Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is undoubtedly one of the most genuinely beautiful person I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my journey as a photographer and filmmaker.
A humble mother with only her family’s interest at heart, she never set out to have a foot in Malaysian politics, let alone carry the burden of being the opposition leader in parliament as she did in 2008.
Following the dismissal and arrest of her husband on 20 September 1998, Dr. Wan Azizah earned the respect and admiration of many Malaysians as the leader of the fledgling Reformasi movement. She first led the Social Justice Movement (ADIL), a civil rights NGO, before helping to establish the Parti Keadilan Nasional on the 4th of April 1999. She was duly elected as the party’s first president.
On 3 August 2003, as the president of the party, brought it into a merger with the older Malaysian People’s Party (or Parti Rakyat Malaysia) to form the new People’s Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat). She was elected as the first president of the party and remains so until today. Contesting in the 1999 General Elections for the very first time, she led the party to win 5 seats in parliament, including the seat formerly held by Anwar in Permatang Pauh, Penang. She won with a majority of 9,077, held the seat in the 2004 General Elections with a reduced majority and retained the seat in 2008 yet again with a majority of 13,388.
On the 31st of July 2008, she resigned from her seat to allow Anwar re-entry into parliament by forcing a by-election. With a landslide victory of 31,195 of the estimated 47,000 votes cast, Anwar made an extraordinary come back into Malaysian politics after a 10-year absence since he was sacked by former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad.
She met Anwar Ibrahim at a meeting arranged by a close friend in 1979. At the time she was still practising as a doctor and kept one eye open for a suitor. She had heard and read of Anwar as a rising political figure in the region but have never met him prior to this. After lengthy discussions between both families, they were formally married on the 28th of February 1980.
Wan Azizah studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland where she was awarded the MacNaughton-Jones gold medal for Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1978. After completing her housemanship at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital, she joined the University Hospital in 1980. In 1984, Wan Azizah qualified as a specialist in Opthalmology in Dublin and worked also as a lecturer at Universiti Malaya, teaching Opthalmology. Many, many years have passed since she last looked into a patient’s eye but she has touched many hearts since. She remembers very fondly of some of her patients who still come running up to her as she makes her way across the country on visits.
Beneath her humble grace and quiet mannerism lies a burning desire to fight for justice and truth.
In the coming elections, she is hoping for big changes in the country and at the same time, expects nothing much to change within the family. Regardless of where each other may be throughout the day, they keep in touch through a group chat on WhatsApp and try their very best to at least have a meal together. She was the wife of a deputy prime minister, then a crusader of justice for a man wrongly imprisoned and today, the voice of all women whose struggle needs to be heard in the country. And she did all these while bringing up 6 children.
I am not one to heap praises on public figures, especially someone deep within the political sphere but Kak Wan is the gem the country needs right now.
The complete interview will be published as part of a full-length documentary at a later date.