On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The hidden power behind the drone

They hold no political position  but wield tremendous political  clout, with an uncanny ability to influence the political direction of a  party and even the country.

The most obvious example is Sonia Gandhi, the 51-year-old widow  of former Indian Prime Minister  Rajiv Gandhi. She's not even running for elections but has become  the central figure in India's polls.

To the Congress Party, she appears to be its only hope of salvaging what's left of the once great  party in the country's fractious  politics.

She's of course not the only contemporary example. There's Hillary Clinton who has come to the defence of her husband, accused of  having an affair with an intern.

Imagine the embarrassing consequences if Hillary had remained on  the sidelines, shunning state functions and refusing to say anything  to defend her husband.

The mere act of being silent and  conspicuously absent from the side  of Clinton would have sent the  world's most powerful politician  limping out of the Oval Room.

You could say this would be a  terrible blow to Clinton who has  been accused of having oral sex in  the White House.

Philippine presidential hopeful  Joseph Estrada who has been accused of liking the three Bs   booze, bimbo and baccarat  is  equally lucky.

Despite being called a political  dumbo by his detractors, his PhD  wife has always come to his defence.

History, of course, is full of such  examples. Argentine's Evita Peron  outshone her husband while Jiang  Qing influenced her husband Mao  Zedong greatly.

The widows of many South Asian  leaders have become leaders in  their own right, taking over positions once held by their husbands.

Nobody in these countries  seemed to mind that their only  proven talent has been making  naan and tandoori chicken. The  family name was enough to send  them into a political frenzy.

Some wives, of course, become  their husband's worst enemies.  Marcos could have possibly clung  on to power if Imelda wasn't so obsessed with shoes.

The Filipinos understandably  kicked up a storm and gave Marcos  the boot finally.

South Africa's Winnie Mandela  didn't help her husband Nelson  Mandela one bit.

In Malaysia, the wives of politicians are an equally powerful lot  although they are much more discreet.

Taking the back seat at political  functions while their husbands enjoy the limelight, women power has  hardly diminished.

The wife of a senior Malaysian  politician, for example, heads a  newspaper and exerts great influence on the party.

Seasoned political writers have  long realised the importance of  spouses, cleverly forging close  links with them.

Recently, a young reporter attempted to contact a Cabinet minister at his house. Each time she  called, she was told that the Datuk  was either meeting some party  members or performing prayers.

With the deadline approaching,  the exasperated reporter finally  approached a political reporter,  telling him of her predicament.

The political reporter told her  not to worry. Picking up the phone,  he called the house and asked for  the Datin instead.

Within minutes, the busy Datuk  was calling the newsroom instead  and offering his assistance.

In fact, some politicians have  been known to send their wives to  meet the wives of their party leaders during general elections, lobbying for seats and posts.

One Datin, whose husband was  left out of an important government post after a general election,  is said to have sought the support  of another Datin.

The two Datins were said to be  close friends, often exchanging  recipes for curry dishes.

No one is quite sure what transpired in the kitchen until today  but something must have brewed  there. A plan must have been  cooked up, you may say.

Soon, the particular Datuk was  appointed to a post which he was  not recommended initially.

Politicians can tell you that the  bedroom and the kitchen can both  be a boon and a bane. You just have  to know what's cooking.