A WIFE must guard her image as it reflects on her husband, said Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali.

Married to former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for 61 years, the trained medical doctor talked about her experience in public life and said it was important to be able to have good rapport with people from all levels of society.

“(A woman) must also be calm. Don’t get worked up over criticisms.

“At the same time you must take care of your own image and reputation so that it will not damage him. Whatever you do will reflect on your husband. This is something the wife has be careful about,” she said in an interview with The Malaysian Insight that was broadcast via Facebook Live today.

“Of course as a prime minister’s wife, people also expect you to play a role as a leader in women’s fields and give talks. You have to do that as it enhances your husband’s image also.

“But be careful not to overstep your authority or your role. No competition,” said Dr Siti Hasmah who has been making rounds in the ceramah circuit with Dr Mahathir.

“The most important thing is to be with him. (A wife) gives (a husband) a sense of confidence also. Whenever he is down, she is there to comfort him. That is the role of the wife. To love him during good days and bad times,” she said.

Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, wife of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, gestures as she speaks during an interview with The Malaysian Insight today. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, October 6, 2017.

Dr Siti Hasmah met Dr Mahathir when both were medical students in King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore. They were married in 1956 and she, a “city” girl from Klang, moved to Kedah with him.

She became one of the first Malay women in her time to study medicine, and later, was among the first Malay women doctors and the first female Medical Officer in the Maternal and Child Health Department.

In 1974, she became the first woman to be appointed State Maternal and Child Health Officer.

As a woman who has achieved these firsts, Dr Siti Hasmah said she believed that Malaysia would one day have a woman prime minister, but the person would have to be more qualified and knowledgeable than men.

“There will be a day. I hope there will be a day. Women must be very, very qualified. We should admit and realise that we have to be very, very knowledgeable,”

“We are ahead of men in some ways. 75% of students in universities are women but we must be very, very qualified,” she said in the interview which touched on women breaking the glass ceiling.

Women must read widely, and they could learn from reading autobiographies and history books about what other women leaders have done, she added.

On the ceramah circuit

Asked about following her husband on the ceramah circuit at his age of 92, Dr Siti Hasmah said she wanted to know what he talked about so that they could talk about the same things.

She said her presence was also to help him be calm and to ensure that his needs, such as drinking enough water, were taken care of.

“I don’t listen to him all the time, sometimes I get bored but I can’t say it, kan. I don’t want him to be discouraged.

“So I go along with him and give him a bit of comments after that.”

She said she has been trying to tell ceramah organisers not to slot Dr Mahathir as the last speaker for the night, which is often the case so as to keep the crowd attentive until the end of the night.

Dr Mahathir of late has been speaking at various late-night ceramah organised by his party Bersatu and at the opposition’s “Love Malaysia, End Kleptocracy” roadshows.

“They make him the last speaker because otherwise the crowd won’t be there. So making use of my husband lah,” Dr Siti Hasmah said, adding that it was very late by the time they got home.

Did her husband ever consult her when he decided to become active in opposition politics?

She said he did not, and he neither did he when he made his shock announcement about stepping down as prime minister in 2002. He only retired the following year.

Asked what drove her and Dr Mahathir to continue to be active in politics, she said: “We have only one objective. And it is not only our objective but the true nation’s objective and that is to ‘Selamatkan Malaysia’ (Save Malaysia).

“To rescue our beloved country from going downhill. We are facing a lot of problems, social economic problems. We have to start now and be aware and making other people be aware also of our situation is right now and help our country to recover. To get back to time the economy is good, stability and solid, united multiracial country.”

Dr Siti Hasmah also said despite the parting of ways between Dr Mahathir and Najib, she and her husband would always be grateful to Najib’s father, the second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein.

“We are grateful to him for what he has done for our country. He opened up our country for the rural people, especially.

“And my husband is very grateful to him because he was the one who helped Dr Mahathir to become prime minister,” she said.

Having lived such a full life by the side of Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, and still active even in her golden years, there is still one thing left for Dr Siti Hasmah to do: she is in the process of writing a romance novel, about a couple in their 30s.