From law student to politician: The education and career of Hannah Yeoh

hannah yeoh
Today, the University of Tasmania graduate is the current Member of Parliament for the Segambut constituency in Kuala Lumpur. Source: Facebook

If you are a Malaysian, the name Hannah Yeoh will ring a bell. After all, the former practising lawyer has an impressive track record in the local political scene. 

Yeoh’s big break came when she became the Speaker of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly from 2013 to 2018 — making her the first woman Speaker and the youngest of any legislative body in Malaysia.

Yeoh’s tenure as the Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development was equally impressive. As a mother of two children, Yeoh connected with the issues faced by Malaysians. Notably, she implemented policy changes that dealt with baby dumping, teenage pregnancies and many more.

In fact, she wants to see the establishment of an agency or a ministry for children. “It takes so much effort to convince people. To encourage someone in a position of power to believe that we need such an agency to protect children is an uphill climb,” Yeoh explains in an interview with Prestige, an online lifestyle media in Asia. 

hannah yeoh

In the historic 2018 general elections, Yeoh contested as an Opposition candidate for Segambut, a parliamentary constituency in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. Source: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP 

Today, the thoughtful former minister is a current Member of Parliament (MP) for the Segambut constituency in Kuala Lumpur. “They are my source of power. The people who put you there give you the mandate. I believe in accountability and plan to show how I have used the power entrusted to me,” the politician explains.

While Yeoh is contented with her career, you’ll be surprised to know that it almost didn’t take off had it not been a stroke of fate. 

A leap of faith: Transitioning from law to event management and politics

Like many young Malaysians, the pull to study abroad was strong. Hence, Yeoh studied law at the University of Tasmania and had no intentions of returning home — but a failed permanent residence application ended her plans to migrate. 

Yeoh returned to work as a lawyer in Petaling Jaya for three years. Wanting to build a life of service, she quit her job as a lawyer and became an event manager at her father’s business. For two years, she checked redemption receipts.

Still, Yeoh patiently waited. “God was preparing me for something bigger,” she explains to a congregation at the Whispering Hope Methodist Church.

The opportunity came when Yeoh’s former schoolmate, Edward Ling, joined the Democratic Action Party (DAP), an opposition party — and she did the same to support Ling.

In the 2008 general election, DAP chose Yeoh to contest the Subang Jaya state seat. Their reason? She would appeal to the young, middle-class professionals in that area. At that time, Ling was Yeoh’s campaign manager.

Yeoh rose to the occasion. “I had no political ambitions so it came as a surprise. But God provided me with a husband who prayed with me about it and supported me even though I felt ill-equipped to speak at rallies during the campaigning period,” she explains in an interview with YMI. This platform allows young Christians around the globe to ask questions about life and discover their true purpose. 

Her opponent was a seasoned female politician. During the campaign period, Yeoh had a leaflet with her passport photo printed on it, while the female politician distributed a booklet containing a lengthy description of her experience. 

Seeking to flip the narrative, she came up with a tagline that says, “Yes, I have no experience, I have no experience in corruption!” — and it worked. Young Malaysians were at rallies to share their ideas and vision for the country. When she needed money to fund her election campaign, allies and friends raised more than RM100,000 (about US$21,199.92 at the time of writing). 

The result? Yeoh won the seat with a majority vote of 71% in 2008 at 29. She would then be re-elected in 2013 and sworn in as speaker — out of 56 assemblymen in the Selangor State Legislative Assembly — to preside over the proceedings of the House that year. 

hannah yeoh

As Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly, she introduced “Opposition Time” for the opposition leader to speak in the State Legislative Assembly before each adjournment of the House. Source: Facebook

Asked how she was able to face many challenges in her political career, Yeoh credits her success to her strong Christian faith. “Every trial is an opportunity to testify. When confronting something difficult, I imagine the day I conquer it. It is how I have always lived my Christian life; knowing no matter the trial, I will live to show others how to overcome it,” explains the MP

She further addresses the challenges ahead of the 15th Malaysian general election. “Disillusionment might keep some home or make them believe that one vote won’t have an impact. When you give someone the access to vote, it does not mean they will take it. We need to mobilise people to come, and it is our job to help citizens realise that they have the power to affect change.”