Najib woos Malaysian women ahead of elections

Datuk Seri Najib Razak (seated, second from left) posing for photos with the Umno Women's wing executive committee on Thursday. Flanking him are (from left) Umno deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Umno Women's chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and Umno t
Datuk Seri Najib Razak (seated, second from left) posing for photos with the Umno Women's wing executive committee on Thursday. Flanking him are (from left) Umno deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Umno Women's chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and Umno treasurer Salleh Said Keruak.PHOTO: BERNAMA

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is busy courting female support in the run-up to general elections. After announcing a slew of goodies for working women in October's Budget, he said this week that he is thinking of having women make up a third of all senators.

"If we get the necessary majority this coming election, we could impose a quota for the Upper House," said Datuk Seri Najib on Monday, to applause from delegates at a women's conference.

There are 62 senators appointed by the country's state legislatures or the Malaysian King.

The Budget, among other promises, gives women a one-year tax exemption if they return to work after an absence of two years or more, and longer paid maternity leave for some.

In July, he said that he will name and shame public listed firms with no women in the boardroom, and repeated the warning in September.

"My view is that targets are the way forward," said Ms Sarah Chen, a co-founder of Lean In Malaysia, a non-profit organisation. "And the focus isn't just the boardroom but throughout the organisation, especially in middle management where they are often overlooked."

In his party Umno, Mr Najib in 2013 called the Women's wing the "party's backbone and the mother of the party", acknowledging their key role in canvassing for votes.

According to media reports last year, 50.4 per cent or 7.3 million of the electorate are women.

While working women made up only 38.6 per cent of Malaysia's working population of 14.7 million last year, they form three-quarters of female voters.

In Umno, Malaysia's biggest political party, women form just 12.3 per cent of its leadership, though half of its members are female.

Members of the Women's wing are lobbying to have 30 per cent of electoral candidates come from their ranks.

The wing's members use a hand gesture to push their case, called Salam 30 peratus - Greetings 30 per cent-by showing the last three fingers and forming a zero with the thumb and forefinger.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2017, with the headline 'Najib woos Malaysian women ahead of elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe