Azmin eyes the top seat

A thrilling leadership struggle is shaping up in PKR as Azmin Ali prepares to claim his place at the top spot which has been occupied by Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail since the formation of the party.

Joceline Tan, The Star

AZMIN Ali and his wife Shamsidar Taharin returned from their umrah on Wednesday afternoon. The PKR deputy president has been to Mecca many times but the journey this time had a poignancy to it.

Hours before leaving for the airport, the couple had gone to the home of his 79-year-old mother Che Tom Yahaya. Ties between mother and son have been strained because of Azmin’s politics and he had not been to see his mother for about two years.

The reunion was thus quite emotional, at least for Che Tom, who shed tears especially when Azmin dropped to his knees at her feet and kissed her hand. He said he had realised his mistake and asked for her forgiveness.

The couple had brought along their two younger children as well as Shamsidar’s parents.

Azmin seeking forgiveness from his mother before leaving for Mecca.

Azmin’s show of filial piety softened his mother’s heart especially given that it was taking place during the Holy Month. But the matriarch was unyielding on one issue – she told him he must dissociate himself from Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“That one, let’s wait. We take it step by step,” he replied.

Politicians often perform the umrah to seek divine guidance and Azmin, as everyone knows, is at some sort of political crossroads.

The reappointment of Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim as Selangor Mentri Besar (MB) after the general election has been a crushing disappointment to him and his supporters. Azmin needs to make a big move within the party if he wishes to be in line for the job.

He feels let down by Anwar whose clout in Pakatan Rakyat seems to have failed him on this issue. Anwar may be Pakatan’s choice for PM but he was outvoted on the question of who was to be MB.

No one can tell for sure what had transpired between Azmin and Anwar on the MB matter but Azmin’s camp claims there was an understanding between Azmin and “KU” (Ketua Umum), as Anwar is known in the party, that their man would take over from Khalid.

(From left) Azmin and Khalid seen in a rare moment of togetherness at a function graced by the Selangor Sultan at the new Mesjid Nakhoda in Gombak.

The relationship between mentor and mentee is no longer what it used to be.

The first sign of that was Azmin’s absence at the 505 rallies and his statement that Pakatan should accept the election result and start serving the people who voted for them instead of holding rallies.

He also implied that Khalid had failed as MB of Selangor and even made remarks about nepotism, a dig aimed at the papa-mama-daughter power triangle in the party.

When Azmin, who is Bukit Antarabangsa assemblyman and Gombak MP, called a packed press conference at the PKR headquarters a few days before Khalid was sworn in as MB, party leaders thought he was about to announce his resignation.

Anwar had even asked secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution to be on stand-by to contest a by-election. That was how dire things had grown between Azmin and the other top-guns. But Azmin instead reaffirmed his commitment to the party and a potential party crisis was averted.

For a while after May 5, that stoic mask of his slipped and people caught a glimpse of the other Azmin. But the mask is firmly back in place.


Wan Azizah: Wields moral authority in the party.

Since then, Azmin has played it cool. He has ceased his attacks on Khalid and at a mosque function in Gombak that was graced by the Selangor Sultan, Azmin could be seen deferentially keeping two steps behind the MB.

But he was nowhere to be seen at the Selangor government Hari Raya open house on Thursday where Khalid looked thrilled to bits when Anwar and Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail made their grand entrance.

The party election is still about eight months away after being postponed to next year. There is a sort of pent-up eagerness about the polls because the stage is set for a grand showdown.

“It is a topic now, especially the post of president. But it’s very sensitive, everyone is waiting to see who makes the first move,” said Selangor Youth chief Azmizam Zaman Huri.

Despite reports to the contrary, president Dr Wan Azizah is still eligible to defend her post. Amendments to the party constitution limiting the president to three terms or nine years are effective from the last party polls in 2010 and Dr Wan Azizah can continue if she wants to.

She has held the post unchallenged since the party’s formation. But is that all about to end now that Azmin has been pushed against the wall? Is the party about to see a contest in the top post for the first time ever?

Azmin knows he is not going anywhere as long as Dr Wan Azizah is up there. The lady whom everyone knows as Kak Wan has become a powerful figure behind the scenes.

She does not throw her weight around but she exercises “soft power”. For instance, the three PKR assemblywomen appointed to the state exco are aligned to her. She has been called a “figurehead president” and even “sleeping beauty” but her clout has grown rather than diminished.

“I don’t see anyone being able to beat Kak Wan. Her popularity is unique. Even though she does not do much, she has appeal on the ground,” said a Youth wing leader from Johor.

Very few people think Azmin would dare to challenge Dr Wan Azizah. It would amount to trying to topple the lady who had made sacrifices for the party.

Besides, those who know him said he will do it only if he thinks he can win and that he is doing his homework now.

“He is experienced, he understands politics. If he wants to go for it, why not? Even Tan Sri Khalid, if he is interested he can try, no problem,” said Azmizam.

Azmizam: The top contest is a sensitive issue.

A great deal of Dr Wan Azizah’s clout was facilitated by Faekah Husin, her former political secretary who is now political secretary to the Mentri Besar. Faekah manages the Mentri Besar’s politics for him and has earned a reputation as the “Iron Lady”.

Faekah was the glue for the powerful alliance between Khalid on one side and Wan Azizah and her daughter Nurul Izzah on the other. It was also a very anti-Azmin alliance.


But there has been a big fallout between Faekah and Dr Wan Azizah. No one can quite put their finger on what went wrong between the two former besties but it is said to have something to do with appointments to the board of state GLCs or what one might call the spoils of war.

Dr Wan Azizah minus Faekah would make the challenge a little less formidable for Azmin.

But, according to a party insider, there is a dark horse in the wings. Nurul Izzah, the top vice-president, is apparently keen and ready to go for the presidency. She is riding high after winning again in Lembah Pantai.

No one doubts that Dr Wan Azizah will make way for her but will Anwar give his blessings? Moreover, it is not going to look good for the party if the presidency goes from mama to daughter with the approval of papa.

On top of that, Nurul Izzah is only 32. Imagine if Khairy Jamaluddin, now 36, tries to go for the Umno presidency; he would be criticised inside and outside the party.

There has also been chatter that Khalid is also eyeing the presidency but not many people take it seriously. Selangor is a complicated state, the MB has a lot on his plate and his health seems to be a creeping issue. Immediately after the general election, he flew off to Germany for a mysterious “operation on his leg”.

More recently, he almost passed out after the swearing-in of the state exco. The video of him slurring and listless during the press conference is up on YouTube. He was apparently hit by an acute low-sugar attack but the incident has led to speculation of diabetes.

PKR elections used to be about Anwar and his desire to have loyalists up there who can defend him in his political and private life.

But the party polls this time will see PKR leaders positioning themselves for the next general election. The more ambitious ones are impatient to move up so that they will be in a good spot if Pakatan succeeds.

After their success in two consecutive general elections, many party leaders are starting to look beyond Anwar. They are more confident than ever that the party will survive with or without Anwar.

But for now, they will still look to him for signals especially on the question of the presidency.

Even Azmin, despite the strained mentor-mentee ties, would not dare to move against Dr Wan Azizah unless Anwar gives the nod. Or will he?

Anwar is a smooth operator. If he feels that it is time for Azmin to move up, he would know how to ask Dr Wan Azizah to make way.

His problem is having to choose between two persons who have been steadfast to him through all his ups and downs.