Umno President Has Dinner At Shahrizat S Home
The women’s wing of Umno has been abuzz with speculation about who their president is supporting for the Wanita leadership.
THE last time they met was at the start of the last general election.
Tan Sri Shahrizat Jalil (pic), who set out to campaign for some of the female candidates, had made her first stop at Bagan Datuk to pay a courtesy call on Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
The Umno president was quite thrilled and asked her to address his campaign team.
Last Wednesday evening, it was the Umno president who made his way to Shahrizat’s Bukit Damansara house.
Ahmad Zahid had earlier asked if he could drop by and Shahrizat suggested he come over for dinner.
It turned out to be a family affair. Ahmad Zahid arrived with his younger daughter and her husband, while Shahrizat’s entire family, including her daughters-in-law were there.
Was it really just a casual evening as suggested?
“Just dinner and chit-chat,” insisted Shahrizat.
Well, pictures of the two families seated in the living room showed Ahmad Zahid, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, looking relaxed and quiet at home.
But with a crucial party election looming in March, everything the president does is anything but casual.
His presence at the home of the candidate for the Wanita Umno leadership was quickly interpreted as a signal of who he preferred.
“I think Zahid has chosen his horse,” said an aide to a Johor leader.
Two days later, Shahrizat handed in her papers to contest for the top Wanita post.
The comeback bid has been described by her supporters as a “welcome back”.
“All the women are talking about it,” said Maran division chief Datuk Seri Shahaniza Shamsudin who is contesting a supreme council post.
However, it was a rather awkward situation because Shahrizat will be going against incumbent Datuk Seri Noraini Ahmad whom she handpicked five years ago.
It will also be controversial. Shahrizat, who led the women’s wing from 2009 to 2018, will be 70 in August whereas Noraini is 55.
Shahrizat has become the disruptor in the party election and the backlash has started. Those not with Shahrizat say her time is over and that she is being selfish for not letting younger leaders move up.
Her return will also revive criticism over the NFC or National Feedlot Corporation scandal that shook the party like an earthquake but which ironically strengthened her hold over the women’s wing.
Given all this, one would think that Shahrizat would be entering the race on the defensive.
Instead, Noraini is the one having to defend herself, forced to explain why she has not done more for the women’s wing.
Noraini’s supporters have argued that she took over after Umno lost its dominance in government. Times were bad and she had to operate as the opposition, with limited funds and access to facilities.
Besides, as her running mate Datuk Rosni Zahari said: “It is unfair to judge her after only one term. She deserves more time to deliver.”
Rightly or wrongly, the wing once lauded as the “backbone of Umno” seems to have fallen behind.
Norani, a former Higher Education Minister, has been criticised for not taking strong positions on women and family issues which is what Wanita Umno is generally about.
Under Shahrizat, the women called the shots and the men were terrified of stepping on the ladies' toes.
Many male division chiefs will openly confess that without the women, they will not have campaign machinery or even the quorum to hold meetings.
“There was a time when heads turned and the men listened when we spoke. They respected and referred to us,” said a Wanita chief from the Klang Valley.
Noraini’s misfortune is that she had to take over from big personalities. She succeeded Datuk Seri Azalina Othman as Puteri Umno leader and could not fill the big shoes. Then she struggled to emerge from the long shadow of Shahrizat in the Wanita wing.
Yet, Noraini is a highly educated woman and a sophisticated beauty with gentle manners.
Her leadership style is more modern, less of the makcik or aunty mode and that has failed to resonate with the older generation, especially those in the Malay heartland.
“Some of them say that Kak Aini (Noraini) does not have gatherings, no call here, call there. Maybe her PR is different,” said a Wanita Umno politician.
However, Noraini managed to win over two of Shahrizat’s loyalists - Hulu Bernam assemblyman Datuk Rosni Sohar and Datuk Rosni Zahari, who was a former political secretary to Ahmad Zahid.
The two Rosni’s were frequent visitors to Shahrizat’s house last year to complain about Noraini and to urge Shahrizat to make a comeback.
But they suddenly threw their support behind Noraini a few months ago for reasons of their own.
Shahrizat’s house has often been a gathering point for the women leaders and she has some pretty hardcore supporters out there. They are grandmothers, mothers and working women who can compare between then and now and who will jump to defend her.
Recently, when a couple of state Wanita leaders endorsed Noraini in their whatsapp chats, they were told by the other women not to speak without consulting the Wanita chiefs at the division level.
Shahrizat has been inundated with calls since jumping into the ring while Noraini is banking on the younger women in the wing to stand by her.
It will be a tough and fascinating fight. - Star
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