KUALA LUMPUR – September 5, 2018: The race to become PKR’s number two has been somewhat paradoxical: it is highly intense and yet hasn’t quite moved the country.
This is how some members of Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s faction describe the contest for deputy president this November. Maybe because there’s still a long way to go.
“The two factions have never been any clearer but both sides have somehow managed to avoid making major headlines,” said one of them.
Indeed, Azmin – who is seeking a third term – has been rather low-key in his campaigning, where he dishes out rhetorics only when he officiates the party’s divisional meetings.
Since announcing his candidacy on August 5, Azmin’s campaign has been saddled with criticisms, most of which questioned his loyalty to PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who will officially become president in November.
Kapar parliamentarian Datuk Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid, who is known as contender Rafizi Ramli’s ally, even demanded Azmin to vacate his parliamentary seat to make way for Anwar to prove his loyalty.
“The claim that he is plotting to one-up Anwar is just too absurd. Azmin has been there for PKR, for Anwar and for the reformasi movement since day one,” said another from Azmin’s camp.
It was not until two days ago that Azmin finally broke his silence at a party meeting over the criticisms, needling critics that most of them were mere toddlers when Anwar was sacked from the government in 1998.
“This is the person who went through all the tests and hardships to stand for and defend Anwar. I spent eight days in the police lock-up and now there is this kid who was still a toddler then claiming credit for the movement,” said Azmin, in an obvious jibe at Rafizi.
Two PKR leaders who spoke anonymously claimed that aside from his “glowing track record” as Selangor mentri besar, Azmin was the better choice because he is now Economic Affairs Minister.
“Having a deputy president who is also a minister of a crucial portfolio would strengthen PKR’s clout in the government. Mind you, in two years’ time our incoming president will be the prime minister,” the duo echoed.
Where Azmin opted a relatively low-key approach, Rafizi has done the complete opposite.
The deputy presidential-hopeful barnstormed across the country, organising rallies even in states not known to be PKR strongholds such as Kelantan and Terengganu.
“Since it’s a party election, our main focus is towards party members,” said former Kapar parliamentarian G. Manivanan, who follows the Rafizi campaign trail.
Rafizi’s campaign narrative, said Manivanan is simple — he has been working very hard since he was active in politics in 1998 until the last general elections and that a vote for him would guarantee Anwar’s rise to be prime minister.
Azmin’s alleged non-compliance with PKR’s leadership decisions and his supposed interest to become prime minister are also, according to Manivanan, highlighted at the rally.
It is likely that Manivanan was referring to the recent Selangor MB post controversy in which Ijok assemblyman Dr Idris Ahmad failed to assume the post despite being given the blessings by party higher-ups.
Instead, the person who got the post was Sungai Tua assemblyman Amirudin Shari, who according to Idris, was backed by Azmin.
To PKR Youth organising secretary Syukri Razab, the party needs a determined leader like Rafizi. “He gave up his safe seat, his income as MP and risked jail time for the sake of the party.”
Rafizi was disqualified from contesting in the last elections after a court upheld an 18-month jail sentence against him for violating the Official Secrets Act.
Although critics argue that Rafizi will not be an effective deputy president due to lack of clout, Syukri and Selangor PKR Youth deputy chief Thiban Subramaniam believe otherwise.
“It’s even better that way. Once Anwar becomes prime minister, we need a deputy that isn’t part of the government in order to have an effective check and balance. Rafizi can listen to and bring the grassroots’ voices to the government,” said Subramaniam.