Selangor MB Khalid in defensive play?


Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, The Malay Mail

Described as a “brilliant economist but not the best politician”, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is showing that he is not the political greenhorn that his critics make him out to be.

Since a “Kajang Move” that could ostensibly lead to his removal as Selangor mentri besar, there has been a palpable change in how the usually media-shy Khalid is now seeking out the limelight.

Last week, Khalid took centre stage when he unexpectedly signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Putrajaya that will pave way for the controversial Langat 2 water treatment plant that PKR and the larger Pakatan Rakyat (PR) pact has resisted for years.

The hastily-inked MoU between Selangor and Putrajaya has added to the intrigue surrounding the March 23 Kajang by-election, itself already a complex affair that is believed to be designed to allow Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to replace Khalid as MB.

The MoU signing was described by former minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, a hopeful for the Kajang by-election, as having “checkmated” Anwar’s purported ambitions on the Selangor MB’s office.

Khalid is also not stopping there. He has now fielded interview after interview, and last night appeared on national television together with Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili to spell out the MoU.

And if he steps on any toes along the way, Khalid said it will not be the first time.

“In all my decades of work experience, the words ‘not happy’ is not something I am only encountering now,” Khalid said during an interview on TV3 last night.

“When I took over Guthrie, many were ‘not happy’. When I took over estates in Indonesia, many were also ‘not happy’.”

Signal that he wants to stay

Khalid’s recent actions paint a picture of a man not yet resigned to relinquishing his grip on the coveted position of Selangor mentri besar, and of an administrator firmly in control of the management of the state.

His willingness to co-operate with the Najib administration, coupled with series of back-to-back interviews with Barisan Nasional-linked (BN) media outlets The Star and TV3, also suggests that the former corporate figure will use whatever means at his disposal to send a strong message to his opponents within PKR that he wants to see through his term in the state government.

“Anwar Ibrahim and Rafizi Ramli have been saying that Khalid cannot become a politician, well, it is clear he is now showing he can be just a shrewd and cunning in political manoeuvering.

“Khalid is showing he can play the political game well, and is sending a signal that he wants to remain as MB, at least until the end of his term,” Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) think tank, told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.

And despite Anwar’s insistence that the Selangor water deal has not been finalised, Khalid went ahead and met Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on Tuesday to agree on signing a heads of agreement that could further cement the original MoU signed last week.

During the interview with TV3, Khalid also insisted that the deal was “enshrined” and not subject to change, suggesting it would bind not just him but any who replaces him as MB.

“When a state makes an agreement, it must fulfill this, no matter the personalities,” Khalid said.

This, more than anything, suggests that the water deal was more than just another administrative matter.

Plans to become PKR deputy president

The water deal announced last week was also not the only surprise, as an emboldened Khalid also revealed his plan to challenge bitter rival Azmin Ali for the PKR deputy presidency this coming April, when the party is scheduled to have its elections.

It is also understood that Khalid is slowly putting together his team for the party polls, allying himself with the likes of PKR senator Syed Syahir Syed Mohamud and central leadership council member Mustafa Kamil Ayub.

Khalid’s move will likely present a challenge to sections of PKR aligned with Anwar and Azmin, but it also conveys that he has no plans of leaving politics anytime soon.

It will also undoubtedly make any efforts to remove him as mentri besar more difficult if a sizeable amount of the party backs him to stay on to lead Malaysia’s richest state.

“The Kajang move was essentially a surprise, a political move, So Anwar only has himself to blame now that Khalid’s coming up with surprises of his own.

“Anwar created a precedent, now he has to deal with this,” said Wan Saiful.

What will happen after the Kajang by-election? As Khalid continues to keep his cards close to his chest, only time can tell, but what is clear is that it will no longer be business as usual.