The drizzling weather on a bustling Monday morning paved the way to what would appear to be a mundane political party representative’s office, up some flights of stairs. However, post the prime moments upon entering, one thing was highly obvious, this was no conventional office.
This was one that had witnessed political history and is in the midst of further contributing to it.
In mid-December, FLY: Malaysia President, Wilson and the Journalist, Melanie Fernandez, had the opportunity to interview Jamaliah Jamaluddin, the DAP assemblywoman for Bandar Utama.
Upon being queried regarding how she embarked on her venture in the political landscape, Jamaliah recalls how it was unintended initially. She credits her interest in reading on current issues and, from a broader perspective, acknowledging a need to understand politics from a tender schooling age. However, the manner through which she was first immersed in the field may come as a surprise.
“My father was a columnist and a deejay at 988. He would attend forums as a speaker, and I would only follow him to get dinner at the events those nights”, she humorously recalls. Jamaliah then realised that the forums she routinely witnessed were based on topics seldom to never aired on the television. As at the time, the media were too overly focused on exposing the people to pro-government figures, she found it refreshing to hear the thoughts of those who possessed opposing perspectives. She quickly adds that her preliminary interest in politics was not inclined towards political ambition, instead, she merely wanted to grasp a better understanding of the workings behind the field. After this, she began involving herself in volunteering efforts, dominantly concerning NGOs. Despite her involvement, she never seemed to stick around with any one particular organisation as she did not want to confine her contributions to merely certain issues.
A friend then prompted her to consider volunteering for a political party, as she had already volunteered for a multitude of causes at that point. That, in turn, began Jamaliah’s participation in the Democratic Action Party or more commonly known as DAP. Post volunteering for a while, she officially joined as a member, which is the time her involvement in the field took off. This, in turn, led to Yeo Bee Yin, the Damansara Utama (now referred to as Bandar Utama) assemblywoman extending a role as her Councillor to Jamaliah.
The Transpose: Introvert to Politician
Jamaliah considers how running for election was far from her intention upon her political participation. Having been special assistant and councillor to Yeo Bee Yin, it was implied in the job description that she would step in for Yeo during overly-congested schedule times. As such, she familiarised herself with the Bandar Utama locals over what would later be viewed as her immersion into the community. Jamaliah mentions that despite the rather dominant population of Bandar Utama voters being senior citizens, it was refreshing to learn that they are highly open-minded, especially in regards to how she is considered younger than the conventional politician.
“I was very fortunate as Bee Yin was quite young when she first contested. As she proved herself to be capable through her performance, most residents in the area were not overly concerned by my age.”
On that note, Jamaliah further added that she is immensely grateful for the opportunity to work with Yeo, who actively pushed her out of her comfort zone. At the time, she preferred working behind the scenes as she considered herself introverted. She recalls how most members of the party had no clue who she was.
“Being a candidate was not something I had planned or was chasing. It’s just that I was her Councillor and when she moved to Bakri, the party thought I was suitable for this area.” She then shed light on the gruelling realities of what politics entails. Jamaliah understands that there is a tendency for people to assume political events are easy, or even always successful. Here, she points out the times when her team has organised events attended by less than 10 people and despite the rather discouraging moments, she believes they were imperative in building her current team.
When asked if any women in politics inspire her, Jamaliah immediately name-checks Yeo. Jokingly, she adds that her saying as such is in no attempt to merely flatter Yeo, instead, she truly finds her to be a figure of reference. “Bee Yin inspired me most compared to other female politicians mainly because I’ve gotten the opportunity to work under her and learn from her. Of course, there are many inspiring stories from other female politicians as well, but it’s different in comparison to the opportunity I had to experience it myself when working under Bee Yin”.
“Sometimes, when I face certain situations I feel stuck with or don’t know how to handle, I think to myself, what would Bee Yin do?”, she says in a light-hearted tone. She added that she looks up to numerous local female politicians such as Hannah Yeoh and Teresa Kok. Recalling the ones who have come before her, she acknowledges the struggles those veterans faced, and how they had faced a relatively more difficult time- having been opposition members- adding that the fight for a better Malaysia, however, still lives on.
The Fine Line between Feminism and Equality
At present, there is a record-breaking number of women in the Malaysian Parliament, however, Malaysia still ranks 155 out of 188 nations in terms of women’s representation in national legislatures. Jamaliah believes that there is a multitude of barriers that contribute to this circumstance. The prime one, in her opinion, would be culture. She finds that women are not encouraged to be interested in the political spectrum, which leads to the subsequent issue.
The country is facing a deficiency of supply when it comes to the political force-as only a handful of women are inclined towards politics, the pool is narrowing, thus complicating the process of scouting talent.
“Being a politician, or as I like to refer to us as ‘wakil rakyat’ because we represent the rakyat, it is very difficult. Many people assume that if you are intelligent, you can run for election. However, from my experience, it’s not that simple. I’ve been training since my councilorship, which is 2 to 3 years of learning how to serve the people. Politicians need more than just intelligence, they need communication skills, the ability to comfort and even the willingness to allow people to scold them”.
She finds that there are insufficient platforms available to hone such abilities in women. With regards to the idea of imposing a quota for females in politics, Jamaliah agrees, however, she sees the need to acknowledge that it is difficult to implement, owing to the ever-present glass ceiling in the field.
Concerning the salary gap, Jamaliah attributes it back to the issue of gender inequality. She observes how the government is attempting to rectify this situation with varying approaches, one of which is the salary incentive for women aged 30-50 to return to the workforce and the income tax exemption. She hopes that such measures would suffice in encouraging women, who have quit their jobs for family purposes, to return to the workforce. If these women can earn more than what they spend by sending their child to daycare, she believes they may be prompted to work again.
“Being a housewife is challenging. Of course, at the end of the day, there will be women who choose and enjoy being housewives. I support that. But there are also ladies out there who want to come back to the workforce and our government is doing our best to support them.”
She raises the concern some possess on whether the government is doing enough in terms of their policies. Here, she urges people to evaluate the issue based on quality over quantity. She finds that the ideal manner to judge the policies created should be regarding their effectiveness.
“Honestly, people have big hopes for Pakatan Harapan because they feel like it is a new Malaysia, so they want everything done fast. To be realistic or even practical, there is no point in promising a lot of policies but not enforcing it.”
From her perspective, the government’s commitment to solely have a few policies that they truly focus on is more effective than blindly attempting to solve an array of issues. As such, Jamilah anticipates the coming year’s statistics will reflect this effort.
The Youth: On Political Awareness and Personal Finance
Jamaliah is currently the Vice- Chairman of the Selangor Democratic Action Party Socialist Youth (DAPSY Selangor). She finds that the programmes they have conducted over the past year have shared a common agenda, which is to critically train youth leaders. She explains that a distinguishing feature about the Selangor government is their ‘Penggerak Belia Tempatan’ (PeBT) programme.
She goes on to describe how in Selangor, each of the 24 councillors is entitled to appoint a youth leader, with the ADUN’s blessing. This youth leader is provided with an annual allocation of RM5000 to conduct programmes and forums aimed at encouraging youth participation in the community. A notable event whereby the youth were actively involved would be the ‘Wirathon’, which is essentially a marathon purposed to raise funds for the families of firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty. Apart from such events, the team hosted an open house for Hari Raya, even inviting the band Masdo to perform.
“Before they performed, we had a political forum, so even though the youth were more interested in the band, they had to listen to us first,” she jokingly adds. Jamaliah comprehends the necessity for relevant training to be provided for the youth leaders appointed.
Stemming from this, DAP directs camps to teach these leaders management and social skills that would come in handy in their efforts to organise events. She hopes that through this manner, the youth will, in turn, obtain the skills required to participate meaningfully in the political field.
Considering the youths in Malaysia, Jamaliah observes that there are two extremes to the spectrum of financial literacy among them. On one end, she finds a margin of youth practice financial awareness early on. However, there is a rather significant population of young people who do not acknowledge the need to do so. She has come to this realisation post conducting an array of workshops concerning this age group. It is a popular assumption that the basis of financial freedom is to not possess debt.
“I have met young people who say that do not owe money, they choose to not have a credit card. This is an ineffective mindset. Most young people are not interested in getting out of the financial rat race or even achieving financial freedom, their target is just to not owe money.”
Jamaliah relates this to our society’s traditional opinions on finance. A large margin of people believes that the key to a better retirement life is attributed to the ability to consistently save. In turn, the economy must sustain the repercussions. What most fail to acknowledge is the pressing need to refine one’s self with investment knowledge through the procurement of financial literacy. She believes that risk associated with investments can be reduced with the necessary knowledge and experience.
Jamaliah spares no moment’s hesitation in saying that anyone seriously considering a role in politics should just do it. She reviews the need to primarily understand what the field entails, and how often misguided decisions are made by certain political figures due to lack of supervision by the public. She finds it ridiculous to blindly place the future of the nation solely in the hands of senior politicians, as the youth have fresh perspectives to offer.
“The youth have many ways of participating in politics by voting every five years and even getting in touch with state assembly-persons and members of parliament to voice their opinions. For those who want to involve themselves in the field, you need to come in for the right reasons.”
YB Jamaliah reflects on the hurdles she has encountered, after being appointed for over a year now. These aforementioned barriers originate from an array of sources, inclusive of working with divergent individuals. She then stresses that politics is not something one should consider to be a career, as the field is volatile. This is one of the many aspects by which it differs from a typical job, as there is no guarantee in terms of one’s position, regardless of the hours put in. Despite the situational nature of the field, she urges the youth to consider participating as it is ultimately aimed at nation-building, which is a common goal.
“Let’s say you get on a bus and see a pregnant lady standing. Ask yourself, would you give your seat to her? When I ask young people this, most say they definitely would, as it would be embarrassing not to. I then remind them that they are not required by law to do so, no one will arrest them if they don’t. Despite that, they still choose to do what is morally and
Stemming from that analogy, Jamaliah draws comparison to the country’s politics. One may choose to not participate, as there is no legal requirement to do so. Despite this, one’s moral responsibility towards their nation is sufficient to draw them towards political involvement.
Closing with Jamaliah Jamaluddin
It is highly transparent how the political landscape of the nation has undergone a magnitudinous shift over the past year. This can be attributed to resilient figures such as Jamaliah, who has laid forward their complete and undivided efforts towards achieving meaningful progress. Jamaliah bears immense hope for the youth to involve themselves in shaping our collective aspirations for the nation. Having conversed with her on matters close to her contributions, it is distinctively clear how her involvement has been and is currently of significant impact.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted before current political events unfolded. Hence, all views and opinions expressed were drawn therebefore.
FLY: Malaysia extends our utmost gratitude to YB Puan Jamaliah Jamaluddin for sharing her time and enriching thoughts with us.
Journalists : Melanie Fernandez, Wilson Teh
Author : Melanie Fernandez
Download the article: Deep Cuts With YB Jamaliah Jamaluddin.docx