Populist takes on minister in PPBM’s first Srikandi contest

Srikandi’s first leader Rina Harun (left) is expected to face a challenge by Azlina Mehtab Mohd Ishaq in the party elections in June.

GEORGE TOWN: As PPBM members shape up for party elections in June, the battle to head Srikandi, the important women’s wing, is shaping up as one between a Penang lawyer-activist and a minister.

PPBM Srikandi’s first leader Rina Harun was appointed to the position in 2017 and was appointed to the Cabinet in 2018 as minister for rural development,

Her chief challenger appears to be Kepala Batas division chief Azlina Mehtab Mohd Ishaq, a Penang-based lawyer with a decade’s experience in Umno politics who is also an activist with 20 years helping the poor.

Selangor-born Rina was involved with Puteri Umno from 2002 to 2013 and was on the youth wing’s national executive committee from 2009-2013. She would appear to have the edge in terms of campaign prowess, with access to her ministry and related departments.

However, an FMT survey shows that Azlina has sizeable political support, as a result of her work on the ground.

The women’s wings of Malay political parties are the understated force behind the performance of the parties at general elections and they are often credited with softening the rhetoric of their male counterparts and thus entering pockets of resistance in constituencies to secure every vote.

Umno have in the past credited the Wanita wing’s influence and ability to reach the poor, lending an ear to the downtrodden and establishing a bond with their support bases.

Given this background, it is little wonder that there is interest in who will head Srikandi – the name is defined as that of a brave woman having the traits of warrior Tun Fatimah from the days of the bendahara of the ancient Malacca sultanate.

Rina, who is MP for Titiwangsa, currently does not head any division in PPBM but is reportedly eyeing a post in the Sepang division.

She is expected to defend her position as national Srikandi chief, although she has yet to confirm doing so.

While her position as minister provides her with unrivalled access to government machinery, she has been dogged by criticism over projects that were allegedly given to divisional leaders, as well as disappointment over the lack of progress in building up Srikandi.

A project to repair homes of poor people, with funds from the ministry, ran into criticism from some Srikandi members, who viewed it as a form of vote buying.

“We are not asking for projects, but at least develop some opportunities that could grow and improve the Srikandi wing. You are the minister,” a grassroots Srikandi member said.

“There was no growth in the number of women members of PPBM during her tenure, although there is so much potential for the Srikandi.”

Meanwhile, Azlina is making waves on the ground and appears to have the firepower to mount a real challenge.

An FMT survey of 10 divisions across the country shows her holding support of slightly over 60%.

Azlina also has a Puteri Umno background, having been Penang Umno Puteri chief and a central committee member. She left for PPBM in 2016 after 10 years in Umno.

She had joined Umno with eight years’ experience as head of her brainchild, Sepakat, an award-winning group that helped the poor in the northern region in the late 1990s.

She also learnt the ropes in local government as a municipal councillor in Seberang Perai from 2002 to 2004.

Her other passion includes high-powered motorcycles – she has three big bikes – but is never intimidating and is a favourite among the grassroots in Penang.

Azlina was the force behind the meteoric rise of her brother, Khaliq Mehtab, as Bertam assemblyman in the 2018 general election.

“She is approachable and you can tell that she has a lot of experience in helping people. Azlina is the listening type and has no airs despite having put many years of service for the people.

“We met the other day and she has plans to restructure Srikandi to greater heights. Her plans are solid and we believe in her leading us nationally,” said a senior PPBM leader to FMT.

Others expected to vie for the Srikandi post are Zuhuraina Makmur and Najwa Halimah Abdul Alim.

PPBM has 377,057 registered members in 2,946 branches.