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First female deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail says she works hard and deserves credit. Pix by Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor.

PUTRAJAYA: Talk around town has been malicious against the country’s first female deputy prime minister, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Some quarters claim that it is her husband, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who is the deputy prime minister and not her.

“I am the one who goes to work, go in early, I do all the work and (they say) that he is the deputy prime minister? He goes to Turkey. He is in London.

“Give me some credit. I do a lot of work, you know,” she said in an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times Press.

“Lest you forget, I was also the country’s first female opposition leader,” Dr Wan Azizah, who is PKR president, said.

Anwar was deputy prime minister from Dec 1, 1993 to Sept 2, 1998 during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first tenure as prime minister.

He was Dr Mahathir’s third deputy after Tun Musa Hitam (1981 to 1986) and the late Tun Ghafar Baba (1986 to 1993). Anwar was removed from his post by Dr Mahathir and subsequently charged and jailed for corruption and sodomy.

Dr Wan Azizah said Anwar was not around much to guide her in the administration of the country.

“He’s always overseas. Furthermore, he had said this is Dr Mahathir’s cabinet. I could seek his (Anwar’s) opinions, but it is easier for me to see Dr Mahathir.

“I’m still learning and there is a lot of work to do. Alhamdulillah (praise to God), I get a lot of encouragement and support from Dr Mahathir. I go to him and (Home Minister) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, as well as others in the cabinet, to discuss matters.

“This will enable us to gather views and arrive at the best decisions.”

She said she was the one who took the oath as deputy prime minister and was voted in by the Pandan electorate.

“If that is the intention and the desire of the electorate, I must carry out the responsibility entrusted upon me.”

Amid talk that she would vacate the Pandan parliamentary seat to make way for Anwar to return to Parliament, she said: “Why should I vacate the seat? I was elected by Pandan voters.”

In the 14th General Election, she secured 64,733 votes and won the Pandan parliamentary seat with a majority of 52,543 votes in a five-cornered fight against Barisan Nasional, Pas, Parti Rakyat Malaysia and an independent candidate.

She said some members of parliament (MPs) had offered to vacate their seats for Anwar to contest.

“(But) it is not like they (the MPs) are lame ducks there (in Parliament). They are not there to warm their seats. We were all chosen by the electorate who want change in the country. If that is what they (the electorate) really want, we have to work for it.”

She said it would be unfair to Dr Mahathir to say that Anwar was the PM-in-waiting.

“We do not want Dr Mahathir to think that as he would be giving up the post, he should take things lightly. No, we really have to work. He cannot have such thoughts. It is not fair (to him) and it is definitely not the way to go.”

On her relationship with Dr Mahathir, she said, as they were both doctors, they are on the same wavelength.

“Before this, I was the deputy prime minister’s wife. We have known each other since 1982 when my husband entered politics. And then, our relationship was cut off significantly. It is different now.

“We have come together, combining the spirit and desire to build the country. I think we are parallel on this.

“There is not much difference between us. The fact remains that if we want Malaysia to develop, we have to be forward looking and overcome problems, such as corruption, and put in place good governance, be transparent and trustworthy, capable, effective and be efficient. We share the same vision.

“Look at how packed his (Dr Mahathir’s) schedule is at his age. Now, how would you feel if you see your boss working like that? Not only Dr Mahahir, but I see my husband working as hard too. Despite the trials and tribulations he has faced, he still thinks of the country and of ways he can contribute to its development.”

As deputy prime minister, she said she had been entrusted by Dr Mahathir to take care of the management of national disasters besides being women, family and community development minister.

With four parties in Pakatan Harapan and the reported squabbles among its members, she said it was natural that there were disagreements between them.

“It’s like in a family. We cannot just go na’am, na’am (saying yes) all the time.

“Dr Mahathir had said: ‘Do you want to know the truth or the lies about the economy?’

“It is important to have a healthy discussion. Let us all be frank. Then, we can come to a decision. This (process) is important as we have a new government and young voices who can speak out.

“We want the best for the country. If you don’t allow one to think and argue, and tell everyone that you know more than anyone else, then this will not happen.”

On the Council of the Eminent Persons’ alleged interference in the government, she said Dr Mahathir had told council members that their job was to advise the administration.

“The decisions are ours (the government) to make,” she said.

Additional reporting by Tasnim Lokman

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