Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the appointment of a non-Malay as finance minister showed that the Pakatan Harapan administration was turning the page on race-based politics. “To have a Chinese finance minister is actually a very good way forward – this integration of all the races,” Wan Azizah told Singaporean Daily Today. “So, it’s not just tokenism. I do not accept that.” However, Wan Azizah said moving away from race-based politics will be a difficult task ahead.
She said the “ketuanan Melayu” (Malay supremacy) concept had been entrenched by Umno, which was ousted during the May 9 polls. “But slowly, the country has to move towards ‘ketuanan rakyat’ (citizen supremacy),” she said, adding that “we want to move on to meritocracy… this is the most important (thing)… and that every Malaysian feels that this is our home and our nation, and we want to build it together.” Meanwhile, Wan Azizah also revealed that she initially had doubts on whether Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was truly committed to Pakatan Harapan’s cause when his party Bersatu signed an electoral pact with the coalition in late 2016. “It was unusual, it was strange. There was a feeling of, is he really coming in for real?” said Wan Azizah. “But as I got to know him… it became clearer he was committed.” After the 1999 elections, Wan Azizah was the opposition leader, sitting opposite Mahathir at the tail-end of his first premiership, which lasted 22 years and ended in late 2003.
Wan Azizah’s husband Anwar Ibrahim was once Mahathir’s deputy prime minister and heir apparent. After a falling out, Anwar was jailed on charges of abuse of power and sexual misconduct. This episode sparked the reformasi movement which Wan Azizah had led. After Mahathir was once again sworn in as prime minister after the 14th general election, he moved to secure a pardon for Anwar, which was backdated to 1998. Wan Azizah acknowledged that some Malaysians still had misgivings about Mahathir and urged the public to give the new prime minister time. She said Mahathir had joined Harapan knowing fully well that the coalition blamed him for setting up the system they were fighting against. “He said that he had to correct many wrongs and he himself became a victim of the system,” said Wan Azizah. “He was actually being maligned as well. He was maligned by the media, he was actually insulted, and in some instances, as the ex-prime minister of Malaysia, he was not accorded the decorum he deserved.
“I think that probably shows how much he is committed to the reform agenda,” she said.