Azmin Ali starts to flex his muscles


Incumbent looks unstoppable as his lead over his two rivals widens in the race to retain the PKR deputy presidency.

Joceline Tan, The Star

PERMATANG Pauh was the centre of attention for PKR last weekend.

PKR circles were expecting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to use the Permatang Pauh division meeting to issue some sort of amanat or communique on the party election which will enter its final lap next weekend.

It is an open secret that the po­werful Anwar family is backing Datuk Saifuddin Nasution for the deputy president post and they thought he would use the occasion to signal his preference.

But the man is too sophisticated and experienced for that.

Instead, the Permatang Pauh MP attended the division meeting on Sunday as an ordinary member, smiled a lot and said very little.

When pressed for his views on the party polls, he stressed that it was up to the members to decide who they wanted.

His wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who had been the Permatang Pauh chief all these years, used her speech as the outgoing chairman to thank the division and to explain that her duty now was in Selangor where she is the Kajang assemblywoman.

In hindsight, it was a good thing Anwar did not openly advocate Saifuddin Nasution for the No. 2 post because Permatang Pauh members evidently have minds of their own.

Their priority was to elect people who have capability rather than those with cables.

As a result, the division chief post went to party activist Amir Ghazali while Seberang Jaya assemblyman Dr Afif Bahardin won the deputy chief post.

The pair had cut their teeth as AMK leaders and members could see their potential and commitment to the party.

It was a generational passing of the baton in Permatang Pauh from the Anwar family to young, professional leaders.

But it was not without some attempt by Dr Wan Azizah to pass the torch to someone close to her.

Penanti assemblywoman Dr Norlela Ariffin, who is seen as a proxy of Dr Wan Azizah, had also made a bid for the Permatang Pauh leadership.

She contested a total of four posts, including the division chief and deputy chief posts and lost in all.

Dr Norlela must have been quite naive not to know that this sort of multiple bids is simply not acceptable in party elections.

It is perceived as being greedy and the lady was rejected.

Permatang Pauh members also showed their tactical maturity regarding the contest for the deputy president post – they gave almost equal number of votes to Saifuddin (110 votes) and Azmin (107 votes).

Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim secured 20 votes.

Of course, the alternative argument is that Anwar’s heart is still with Azmin even though he is canvassing for Saifuddin.

The generational shift was also apparent in many other divisions, with young, former AMK leaders moving up into leadership posts at the division level.

Azmin did very well in Sabah last weekend, thanks largely to this trend.

Many of the new blood that took over the division leadership threw their support behind Azmin.

Saifuddin may claim to be the Masa Depan or future of PKR but Azmin has a credible following among the younger cohort in the party.

Unofficial results show Azmin with an unassailable lead with some 12,800 votes, followed by Khalid with over 7,000 votes and Saifuddin with over 6,000 votes.

Azmin is clearly in front after two weekends of voting in 11 states.

Last weekend was crucial because Sabah is the second biggest state for the party.

Azmin has crossed an important hurdle by doing well in Sabah where he took 57% of the votes while Khalid won 33% and Saifuddin 10%.

Azmin has often been accused of all sorts of things but the point is he has worked hard to build up contacts, cultivate the younger cohort in the party and, as one party insider put it, “nothing beats all that stroking of the ground which Azmin is so good at”.

Next week is Negeri Sembilan, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor’s turn to vote.

Selangor is PKR’s biggest state and some have suggested that it is not quite game over for Khalid who may turn out to be the dark horse given his position as the Mentri Besar.

However, it could be game over for Saifuddin whose brand is not selling despite being marketed by no less than Anwar.

It would take nothing short of a miracle for him to catch up with Azmin.

But Saifuddin managed to do quite well in Penang thanks to the Anwar factor.

He can also claim bragging rights in Kedah where he secured 51% of the votes.

He has state chief and Sungai Petani MP Datuk Johari Abdul to thank for that. Johari is said to have used his clout in Sungai Petani, Merbok and Padang Serai to give Saifuddin a much needed boost.

Johari, who is also the election director, has done a reasonable job despite the numerous boo-boos over the electoral roll and ballot papers.

He is accessible to the media unlike his predecessor, quite hands-on and always courteous.

However, some complained the election committee seemed biased against Azmin.

They claimed Azmin was leading in most of the divisions where polling was stopped on some “flimsy reason”.

Some of these divisions include Nibong Tebal in Penang and Tenom and Keningau in Sabah,

Azmin’s lead in the deputy presidency is also being bolstered by the fact that his loyalists in the AMK and Wanita contests are doing well.

Batu Caves assemblyman Ami­ruddin Shari is leading in the three-way fight for the national AMK leadership while Ampang MP Zuraidah Kamaruddin looks set for another term as Wanita chief.

All eyes will be on the grand finale next weekend.