Anwar and Azmin both stand to lose big

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 29, 2019 - August 04, 2019.
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BACK in the 1960s, a menteri besar and a very popular state assemblyman from his own party were embroiled in a political spat. Nothing as bitter as the one we are seeing now involving Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, but a spat nonetheless.

The demand by a big number of Umno members then was that the menteri besar be removed and replaced by the state assemblyman, who was known to be popular with the rakyat.

The situation reached a stage where then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had to choose between the two. It was said that Tunku knew of the capability and popularity of the state assemblyman but at the same time, acknowledged that the MB was not without his supporters.

Choosing one over the other would damage, if not split, Umno. Hence, Tunku appointed someone out of the field to be menteri besar. A capable person, but someone who was considered a compromise candidate. It was a compromise not in a negative way, but one that was accepted by both the supporters of the MB and the popular YB as well.

The MB quit to make way for his successor while the YB was appointed speaker of the state assembly.

Now, coming to the Anwar-Azmin spat, if the feud becomes prolonged, will Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad choose a compromise candidate as his successor when he steps down?

It is hard to tell but the consensus among several political analysts is that Mahathir is seen as the one who gains the most and holds all the cards as a result of the intrigue.

“The person who will benefit from the conflict between the top two leaders in PKR is definitely the prime minister as it will give him time to draw up his policies and vision for the country,” Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani of government affairs and public policy consultancy Bower Group tells The Edge.

That would mean Mahathir will not be hounded over the time frame and deadline for handing over power.

This is also the view of analysts quoted by The Malaysian Insight. They say the current rift in PKR is reason enough to delay the transition of power from Mahathir to Anwar.

According to the analysts, the rift has split PKR to the point where almost half of its senior leaders are openly choosing sides between Anwar and Azmin.

But the current rift between the two, which is the worst to date, is also putting a big burden on Mahathir in ensuring that Pakatan Harapan remains intact, although he has said he will not interfere in the internal affairs of PKR. Already, there is talk of a possible implosion, not only of PKR but of Pakatan Harapan itself.

Veteran Umno politician Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has said that whether or not there will be an implosion “depends on the number of supporters between the two PKR leaders and if they go head-to-head”.

The recent PKR retreat in Port Dickson was to mend ties between Anwar and Azmin, perhaps with Mahathir as the mediator. I must stress the “perhaps”. Anyway, Mahathir was there to launch the event, but Azmin did not turn up, not only for the official opening ceremony but for the entire duration of the retreat.

I contacted a member of Azmin’s inner circle and put forward the opinion that the deputy PKR president’s absence was not a snub of Anwar but rather, a snub of Mahathir. His response: “It can be seen that way, yes, but the reality is otherwise.”

But Azmin was present at a special prayer session held at the Selangor menteri besar’s residence a few days later and made some remarks that are not easy to read.

In addressing the crowd, he vowed to fight even “if I have to face with the person whom I once knew”. Also, he declared that “loyalty has its limits”.

Talking to reporters at the same event, Azmin told them not to pit the president and the deputy against each other “as we have been together in the party for decades and are both on the same team”. He also said he would cooperate with the president to champion the party’s agenda. Such remarks can only mean he was accepting the olive branch extended by Anwar.

But Azmin also told the media that very night that he knows the mastermind behind the circulation of the sex video that implicated him.

A source close to the party president believes Azmin is provoking the party to sack him.

Team Anwar and Team Azmin have always existed. And the feud between the two leaders is also not new and is no secret — only now, everything is out in the open.

As Asrul says, the Malaysian public is certainly not amused. “I do not think the public has the appetite for this kind of scandal and it is unwise for either camp to assume that they can leverage on this political footnote for their own mileage,” he says. The scandal he is talking about is, of course, the sex video implicating Azmin.

But Tian Chua, who is among PKR leaders aligned to Team Azmin, believes the party has the strength to weather the storm. So, too, does Fahmi Fadzil from Team Anwar. He says the party is very familiar with “this style of political warfare”, referring to the use of alleged sex scandals as ammunition.

A longtime PKR watcher says in the midst of “by far the worst crisis PKR has undergone since it was formed, there is still optimism, but not much, that Anwar and Azmin can patch things up.

They go back a long way and have a history of not seeing eye-to-eye on many occasions. But there were many times when they stuck with each other. So, for the grassroots, there is still the hope that the feud will not burn out PKR and Pakatan Harapan”.

The political observer also says Anwar needs to rein in Azmin’s detractors in his camp and likewise, Azmin must check Anwar’s critics in his backyard.

The neutrals, says the observer, are hoping that the friendship built over the years from when Azmin was Anwar’s aide in the government will save the day but “if both let their supporters get the better of them, all is lost”.

As it is, Anwar and Azmin appear to be in a fight to the finish. And one thing’s for sure — both will lose big time if they allow this war between them to rage on.

 

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