The recent call for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to go for the PKR presidency is loaded with political implications for the party election taking place in a few months’ time.
TIMING is so important in politics and the Selangor Mentri Besar’s timing has been way out. Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is still battling the political storm kicked up by the sensational jump in salaries for the Selangor assemblymen.
It could not have come at a worse time for him. Khalid’s own party leaders have publicly criticised his state budget over the last few weeks and there have even been furtive moves to replace him as Mentri Besar (MB).
The pay increase for some of the office-bearers is so huge that those on his team have been left struggling to justify it. Some of the main beneficiaries, instead of offering a rational argument, resorted to taking potshots about private jets and diamonds. It was the most unprofessional way to deflect calls for an explanation.
The one that took the cake was Khalid saying that the pay hike for the Sarawak representatives was much more. It was quite bizarre that Pakatan Rakyat, which has condemned everything about the Sarawak government, was now using it as a benchmark.
Khalid is on shaky ground and, this time, he has largely himself to blame. His party boss Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is said to have received lots of text messages asking him to step in and do something.
As the ketua umum or principal leader, Anwar has wide-ranging say on party matters. But he is unlikely to do anything radical with the PKR election just another three months’ away.
Besides, Anwar has problems of his own. The appeal on his sodomy case is coming up and he is under pressure to end his days as the ketua umum.
Last Sunday was the party’s special congress to amend the PKR constitution to enable it to function more effectively. But the buzz coming from the congress was not over the amendments but the surprise call by one of the speakers for Anwar to contest the presidency of PKR.
The person making the call was Batu Caves assemblyman Amirudin Shari who is a loyalist of deputy president Azmin Ali.
Azmin is also the Selangor PKR chairman and Gombak division chief. Amirudin, on the other hand, is the party secretary in Selangor and deputy Gombak chief. It was as good as Azmin himself saying it.
Anwar may or may not have seen that coming but it was the sitting president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail who was caught blind-sided. It could not have been too comfortable for her to sit up there and listen to calls for her husband to take over from her.
As expected, he side-stepped the matter when he made his winding-up speech at the end of the congress.
It was classic Malay politics at play and was a masterful move. Azmin had cast one stone and struck four objectives.
The first objective was to do away with the ketua umum post. The chain of command in the party has become rather confusing with a ketua umum and a president up there who are husband and wife.
“We are never sure whether a decision comes from the president or ketua umum. When things go wrong, he says I am just the advisor but his advice is like an order. It was okay in the beginning but our party is growing and there is no place for a ketua umum in a democratic party. It’s time for Anwar to move up,” said a Youth wing leader from Johor.
The father, mother and daughter configuration has also become an issue.
“We cannot stand this papa and mama thing anymore. All roads lead to Anwar after passing through Kak Wan, and that causes problems,” said a Selangor leader.
The second objective was to signal to Dr Wan Azizah that it is time to move on, and what better way to say it than to suggest that her husband take over. Next year will be the 14th year with Kak Wan, as she is known to all, at the top and the Azmin faction thinks that it is timely for her to make way.
Many in the party were quite content to have her as president while her ketua umum husband called the shots. But everything changed when she also started flexing her muscles on major party matters. She has been accused of using her presidential clout to get Khalid reappointed as Selangor MB without going through the party process.
Kak Wan and Azmin have a civil relationship but it is very formal and does not extend beyond the party. They are not on a “I phone you, you phone me level”. But Azmin would be able to do that with Anwar because their ties go back a long way.
The third objective was to checkmate Nurul Izzah. If Anwar is the president, Nurul Izzah would have to stay put as vice-president. The party would become a laughing stock if papa is president and daughter is deputy president.
Nurul Izzah is very ambitious. She would have contested the deputy president post in the last party polls if her father had not put his foot down. Since then, she has been toying with the idea of going for the presidency. Her rivalry with Azmin goes down to a very personal level and she wants to stop him at all cost.
But most people in the party think that she is no match for him – yet. She is only 33 and her learning curve has not been as sharp as it should be. She defeated two big-guns from Umno in Lembah Pantai largely on the strength of her family name and personal charisma.
She is very popular in the party but even her fans admit that while her charisma is 10/10, her intellect and grasp of issues is only 6/10. She shines on the ceramah stage but has not impressed many in Parliament.
She still has some growing up to do because, as the above Johor Youth leader put it, “the future president is more than just being binti Anwar”.
“I’m in this party because I believe in something. I did not join to keep the family up there. We’re sending the wrong message to the public. We say we are the new politics but we put up with nepotism,” said the Youth leader.
The fourth objective was Azmin’s camp testing the waters to see if Anwar is interested in the presidency. If he is, then they will support him 100%. If he is not, they will push their man to go for it.
“I don’t know about camps but the party needs Anwar to be up there. The ketua umum post was a stop gap measure decided at the Seremban congress because the ROS (Registrar of Societies) did not let him contest for president. It’s time to reverse the Seremban decision,” said supreme council member Fariz Musa.
Azmin, despite his ambitions, is actually quite a cautious politician. But he has been pushed to the wall and he is fighting for survival.
He has used the special congress to spark off discussion about who should be the next president of PKR. He is challenging what used to be a taboo subject – questioning Dr Wan Azizah’s claim to the top post.
Shortly after the general election, he came out in the open on the “N word”, namely the awkward issue of nepotism in the party. He had mentioned it in the context of the way Dr Wan Azizah had endorsed Khalid for the MB post without consulting the Selangor PKR body.
He did not mention names but it was like he had unlocked a secret door and many of the younger members are now talking about it.
He is beginning to emerge from under the shadow of his mentor and starting to take political risks.
Azmin’s problem in recent years is that he has been unsure whether Anwar is still 100% with him. He felt that Anwar let him down over the MB appointment and he can see Anwar cultivating new faces in the party.
For instance, academic expert on Constitutional law Dr Aziz Bari was for a while seen as a potential MB candidate.
Anwar had wanted Dr Aziz to contest a state seat but he ran into some trouble with the Palace for his comments on a religious matter. Khalid tried but failed to bring him to meet the Sultan to resolve things and Dr Aziz eventually contested and lost in the Sabak Bernam parliamentary seat.
Anwar is always on the lookout for professional and moderate Malays to bring pulling power to the party and minimise the impact of DAP. A party insider said that the new Ijok assemblyman, Dr Idris Ahmad, is also a potential MB and that Azmin cannot take things for granted.
“It signals his desire to give PKR a different image, not just the one displayed by Azmin and gang,” said the insider.
But Anwar aside, very few can match Azmin in terms of grassroots support and organisation at this point in time. He has his people everywhere and they are real politicians in contrast to the wishy-washy NGO types who talk a lot and do little.
Selangor and Sabah are the two biggest states for PKR. They can make or break a candidate. But with the Sabah side in shambles, the leading state is now Selangor where Azmin is king of the hill.
Kota Raja in Selangor is also the biggest division or cabang in the entire country. It has more than 11,000 members, about half of whom comprise the Youth wing.
It is one of those king-maker divisions and most candidates want to be carried by Kota Raja. In the 2010 party polls, those vying for the top Youth post made a beeline for Kota Raja to seek the endorsement of its Youth chief Azmizam Zaman Huri who is also the Selangor Youth chief and a loyalist of Azmin.
The question from now until the party congress in March is whether Anwar will go for the presidency. It is his for the asking but some have suggested that he does not relish being tied down with presidential chores. Being ketua umum suited him beautifully – the post did not have much responsibility but carried lots of power.
“What we don’t want is a contest for the president post because it will be difficult for us on the ground,” said deputy secretary-general Steven Choong.
If Anwar declines, it will likely be a fight between Dr Wan Azizah and Azmin. One is his wife and the other is like his kid brother, and they have stood by him through his ups and downs. Life for the ketua umum is about to get more interesting than that of the Selangor MB.
BY JOCELINE TAN