It was by a curious twist of fate that Jahara Abdul Hamid became the first woman in Malaysian history to be appointed a state opposition leader.
Prior to the recent general election, the 61-year-old lawyer and Umno veteran had actually announced her complete retirement from politics and was looking forward to spending more time with her family.
However, Umno was apparently unable to find another candidate strong enough to defend the Teluk Air Tawar state seat.
Party leaders managed at the eleventh hour to persuade her to postpone her retirement and her name was included in BN list of candidates for Penang that was announced on April 16.
Jahara, who is serving her fifth straight term as a member of the Penang state assembly, told that she was astonished by her appointment as opposition leader, which was announced this morning by Law Choo Kiang, the new speaker of the house.
“I did not even want to contest for election in the first place,” she said.
“I was previously in the government. Now I’m the opposition leader. I’ve come full circle.
“I did not ask for this. Things just happen to have fallen into place. It’s like the grand finale of my political career. I’m overwhelmed.”
Jahara said she was grateful to BN and Umno for entrusting her with the new job. “It’s an invaluable appreciation and recognition of women’s political development in the country,” she said.
She will lead nine other Umno representatives in the assembly. No other BN party won a seat in the Penang legislature in the recent election.
She acknowledged that it would be a high-pressure job, but added: “I’m confident I can deliver my task dutifully.”
Jahara is the most senior of the 40 members of the current Penang state assembly. She served as a state executive councillor in the last two terms that BN was in power in the state.
Her first advice to her colleagues in the house is to avoid treating the assembly as a “circus”.
She said they must respect the people’s mandate and honour the assembly as a forum for “constructive speeches, ideas and debates”. “It’s a place for making policies and speaking up for the people,” she said.