Monday, March 24, 2008

No fury like Rafidah

March 20, 2008

NEWS that Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz had not been reappointed a minister was followed by high drama in the Wanita Umno wing as the senior ladies lamented their lack of representation in the Cabinet.

ALL hell more or less broke loose in Wanita Umno the day the new Cabinet was unveiled.

A large part of it had to do with the wing's chief Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz being dropped from the Cabinet.

Then there was the fact that the only woman in the new Cabinet was Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said whom the senior ladies do not regard as a member of the women's wing or, at least, not yet.

'The general feeling is that we are not appreciated. We have been made to feel insignificant, even irrelevant, particularly when the heads of the Youth and Puteri wings are appointed to posts,' said a senior Wanita exco member.

An emergency meeting was hurriedly called by Wanita secretary Datuk Faridah Abu Hassan at their PWTC headquarters. Datuk Faridah, a long-time loyalist of Datuk Seri Rafidah, had panicked because Datuk Seri Rafidah had apparently indicated that she wanted to resign from all her posts.

The Iron Lady was said to be so upset that she had contemplated quitting as Wanita chief and even as Kuala Kangsar MP.

'We must do something, this cannot be allowed to happen,' one of them said.

Datuk Seri Rafidah was not present and her deputy Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil chaired the meeting.

It was a rather chaotic meeting with people trying to talk at the same time and with little consensus about what to do next.

It was then decided that Wanita members would be asked to convene in Putrajaya that very evening to show how unhappy they were and to petition the Prime Minister.

Unfortunately, the SMS instructions going out were less than clear and some of the women went to the Prime Minister's residence while the others went to his office. To add to the confusion, a few of those who had advocated going to Putrajaya decided to go instead to Datuk Rafidah's house in Damansara Heights.

In Putrajaya, the women dispersed at about 7pm only after being told that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would meet the wing's exco the next day.� But the drama was far from over.

A late announcement from Putrajaya that Datuk Seri Shahrizat, who lost her Lembah Pantai seat in the polls, had been appointed special adviser with ministerial status on women's affairs did little to improve the situation.

Instead, it only made Datuk Seri Rafidah more furious resulting in a heated exchange of words over the telephone that may have damaged relations between the two women for some time to come. Datuk Seri Rafidah apparently accused Datuk Seri Shahrizat of stabbing her in the back.

Datuk Seri Rafidah's reaction to the sudden end of her long political career had been stunning to say the least.

'She was like a wounded tigress,' said a senior Wanita Umno politician.

She was livid, fierce and wrathful, lashing out at people around her, including Datuk Seri Shahrizat who has been an uncommonly loyal deputy.

Meltdown for the Iron Lady
It was meltdown time for the Iron Lady. Even as people were trying to absorb the implications of the new Cabinet on Tuesday, speculation was rife that Datuk Seri Rafidah was preparing to resign as leader of Wanita Umno. But she calmed down and was back to her usual confident self by the time she faced a packed press conference yesterday. There was no hint whatsoever of her rage the day before.

She said she would not relinquish her Wanita Umno leadership, that the Cabinet was the Prime Minister's prerogative and that her grandchildren liked the idea of her spending more time at home.

Datuk Seri Rafidah is 64. She has been in politics close to 40 years, 32 of which were spent in the Cabinet. And she has been, without a doubt, in a class of her own and there will be very few who can hold a candle to her accomplishments.

At the same time, like many politicians who have overstayed, she has accumulated more than her share of political baggage.

It is said that Mr Abdullah had been under great pressure to drop her after the controversial Approved Permits issue several years ago. But she survived the Cabinet reshuffle in 2006.

Sources said that even before the general election, the Prime Minister had been soliciting feedback from people about the prospect of retiring Datuk Seri Rafidah. The feedback he got was that it was time for her to go. Another reason for her exclusion is that the Government is anticipating complications over the issue of her not signing her nomination form during the elections.

Her PAS opponent will likely file a complaint and there has been a precedent of a candidate being disqualified for not signing his nomination form. Some suggest that the Cabinet line-up also says a lot of the Prime Minister's intentions for the Umno elections due later this year.

His appointment of Datuk Seri Shahrizat as women's affairs adviser and Azalina as Tourism Minister is seen as a hint of the future hierarchy of Wanita Umno. But, of course, the final outcome lies with the women's wing and also whether Datuk Seri Rafidah will let go gracefully or fight like a tigress to stay on. -- The Star/ANN

[Comment: In Singapore, Ministers seemed mostly reluctant to accept accept ministerial appointments, and almost always are glad to relinquish their posts to go (back) into the private sector. Clearly, in terms of attractiveness of the post, the private sector has more pull for them. For a Minister to be in a post for 32 years says 3 things. One, it must be very rewarding (despite the low official salary). Two, she has become institutionalised in the post. Three, there was no succession planning.

So while Malaysia's Ministers may be officially paid less than Singapore's Ministers, there may be other less official benefits. And the fact that their cabinet had 90 posts, just boggles the mind.]

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