The rise of Azmin Ali

Azmin Ali

(Malaysian Chinese News) – Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali’s political influence and status have been on the rise since he took over the post. If I’m not mistaken, Azmin, who is at his prime at 52, is the last influential supporter of Anwar in his camp and has remained faithful.

When Anwar was at his peak, Azmin was his secretary. The funny thing is it was Mahathir who recommended Azmin to Anwar when the latter returned from his studies in the US in the 80’s. Anwar trusted him and later they become both the mentor and friend.

In 1998, Anwar was removed from his official post and sacked from the party by Mahathir. Anwar launched his Reformasi movement with many followers, including Malays in the middle and lower class but not UMNO leaders.

Azmin chose to support Anwar, together with Ezam and Mansor, both were Anwar’s political secretaries when he was the finance minister and deputy Prime Minister. Of course heavyweights also include Aliran founder Chandra Muzzafar and businessman Khalid as well as intellects of different races.

In those years, Azmin was close to Mahathir. Why didn’t he choose to stay in UMNO but instead follow Anwar? Azmin has never revealed this secret in full. However, looking at things today, it seems to be the right choice. Those who found it hard in the struggle with Anwar have already left him.

When Azmin married in 1988, Mahathir attended the wedding ceremony and blessed the couple even though Azmin was already the secretary to Anwar. On Dec 13, 2015, Mahathir was also invited to the marriage ceremony of Azmin’s elder daughter. The guests included the Sultans of Johor and Selangor and Muhyiddin. It implied that Azmin had been regarded favourably as a national leader just two years after his appointment.

There is rumor that Azmin is the god-son of Mahathir and Mahathir is his god-father. But what is indisputable is that their relationship has been good all the time. Azmin was involved in the struggle between Mahathir and Anwar. Fortunately, it had not affected his participation in the general election.

Azmin has not betrayed Anwar. He had not met Mahathir since 1998 when Anwar was sacked. It was until 2015 when he was called by Mahathir that he, with the consent of Anwar, had a face-to-face meeting with Mahathir. In other words, that was a meeting after 17 years.

Of course at that time, Azmin was no more a small fry. He was a political leader with substantial influence. Because he had not left PKR, he contested for the deputy president’s seat when Chandra Muzzafar and Syed Hussein Ali left the posts. His rival was Zaid Ibrahim who was once a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. With his victory, his has been on the rise in the party.

In 2008, he won both the parliamentary and state seats. More surprising, the opposition also won the Selangor state and a PKR leader was to be appointed as the Menteri Besar. Anwar’s first choice was Khalid and his performance was not bad. Pakatan Rakyat formed by opposition parties kept its ruling power in Selangor in the 2013 election.

Even though Azmin and Khalid had not been quite agreeable with each other, Azmin remained as an EXCO member. However, in his heart, he was never comfortable with Khalid’s leadership. He had asked Anwar to replace Khalid but Anwar found it difficult to do so as he could not promote Azmin in such a short time. Nevertheless, in the party election, Azmin held on to his No 2 seat even when challenged by Khalid. In private, Anwar engineered the resignation of the Kajang state assembly and launched the Kajang Movement so that he (Anwar) could contest in the by-election and become the Menteri Besar.

However, what man propose, god dispose. Anwar was jailed before the nomination day on sodomy charges and was disqualified. He was replaced by his wife Wan Azizah. She was elected but Anwar never expected the move to make his wife the Menteri Besar to meet with so many obstacles. First PAS objected and then the Sultan disagreed, resulting in the rise of Azmin quite unexpectedly.

With his appointment as the Menteri Besar, Azmin’s power in the party was further strengthened. His responsibility was even heavier with Anwar being imprisoned. It was very obvious during the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections in May. Azmin called for a one-on-one fight but was rejected by PAS. Eventually, DAP moved in, leading to PAN joining the fight. The result was an internal fight which benefited Barisan, allowing it in winning the two seats with bigger majorities. That proved that a split opposition camp could never defeat the ruling party.

The second instance was the launch of the Citizens’ Declaration by Mahathir in May to oust Najib. Azmin represented PKR and sat alongside Mahathir which was an indication of his enhanced status.

Now Mahathir said he wanted to form a new party to collaborate with other opposition parties to replace Barisan which, of course, was welcomed by PKR. Wan Azizah wanted reformation and the release of her husband besides removing Najib while Azmin enjoys a unique position as Mahathir’s liaison man and is pivotal to the formation of an opposition alliance.

If Azmin had chosen to discard Anwar and follow Mahathir, he might have been appointed a minister in a short time. However, after Mahathir’s retirement in 2003, it would be a question mark whether he would still be taken seriously. Because of a strange twist of fate, he remained faithful to Anwar and has now become a star politician among the new generation. His future role would be to reconcile Mahathir with Anwar and set aside all their differences.

And now we have the third example as regards to a possible snap election in Penang. How would Pakatan play out its strategy? Would PAS start a triangular fight? What about the conflicts between DAP and PKR? All this would have to be resolved one by one by Azmin.

But time is running out. Azmin may not have the time to juggle all these issues; due mainly to DAP’s conviction that it would seize the initiative in a snap election now while PKR is not sure whether it can keep all its seats. In addition to all this, Azmin would still need to resolve the conflicts between PAS and PAN and they are not easy task.