Malaysia election: Two women ex-ministers grab headlines with election moves

Former Umno Women chief Rafidah Aziz (left) and current Umno Women wing chief Shahrizat Jalil are among the most recognisable names in Malaysian politics.
Former Umno Women chief Rafidah Aziz (left) and current Umno Women wing chief Shahrizat Jalil are among the most recognisable names in Malaysian politics.PHOTOS: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Two rival former women ministers grabbed headlines in Malaysia on Monday (April 16) as they indicated their political stance, reflecting the tumultous pre-election campaign period.

Former Umno Women chief Rafidah Aziz resigned as chairman of top glovemaker Supermax Corp, two days after its managing director apologised to the Malaysian government for supporting the opposition in the last general election.


Tan Sri Rafidah, who recently attacked Prime Minister Najib Razak over a land issue controlled by the Ministry of Defence, said she reserves the right "to speak up on any issue of public interest and to fear no intimidation from anyone when I speak the truth".

Malaysia will go to the polls on May 9, with Nomination Day on April 28.

Meanwhile, current Umno Women wing chief Shahrizat Jalil said she is rejecting what she said was "an offer" to stand in the Bandar Tun Razak parliamentary seat in Kuala Lumpur.

Umno and its ally the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) are tussling over who should contest in the ward, which is controlled by the opposition.

The two women are among the most recognisable names in Malaysian politics.

Ms Rafidah was international trade and industry minister for 21 years, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister, and at the start of Tun Abdullah Badawi's premiership.

Ms Rafidah, a feisty former minister, had retired from active politics when her stint as MP ended in 2013, and she turned to the corporate sector, But the 74-year-old recently put out a statement alleging that a company headed by three individuals known to Datuk Seri Najib now controls 480 sq km of land that was owned by the Ministry of Defence - an area two-thirds the size of Singapore - under a privatisation deal on a 40-year lease.


Ms Rafidah claimed the deal was approved in a late 2007 Cabinet meeting that she attended, when PM Najib was defence minister and Mr Abdullah was prime minister.

Malaysia's Defence Ministry last week denied the allegations. The ministry admitted there were "land swop" projects, but said these were done with several companies and followed government procedures.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said there was no need for Mr Najib to comment on the allegations.

In her response, Ms Rafidah claimed that there was a paper on the matter that was presented at that 2007 Cabinet meeting which should be made public.

She had also publicly denounced Mr Najib on the scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Following last Saturday's apology to the government by Supermax's managing director Stanley Thai, Ms Rafidah told Malaysiakini news site on Monday: "While it is his right to do what he feels he needed to do, I do not share the same sentiments."

She has said that she is backing the opposition campaign led by her former long-time boss, Dr Mahathir.

Meanwhile, Ms Rafidah's former ally turned political nemesis Tan Sri Shahrizat has remained staunchly at the side of Mr Najib, as chief of the 1.3-million-strong Umno Women's wing.

Ms Shahrizat, 64, was Ms Rafidah's deputy chief in the Women's wing before defeating her in a dramatic 2009 Umno contest.

Ms Shahrizat, the former minister of women, family and community development affairs, was earlier speculated to be headed into Selangor's Sungai Besar parliamentary constituency.

But last week, there were whispers that she would instead be fielded in the Bandar Tun Razak parliamentary seat.

The seat is held by former Selangor menteri besar Khalid Ibrahim, who was a leader in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) before a falling out with the party. He is now an independent MP.

Ms Shahrizat said in her Facebook account on Monday: "Many have asked me whether I will accept an offer to contest in the Bandar Tun Razak Parliament seat.

"My reply is no, although it is a constituency where Barisan can win and where it can defeat PKR."

The MCA, which traditionally fields its candidate in Bandar Tun Razak, is being pressed to allow Umno to put up its candidate instead.