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Understanding Hannah

 | June 3, 2017

Her short book, which recounts a personal journey, had a limited readership until someone complained about it.



For those who have yet to get hold of Hannah Yeoh’s book, Becoming Hannah is only 111 pages long with an additional 14 pages of photographs. There are ten chapters, a foreword and an epilogue.

It’s a short autobiography recounting her journey from her graduation as a lawyer to her elevation as Speaker of the Selangor State Assembly. Nothing more and nothing less.

She recalls her youth, her work experience, her residence in Subang and, like others of her age, her admiration of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s achievements in the 1990s in the form of the Petronas Twin Towers, Suria KLCC and the Sepang Circuit. She says that as a teenager she had only Subang Parade and Carrefour to roam in, and places like Suria seemed exotic.

The book details her anxieties, her hopes, her trust in her circle, her family, her faith and the electorate she serves. Naturally, as a devout Christian, there are references to her service to Christ, but nothing that would cause anyone to drop his faith in preference for Hannah’s.

One would imagine that if former PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Mat had written an autobiography, he would have probably included references to the milestones in his life, including the development of his faith in Islam, which led him to becoming a politician. A non-Muslim reading his book would take note of these influences, but would unlikely to convert to Islam.

In Chapter One, called “Apolitical”, Hannah says, “I had never been political … never been interested. I didn’t know the difference between an MP and a member of the state legislative assembly.”

She adds, “I complained a lot about the cost of living and the quality of life in the over-developed Klang Valley, but did not connect these issues with politics.”

It was a friend, Edward, who told her that politics needed more good people if positive change were to happen.

Describing the defining moment when she was asked if she would put her name down for the Subang Jaya state constituency in the 12th general election, she recalls, “I was being asked to walk the talk. As one who had spent too much time complaining about the way things were in Malaysia, I was now being offered the chance to do something about it.”

Hannah took the plunge, put her money where her mouth was, and for two weeks worked tirelessly with the help of friends, family and the community to do her best to win. She won, with a majority of 13,851 votes.

Hannah has served her constituency for nearly ten years now. Like all politicians, she has received her fair share of criticism. The critics include some fellow DAP members and real estate developers, who claim that she is “anti-development”.

She says politicians are policymakers who are supposed to propel the nation forwards, but the rakyat appear to use them to help solve their daily problems with the town councils.

The book, which was published in 2014, had a limited readership until a virtually unknown lecturer gave it publicity by complaining about it. Another political stunt has backfired.

Hannah is known to be a successful politician, wife and mother of two daughters, the youngest person to become Speaker of the Selangor State Assembly and the first woman speaker in Malaysia. She came in as an unknown and created a storm with her electoral victory in 2008 and the thumping majority of 28,069 in 2013.

Her abilities as a woman and a young politician were probably what attracted politically minded lecturers to fix their sights upon her. Instead of discussing her entry into politics, they attacked her spirituality. The real reason Hannah is targeted is not her faith, but her success, which is envied by others. Hannah’s faith is a red herring.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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