No clear sky in Selangor

The popularity rating of Datuk Seri Azmin Ali is clearly on the rise but it is still unclear whether he will be able to continue with his ‘one husband, two wives’ formula after the next general election.

Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Azmin Ali cried all the way to the cemetery on the day his mother was buried.

The burial ground was a stone’s throw from his late mother’s house in Hulu Kelang and the Selangor Mentri Besar and the men in the family carried the coffin on their shoulders as they made their way on foot.

Che Tom Yahaya, 82, had spent the last months of her life in hospital, immobilised by a stroke, and the end came early last Saturday morning. She had been a pint-sized and rather stylish lady and she was the glue that held the family together throughout the years when family members were torn two ways over Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking from the government.

Azmin was fiercely loyal to Anwar but his spirited younger sister Ummi Hafilda sided with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and had joined the then Prime Minister in demonising Anwar.

The sibling split is still not over and the body language between Azmin and Ummi was quite tense throughout the funeral.

They are still not on talking terms which is quite ironic given that Dr Mahathir and Anwar, the two men who drove a wedge between them, have kissed and made up.

Ummi Hafilda tells people she feels like she has been taken for a ride all these years but, as they say, that is politics.


Datuk Prof Redzuan Othman

Dr Redzuan: His survey found Azmin’s ratings at an all-time high of 62%.

The politics of Anwar and Dr Mahathir had also caused Azmin to be estranged from Che Tom for several years and it was only in 2013, a few months after the general election, that mother and son reconciled.

Azmin was then at a low point in his political career, he felt deeply let down at being bypassed again for the Mentri Besar job and it was time to make peace with his mother.

Shortly before leaving Mecca that year, Azmin and his wife arrived at his mother’s house where he went on his knees, kissed her hand and sought forgiveness.

They put the past behind them, his career took off a year later and he has been able to provide her with the best medical care.

“He has been there in her time of need, he fulfilled his duties as a son,” said PKR politician and engineer Najwan Halimi who had rushed to the hospital at about 3am to lend moral support to Azmin.

Azmin, 52, is the fourth of six siblings but he more or less took charge of the funeral.

A string of VIPs came to pay their respects and they included the Raja Muda of Selangor Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.


Najwan Halimi, ANwar Ibrahims former special assistant

Najwan: Azmin has been able to handle sensitive issues of race and religion.

The top brass of PKR were also there and many noticed the absence of former party secretary-general Rafizi Ramli – it was a sign of the chasm between the two camps in PKR.

There has been a deluge of messages of condolences from both sides of the political divide.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak woke up early on Saturday to the sad news and immediately telephoned Azmin to offer his condolences. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi followed suit at around 6am with words of comfort.

It showed how far the PKR deputy president has come in the political scheme of things. He is someone whom the other side takes seriously.

A survey by the Selangor think-tank Institut Darul Ehsan (IDE) found the Mentri Besar’s ratings among Selangoreans at an all-time high of 62%.

“There is no reason to reject him. He has run the state well,” said IDE deputy chairman Prof Datuk Dr Redzuan Othman.

Azmin, said Najwan, is accepted by all races in Selangor and has been able to handle sensitive issues of race and religion. He also enjoys the confidence of the palace which is very important for the stability of a state government.


Mat Nadzari: Representative of the next tier of Umno figures in Selangor.

Mat Nadzari: Representative of the next tier of Umno figures in Selangor.

But as many have noted, Azmin is fortunate that his predecessor Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim had put in place a sound framework of policies ranging from the state’s economic direction to social measures like free water and welfare payouts for the needy.

Pakatan Harapan leaders are confident they will still be the government in Selangor after the 14th general election.

But none of them could answer this simple question: What will the state government look like after the general election?

Nobody, not even the political insiders in Pakatan, are able to envisage what the new creature will be like.

Will it include PAS or will PAS be out of the picture? Will Azmin persist with what one DAP politician describes as the “one husband, two wives” formula?

Will DAP become the dominant party and put forward its own Malay candidate for Mentri Besar? Can Amanah replace PAS in administrating Selangor?

For that matter, can Azmin muster the numbers to hold on to the Mentri Besar post?

Many questions but no answers.

“Everything is so murky. I think it will be another story, another stage, another script once the election is called,” said the DAP politician.

It would be hard to ignore PAS especially after the party’s big show of force last weekend.

Critics have tried to disparage the RUU355 rally, claiming that it was a bussed-in crowd, that it was smaller than the Bersih rallies and that it has alienated the non-Muslims.

But the purple rally was not only big, it demonstrated the party’s organisational skills and it showed that the core support of PAS has not been affected by Amanah.

There was also a visible presence of people in their 20s and 30s, the age cohort that every party is hungry for.

In the late afternoon, when the skies opened with a torrential downpour, the crowd did not move an inch – it was a phenomenal show of commitment to the cause.

It was also a disciplined and civil crowd that did not do things like step on the images of other leaders or stage mock funerals for those they are against.

The absence of Muslim big-guns from Pakatan at the rally also suggests that the PAS Bill is not going to get the vote of Pakatan’s Muslim MPs. The Bill will have to rely on the support of PAS and Umno MPs.

However, Pakatan will need to rethink their stand on PAS. Half of the seats in Selangor are semi-rural and dominated by Malays and Muslims and these are places where Umno and PAS hold sway.

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with PAS’ controversial Bill, it is a party to watch especially in the Malay heartland seats.

In fact, Bersih has to take a hard look at itself. The NGO began with noble aims but was seduced into the political games of Pakatan. Its last two rallies have been openly aimed at toppling Barisan Nasional and Najib.

It has strayed from its core purpose, so much so that it was only days after DAP launched a campaign to register voters, that the Bersih group announced its campaign calling on people to sign up as voters.

It seemed rather late in the day and it was, to borrow one of Donald Trump’s favourite words, sad.

In the meantime, after two terms in the political wilderness, a new tier of Umno politicians is starting to emerge in Selangor.

They are of a different worldview from the Khir Toyo era of politicians. They are down-to-earth and they are trying to be an effective opposition. Even their approach to the media is somewhat different.

They have held informal sessions with journalists to ask how they can improve communication between their party and the media. They speak good English and have a sense of humour.

For instance, Batang Kali assemblyman Datuk Mat Nadzari Ahmad, who is also the state Umno deputy chief, had joked: “I know you reporters want a young and handsome MB. Don’t worry, we have good stock, we will find one.”

A Klang-based reporter who joined the group for dinner actually found them interesting to be with.

“They did not have airs, they wanted to know what we think of them. We could talk about so many things, from politics to coffee-table books and movies and we ended up taking lots of selfies,” said the reporter.

They are no longer in “Fantasy Land”. They know public opinion is still not in their favour and they are realistic about their chances in the general election.

They said they are now more cohesive and are working to hold on to the seats they have, plus add a few more. They do not want to speculate beyond that.

Meanwhile, Azmin deserves a special award for managing two mortal enemies who condemn each other but are partners in the same government.

On the surface, Selangor looks like a halcyon marriage of a husband who has been very skilful at managing two warring wives. But will this not so romantic marriage survive the general election?

Selangor’s politics may not be as predictable as it appears.