that Shahrizat could be motivated by the hope of appointment as the chairman of a non-government company.

He said she would undoubtedly have an effect on ties with other parties in the government as well. 

"If she gets a position, relations with Pakatan Harapan (PH) will be affected as she was once the target of Rafizi Ramli," he said, referring to the PKR deputy president who had been instrumental in revelations on the NFC scandal. 

Oh however differed, saying as long as Umno and PH had the same enemies and were committed to their "marriage of convenience", old enmities could be put aside for a while. 

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