Will Khalid remain as MB?

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A giant question mark still hangs over the survival of Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s position as Selangor Mentri Besar as his one-time political ally Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail waits in the wings.

Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is not exactly Mentri Besar material nor does she seem hungry for the post. But that has not stopped the media from asking if she is going to be the next Mentri Besar of Selangor each time they see her.

In fact, reporters had pestered her about the post on the first day of her campaign in Kajang. At that time, the PKR president had pleaded that her concern was to win the by-election and that position was not important.

On Thursday, at her first formal outing as the new YB for Kajang, the question popped up again. This time, Dr Wan Azizah stressed that her priority was to be of service to the constituents and then, ever so casually, she indicated that “the MB is doing okay”.

But that did not deter a pro-PKR news portal from blaring out the headline: “Go for it Doc! Wan Azizah does not rule out becoming the 1st woman MB”.

Dr Wan Azizah is not the only person being bugged about the Selangor Mentri Besar post.

The Mentri Besar himself has been badgered about it and those close to him said he is feeling quite irritated by the whole thing.

When he was asked about it after the state exco meeting on Wednesday, Khalid resorted to what some have described as the “palace card”. He claimed that palace officials had asked him whether those lobbying for Dr Wan Azizah to be the Mentri Besar were aware of the customs and etiquette connected to the post in a constitutional monarchy.

The implication was that the palace door were not ready to swing open for a woman Mentri Besar. The Mentri Besar post is still very much a man’s world and no woman politician has yet been able to break the gender-based social conventions or the proverbial glass ceiling associated with it.

But these are interesting times in Selangor as PKR attempts to overturn the rules of the game.

First, there was Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who thought he would be accepted as the next Selangor Mentri Besar despite being born and bred in Penang and whose political base has always been in the northern state.

And now, there is the suggestion that Selangor is ready for a woman Mentri Besar.

Perhaps it is time for a poll on whether Selangorians prefer Khalid or Dr Wan Azizah as their Mentri Besar.

The failure of the Kajang Move has left many in PKR deeply disappointed. The argument that Dr Wan Azizah’s share of the vote increased from 57% to 60% was a valiant attempt at raising morale.

But the fact was that voter turnout plunged from 88% to 72% while PKR’s margin of win went down from 6,824 votes to 5,379 votes. It was a reduced win, whichever way one looks at it.

PKR members are angry that Anwar was ineligible to contest because of the court verdict and they are furious with the judiciary. Others are just plain fed-up about the Kajang Move which they have derided as the “Longkang Move”.

The Mentri Besar question has been quite awkward for Dr Wan Azizah because she and Khalid are supposed to be political allies. Kak Wan, as she is known, had used her clout as the party president to reinstate Khalid as Mentri Besar after the general election. Most people had thought it was solely because she wanted to block her deputy president Azmin Ali from taking over.

PKR montage

‘Fixing’ Khalid

The thing is that Khalid and Dr Wan Azizah go back some ways. The former corporate figure was very supportive of Anwar’s family when Anwar was behind bars.

The millionaire politician has a reputation of being “kedekut” or stingy and is always trying to cut costs and save money as the Mentri Besar. But he has drawn from his personal savings for the party’s political activities. For instance, he is said to have contributed more than RM800,000 from his own pocket for the Kajang campaign. During the 2011 Sarawak state election, he contributed about RM2.8mil of his personal funds for campaign expenses.

When the party headquarters in Merchant Square almost went under the hammer a few years ago, he forked out more than RM4mil to pay the bank and the building is now held in trust under his name as well as that of Dr Wan Azizah and another party leader.

Some in the party had joked that Khalid’s position is secure because of his ties with the two “bukits” – Bukit Kayangan and Bukit Segambut.

Bukit Kayangan refers to Istana Bukit Kayangan or the Selangor palace with whom Khalid now enjoys a good working relationship. Bukit Segambut refers to Anwar’s residence, which some call Istana Segambut because that is where the power in PKR is located.

But there are doubts as to whether Dr Wan Azizah is still committed to Khalid or whether she will, as the dutiful wife that she is, bow to her husband’s wishes to take over from Khalid. After all, she had taken over her husband’s place in Kajang without a murmur.

Khalid’s supporters think that attempts to undermine his position may also be coming from outside PKR. They were deeply suspicious of the recent Selcat hearing to look into the sacking of Azmin and a string of staff from the state development arm, PKNS.

Selcat, the Select committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency, is supposed to conduct hearings on issues of public interest. But they claimed the PKNS issue was out of Selcat’s scope of work. They said the hearing became like an industrial court trial and they were particularly unhappy about the way a panel member grilled Khalid on the sacking of Azmin and had even asked whether Azmin would be reinstated.

“Selcat’s role is to pave the grounds for accountable public policy. It is not there to reverse decisions made by the executive. I am not saying that this is the case but the perception is that someone out there wants to fix Tan Sri Khalid,” said a senior Selangor government figure.

Khalid has since jumped into the ring for the No 2 post in PKR together with secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution and vice-president Tian Chua to take on Azmin.

Some think that Khalid is making a mistake by equating the Mentri Besar post with the top party post. If he loses, the moves to undermine him will increase. And if Azmin defeats Khalid, he can then use the victory as grounds that he deserves a shot at the Selangor post.

Brother versus friend

Azmin is actually a hardworking and committed politician who has put in a lot for the party.

Reporters covering Parliament have a high regard for him. At one time, he was one of the most watched MPs in the house. He does not say stupid or crazy things like some other MPs. You would not catch him claiming that Pakatan Rakyat would have found MH370 by now or offering to be taken hostage in place of the passengers.

Johari Abdul

Johari: “This is not a battlefield, let’s approach the election like a fiesta.”

Moreover, he speaks proper Bahasa Malaysia, unlike many other MPs who sound like they are from a foreign country when they speak the language. He uses polite terms even when attacking the other side and he treats reporters with respect.

His problem is his public image and one survey after another has shown him trailing Khalid as the preferred choice for Mentri Besar. Some have likened their conflict to the PKR version of the rivalry between Khairy Jamaluddin and Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir.

But in a recent interview with an online portal, Azmin had said: “Khalid is like my brother.”

Azmin was PKR’s campaign director when Khalid stood for the Ijok by-election in 2003. He had virtually hand-held Khalid through the by-election and even taken Khalid to an up-market hair salon for a haircut, manicure and pedicure.

The days of brotherhood were short-lived. Their relationship soured after Khalid was made Mentri Besar over Azmin in 2008.

The bickering has become quite open with Azmin criticising Khalid over the huge pay increases for elected representatives in Selangor and questioning Khalid’s handling of the PKNS controversy.

When Khalid announced that he was contesting the deputy president post shortly before the start of the Kajang campaign, Azmin’s response was that “we must know our priorities and duties”. It was his way of putting down Khalid.

Khalid had wanted to contest the deputy president post in the 2010 party election but Anwar had pleaded with him to back off. He told Khalid that it would affect their friendship.

But the very same “friend” tried to replace him as the Mentri Besar while his “brother” means to finish him off in the contest for the deputy presidency.

PKR election director Datuk Johari Abdul has urged PKR members to approach the party election as they would a fiesta.

Johari is a P. Ramlee fan and he wants the party polls to be “gumbira,” which was P. Ramlee’s playful way of saying “gembira” or happy in a number of his movies.

This, however, is not a movie set but a high-stakes election that has been long in the making.