When the opposition warms up to Azalina

Vote for the man who promises least; he’ll be the least disappointing.

– Bernard Baruch, American financier

When Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said was appointed Special Adviser to the Prime Minister last week, there was no hue and cry from the opposition or from the public at large.

No, we did not hear the roars of disapproval or outcry associated with the re-appointment of the three special envoys or that of former Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as chairman of the National Recovery Council.

It was as if Azalina is “accepted material”, even for Pakatan Harapan, for the advisory role to PM Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob. It seems that the opposition has warmed up to Azalina, the Pengarang MP from Umno, and for good reasons.

I join many political observers in applauding Azalina for her professional and mature role as an opposition legislator after the fall of Barisan Nasional in 2018.

She did not sulk nor play vengeful or dirty politics when she lost her cabinet position after GE14.

I have personally watched her in Parliament on a few occasions while she was on the opposition bench and her speeches during parliamentary debates were responsible and impactful.

She articulated her points well, talked a lot of sense in a serious tone, putting many of her Umno colleagues in the august House to shame in the process.

Shortly after Muhyiddin resigned as prime minister on Aug 16 this year, Azalina also stepped down from her post as Deputy Parliament Speaker.

She had stated then that with a new government in place which has promised parliamentary reforms, the second deputy speaker’s post should be allocated to the opposition.

That did not happen. Neither did Umno’s proposal to appoint Azalina as the Speaker of Parliament, even when she has the support of the opposition for the top Dewan Rakyat job.

Impartiality and integrity are two hallmarks of a good speaker and deputy speakers. It has been said that “a good speaker is not necessarily an extraordinary person, but an ordinary person of the highest calibre”.

In this case, perhaps we have lost the opportunity to have a good speaker in Azalina who is an ordinary person of the highest calibre. At least, she is readily seen as one of late with her unrelenting push for the much-needed reforms in the nation’s political landscape.

That attribute is clearly lacking in the current Speaker Datuk Azhar Harun, whose days on the chair must surely be numbered if he continues with his obsequious ways and perceived sycophantic yield to those in power.

Even as a backbencher in Parliament today, Azalina has continued to speak up, her latest debate that an anti-hopping law must give voters the power to decide the fate of MPs that have left their party.

Describing what is in essence recall elections, Azalina said the voters should decide via referendum, whether or not an MP who has “hopped” should be retained, or whether there should be a by-election.

“The law should give power to the people to decide whether or not to replace the hopper,” she said while debating the King’s address in the current Dewan Rakyat sitting.

On another issue, Azalina has lamented the lack of special courts for sexual crimes against children.

She said this is especially worrying as the Covid-19 pandemic has made children who live with abusers vulnerable to exploitation.

On Sept 30, Azalina also highlighted the absence of ministers in the House during the ongoing debate on the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP).

“We should not talk about the 12th Malaysian Plan if we forget that Malaysians need us MPs as their eyes and ears in Parliament.

“I’m not angry or against the government, but I want the people who voted for us to be given priority,” she said.

Azalina, born in 1963 in Johore Bahru, is now 58. She has come a long way since bursting into Umno politics in 1998, causing a stir with her unconventional political style. 

She spoke her mind, she favoured trouser-suits over the demure baju kurung and she had bold and creative ideas, the Star newspaper wrote about her then.

And, of course, she pulled off one of the biggest political coups in Umno history when she formed Puteri Umno which drew thousands of young Malay women into Umno. 

Azalina went on to hold several cabinet positions, including that of de facto law minister. The years of learning and experience have served Azalina well and she is probably among the breed of politicians we badly need today — honest, responsible and eager to reform politics for the better.

Human rights pressure group Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED) has lauded the appointment of Azalina to the position of special adviser for Law and Human Rights.

“In her ministerial roles, Azalina demonstrated a good grasp of facts and respect for the opposition, while exercising confident and effective leadership.

“In a difficult political climate, Azalina has stood out as a serious advocate of parliamentary democracy, has called for firm action in cases of abuse of children, and for judicious reform of the Attorney-General’s Chambers,” CAGED said in a statement.

I agree. Azalina, the reformer today, deserves the accolades showered on her.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.