SPOTLIGHT

WAN AZ­IZAH WAN IS­MAIL

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - – Paul Mil­lar

Wan Az­izah Wan Is­mail, the woman in line to lead Malaysia’s op­po­si­tion

A prom­i­nent politi­cian and for­mer doc­tor, Wan Az­izah Wan Is­mail looks the most likely can­di­date to be­come leader of Malaysia’s op­po­si­tion in place of her jailed hus­band, An­war Ibrahim. How­ever, it may prove dif­fi­cult for this com­pas­sion­ate in­tel­lec­tual to emerge from his shadow

WHO IS SHE?

The pres­i­dent of the Peo­ple’s Jus­tice Party [PKR] and leader of the op­po­si­tion in Malaysia’s house of rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Dr Wan Az­izah Wan Is­mail served as a gov­ern­ment doc­tor for more than a decade un­til her hus­band, An­war Ibrahim, was appointed deputy prime min­is­ter un­der the rul­ing UMNO coali­tion’s cel­e­brated Prime Min­is­ter Ma­hathir Mo­hamad. Fol­low­ing her hus­band’s sodomy con­vic­tion and im­pris­on­ment – widely be­lieved to have been po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated – Wan Az­izah be­came one of the driv­ing forces be­hind the Re­for­masi protest move­ment and the for­ma­tion of what would later be­come the PKR.

WHY IS SHE IN THE NEWS?

With Malaysia’s next gen­eral elec­tion slated to be held be­fore mid-2018, the cen­tre-left Pakatan Hara­pan op­po­si­tion coali­tion – of which the PKR is a mem­ber – is in­creas­ingly un­der pres­sure to fill the void in lead­er­ship left by the in­car­cer­ated An­war. Speak­ing at the party’s na­tional congress in May, PKR vi­cepres­i­dent Rafizi Ramli was quick to sug­gest that in the event of an op­po­si­tion tri­umph,

Wan Az­izah would be the ideal can­di­date for the prime min­is­ter­ship – that is, un­til a par­don could be se­cured for her hus­band. In a widerang­ing in­ter­view with Al Jazeera, Wan Az­izah said she had no ob­jec­tions to the ar­range­ment.

WHAT KIND OF LEADER IS SHE?

No stranger to the art of com­pro­mise, Wan Az­izah has come un­der some crit­i­cism within her party for her al­liance of con­ve­nience with the resur­gent Ma­hathir, who sup­ported the

pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion and im­pris­on­ment of her hus­band. Although the two men

pub­licly rec­on­ciled late last year in the in­ter­ests of top­pling the em­bat­tled

Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak, the pres­ence of Ma­hathir – who has long

been pop­u­lar with Malaysia’s ru­ral vot­ers – within the op­po­si­tion coali­tion may threaten to fur­ther frag­ment an

al­ready di­vided front.

COULD SHE BE MALAYSIA’S FIRST

FE­MALE PRIME MIN­IS­TER?

Wan Az­izah is widely re­garded as a re­spected

com­pro­mise can­di­date in a move­ment wracked by un­yield­ing po­lit­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to James Chin, di­rec­tor of the Asia In­sti­tute and a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia. “Most [PKR sup­port­ers] ac­cept her, but the party is split

be­tween [Mo­hamed] Azmin [Ali] and Rafizi [Ramli] fac­tions,” he said, nam­ing two of the op­po­si­tion power play­ers. “The only rea­son this came up is they were try­ing to stop Ma­hathir be­ing named as the in­terim

prime min­is­ter. And the rea­son they picked Wan Az­izah is be­cause all the op­po­si­tion par­ties see her as ac­cept­able. Right now it’s all

spec­u­la­tion.”

IS SHE JUST A PROXY

FOR AN­WAR?

De­spite decades of po­lit­i­cal strug­gle and ac­tivism in the name of re­form, Wan Az­izah has strug­gled to leave

her hus­band’s shadow in the eyes of her op­po­nents. Chin said that sug­ges­tions that Wan Az­izah

was act­ing as lit­tle more than a place­holder for her hus­band were rooted more in re­li­gious big­otry than re­al­ity. “She is a po­lit­i­cal player in her own right,” he said. “The prob­lem is the anti-women views held by con­ser­va­tive Malay Mus­lim groups. Her big­gest prob­lem is that what­ever she does, she will still be

seen as An­war’s proxy and wife.”

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