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Going against the grain is Young Syefura’s strength

Going against the grain is Young Syefura’s strength

KUALA LUMPUR: A slight smile was ever-present, hardly changing on Young Syefura Othman’s (pix) red lipsticked lips. It is a charming smile, but mysterious and possibly as maddening as Mona Lisa’s.

As the new Member of Parliament (MP) for Bentong, known to many as Rara, talked with Bernama in the Dewan Rakyat dining room for over an hour, no question ruffled her feathers or managed to pierce the imperceptible shield of calm. Her answers came easily – while some seemed practised and others off-the-cuff, they were always friendly and accompanied by that smile.

Even as the 33-year old divulged her childhood story and traced her journey into politics, there was always a bit of her that felt out of reach and safely guarded.

That is just how Rara is, her brother Fyrol Othman assured Bernama, describing her as reserved. She herself admitted she was shy and an introvert when she was in primary school. She has now come out of her shell, but her brother said she can still be reticent.

“She doesn’t like to gossip. She rarely shares personal stuff with others,” Fyrol said. He added his sister preferred to keep her own counsel, only opening up to their mother and her friends.

To succeed in politics, it usually helps if one is an extrovert and gregarious, something her family and friends said she was not. In fact, her best friend Nur Suhaila, better known as Lala, described her as “hot-tempered.”

But going against the grain seems to work for Rara. She joined the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) in 2014, shocking her family and her relatives, who are UMNO, PKR, PAS or Amanah supporters. Now, she is not only one of the few Malay members in DAP, she is also its Deputy Youth Chief.

In 2018, she defied expectations as well when she won the Pahang state assembly seat in Ketari. And in the 15th General Election (GE15) last year, she won her seat in Bentong despite a less than favourable environment for Pakatan Harapan, the coalition DAP contested under, and challenges from four men, including two veteran politicians. In a general election where most women candidates lost, she was one of the 30 who won.

Gender issues expert Dr Zaireeni Azmi told Bernama while monitoring activities on the ground, she found many people doubted Rara would win.

“One thing, it’s because Rara is a woman. And then because Wong Tack (then-incumbent MP for Bentong) was challenging her,” she said, adding Ketari was the harder battle.

Uncertain childhood

Born on Nov 10, 1989 to Othman Ariffin and Umi Kalsom Daud in Perak, Rara is the sixth child out of

seven and the only girl. Despite that, Rara said she was not the golden child or received any special

treatment.

“I was treated the same as the boys. That’s why I learned to be independent from a young age,” she said.

Fyrol agreed, and added, “Our mother used to remind us not to be rough with our sister.”

Rara described her childhood as nomadic, as her family had to move many times throughout the years – sometimes to other states for a job or to the next neighbourhood when they could not make the rent. Her father was a clerk with the Armed Forces while her mother cooked and sold dishes to supplement the household income.

“I gained experience from moving houses. On the bright side, I made a lot of friends,” she said with a laugh.

She credits her uncertain upbringing for teaching her to be independent. Her constant friends growing up were Fyrol, her younger brother and her mother. Fyrol said the independence has served Rara well in her career, making her someone who followed her conscience.

As for her interest in politics, her family has always been active, attending political protests, including Reformasi and Bersih.

When she was 12, her mother developed breast cancer. Rara told Bernama that she and her younger brother, who was 7, helped care for their mother until she was fully recovered two years later. Rara’s other brothers had all grown and left home.

“When I saw my mother’s suffering and how hard my dad worked to support everyone financially, it leaves its mark,” she said.

Rara chose to become a nurse after graduating high school. And when Bersih 2.0 came along, she joined the movement and DAP, where she was first appointed councillor of Kajang in 2016. She got married in 2016 and divorced in 2019. She later married businessman Muhammad Edrin Nordin in 2021. The rest is history.

Aims

Rather than moping over her difficult childhood, Rara is intent on using what she learned and experienced to help people get better housing, jobs, improve the local economy and climate change. Other issues she intends to tackle include children’s issues such as child marriage, children’s right to education, regardless of citizenship status, and stateless children born in Malaysia.

While enthusiastic about helping her constituents, she admitted the pressure to succeed was immense in this day and age. And being a young woman in politics makes it worse.

“Once you make a mistake, people will remind you. People will monitor you. So the pressure is huge,” she said.

“We don’t have that many women leaders, especially young ones. So that’s why we sometimes receive too much attention from the public, from the media, etc.,” she added.

Although the pressure and attention may be intense, Rara is not short of supporters, such as her husband, family, friends and colleagues, who are confident she will meet some of her goals at the very least.

Lala, who works as a content and creative executive at CreateHub, believes Rara will serve her constituents well. She also thinks Rara is the future of Malaysia.

“I think she’s a born leader. She always has high empathy towards others, so regardless of whether she is a politician or not, I know she will always be someone who you can truly rely on,” she said via WhatsApp.

DAP Youth Chief and Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii agreed, saying her work ethic is impressive and calling her an asset to the country.

“I saw how she dealt with the public (when she was a councillor) as well as issues close to the heart of the public in regards to council issues. It shows how she was willing to go above and beyond and that speaks volumes of her character,” he said.

As for Fyrol, he thinks Rara is destined for greatness.

Rara does not seem to have many detractors, as most of the harshest criticisms were during the election campaign. Now, her critics are usually online and anonymous on social media.

With such resounding support, one would not blame Rara if she becomes heady from it. Instead, she is fully aware of the perils of overstaying her political welcome, setting term limits on her political career.

“I have set a (political life) target of 10 years. Maybe, every 10 years I’ll renew it. Anyway, it would be better not to ‘syok sendiri’(self-indulgent),” she said and smiled. -Bernama