AMINAH Abdullah apologises a lot. She apologises for even slightly raising her voice, for not providing food and drink to reporters, for arriving late at her own press conferences, and even for not being “highly educated”, as she puts it.
The former Penang Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Wanita chief is contesting the Penanti state by-election as an independent candidate. She has been in the headlines since campaigning started for “exposing” alleged bribes offered to her by two PKR leaders — supreme council member Cheah Kah Peng, and Lim Eng Nam, the special assistant to PKR’s Penang exco Law Choo Kiang.
Her more than three-hour audio recording of the alleged bribe is now being investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and is hotly discussed in the media and blogosphere.
This is an Aminah who is easy to portray as ruthless, calculating and misguided. But though her quotes carried in the media are accurate, what the media cannot adequately capture is her self-effacing personality. She is not the most articulate of politicians, and even her official statements are handwritten on ruled exercise books.
But just because the 57-year-old wife and mother of four is soft-spoken does not mean she is not a political strategist. And yet, just because her heart and soul are in politics, it doesn’t mean that she fully comprehends the full import of her actions.
Aminah with husband, Rofi
“From the beginning, it has been my eldest daughter Hernanie who has been convincing me to contest,” she says. Apparently, it is also Hernanie who advised Aminah to “protect” herself from allegedly being played out by the party that she had quit in 2007. Hence, that audio recording.
Serving the rakyat?
Aminah speaks slowly and her voice trembles even at the best of times. At her press conferences, she shifts between the bravado of “I will expose PKR’s wrongdoings!” to “Please stop writing — I think I shouldn’t have said that.”
This could be a ploy on her part to manipulate the media, but on the whole her statements are frustrating to process. In a typical exchange with reporters, when asked why she wants to contest the by-election, she says, “To serve the rakyat.”
How does she plan to serve the rakyat? “By exposing PKR’s lies and internal rot,” she replies. How is that going to serve the rakyat? “Oh, but I have other points in my manifesto as well to help the rakyat,” she then says.
And it goes on. When asked later why she is betraying the trust of her long-time friends, she says, “I care for Cheah and Lim, but I am sick of the party.” And yet when she is asked about the wrongdoings in the party, she mentions only one name — Penang PKR chief Datuk Zahrain Mohamed Hashim.
Aminah has a CD again!
Even then she seems to be running rings around the media. On 27 May, she tells the press she has “damning evidence” that implicates Zahrain, and challenges him to respond. On 28 May, she reveals that this “damning evidence” is of Zahrain “attacking and humiliating” her at a party meeting between 2006 and 2007.
Reporters ask her, “But surely ‘attacking and humiliating’ you do not constitute a crime?”
“But I have strong evidence; I have a CD,” she says.
“Then why do you not bring the evidence to the police or to other independent bodies and let them investigate?” reporters try to clarify.
“Because actually I only want to run my campaign smoothly, I don’t really want to reveal any of this,” she replies.
But then why does she go ahead and reveal it in bits and pieces? “Because I have been challenged by Zahrain,” she says.
With Aminah, everything seems to lead back to Zahrain. Nevertheless, she is adamant that this is not a personal vendetta. “It’s about Zahrain bringing in his Umno culture into the party, and so it’s a party issue,” she stresses.
“I didn’t expect this”
Aminah’s main gripe appears to be ZahrainIn a post-press conference conversation at the Penang Election Commission in Komtar, 26 May, Aminah confesses to the press that she did not expect the MACC to call her so soon to investigate her allegations.
“I didn’t expect it to come to this,” she says, and implores the media to report responsibly.
But this begs the question — what else did she expect by accusing her former party of bribing her? It appears that even she does not know. Does she want to destroy the party? It doesn’t appear that way, at least on the surface — she laments publicly and in the audio recording that she misses Parti Keadilan Nasional (KeAdilan). She misses the camaraderie, she misses the struggle, and she even tells reporters, “My nine-year-old daughter Herna Natasya’s first words was ‘Reformasi’. Only she couldn’t pronounce it and used to say ‘Aci! Aci!’”
Her main gripe, it seems, is and always has been with Zahrain and those who enable him to remain in power. The question is, are personal vendettas reason enough to contest in by-elections?
“[Cheah and Lim] asked me to rejoin and change the party from the inside, but I am sick of them. They are all rotten,” she says. But she says, “I don’t mean Cheah and Lim — they are not like the others.”
Aminah canvassing for votes
Ultimately, it is the Penanti voters who will decide on whether Aminah is a legitimate contender. But until then, it is hard to decipher what exactly drives her. Is she the bitter medicine that some say PKR needs? Is she naive and way in over her head? Or is she a schemer who will turn around and surprise us all come polling day on 31 May?