Pakatan hit by ‘Sept 16’ rumours

Joceline Tan, The Star

TAN Sri Khalid Ibrahim does not seem to have had a bad hair day since the day he stepped down as Selangor Mentri Besar.

His hair used to be some sort of mood meter for journalists covering him when he was Selangor Mentri Besar. Neatly combed hair meant he was in a good mood, all over-the-place hair was a signal for reporters to tread carefully.

Khalid looked well-groomed when he turned up at the recent PAS muktamar in Alor Setar where he was treated like a VIP and a friend.

The millionaire politician is so chummy with PAS that there has been speculation that PAS wants him as a candidate in Selangor in the general election.

“No, no, no, I am not interested. I am quite happy as I am,” he said, breaking into his famous boat-shaped grin.

Although Khalid is no longer with PKR, he is still Port Klang assemblyman and Bandar Tun Razak MP, and he sounded like he was preparing to ride off into the sunset.

Ooi: No more basis for PAS to remain in Selangor government.

Ooi: No more basis for PAS to remain in Selangor government. 

But barely three days later, speculation that the Selangor government was about to break up filled the air, with Khalid’s name up there among the list of assemblymen supposedly poised to take over.

Khalid has not commented on the coup rumours nor has he denied it. He was in the hot seat when DAP and PKR aimed their long knives at him, and he is probably enjoying the political theatre now.

The rumours were apparently sparked off by the PAS-PKR divorce during the muktamar. Logically speaking, it meant that Pakatan Harapan is now left with only 29 seats in Selangor, just a seat away from a hung state assembly.

The PKR assemblymen said to have jumped have since denied it. Three of them are allies of Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali while the fourth, who was aligned to Khalid, tweeted that she is loyal to PKR.

It was Sept 16 all over again, except that this time the joke was on Pakatan.

Back in 2008, the architect of Sept 16, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, had claimed that he could get Barisan Nasional MPs to jump over to Pakatan Rakyat and that the Federal government would fall on Sept 16 of that year.

The Sept 16 ruse had the whole country breathless and in suspense. Anwar was so convincing that even people in Barisan believed it.

It was based on the idea of inducing elected representatives to switch sides and Sept 16 has since become a catch-phrase for bringing down a government via political cross-overs.

Unfortunately for Pakatan, the Sept 16 formula caused Perak instead of Putrajaya to fall.

The Selangor version of Sept 16 has been just as unnerving and entertaining.

Datuk Faizal Abdullah, Kapar Umno chairman

Datuk Faizal Abdullah, Kapar Umno chairman

It was also quite cunningly done in the sense that the rumour was about four assemblymen crossing over, period. It did not go further to talk about a new government or a new coalition or who would be the new Mentri Besar.

All that would be left to the imagination of the people. They can do the math – four PKR assemblymen plus PAS (13 seats) plus Umno (11 seats) plus two independent YBs would add up to 30 assemblymen and a new government.

Pakatan politicians have slammed it as a silly story and fake news. They said only the Barisan side would believe such a story.

But Kapar Umno division chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah hit back: “Don’t blame us for your own internal quarrels. We are not good at cooking up stories like the Pakatan politicians.”

The taste of one’s own medicine is apparently rather bitter. But it has not stopped some people because a Pakatan MP who had whipped up hysteria about 40,000 Bangladeshi voters in the last general election is now claiming that thousands of Chinese will be blocked from voting.

Cross-overs are ethically wrong, and it is a turn off for voters.

“Once you create the grounds for uncertainty, you open the flood gates to people who have the financial means to dominate politically. Nobody crosses over because of ideals, they do it for inducements. Pakatan helped sow the seeds for this kind of situation,” said political commentator Eddin Khoo.

Whether silly or fake, the jump ship story has been shared like crazy over social media.

PAS communications director Roslan Shahir said PAS leaders are as surprised as everyone else.

“Our party has not been approached by any group,” he said.

Roslan’s take is that whoever is behind it wants to “kacau Azmin”, that is, to shake up Azmin’s growing stature in the state.

Is Azmin all flustered and worked-up?

Azmizan: “Our MB is not worried because he has the numbers”.

Azmizan: “Our MB is not worried because he has the numbers”. 

Not really, he has been as cool as a cucumber. The Mentri Besar has been doing a lot of overseas travelling the past month, which means that he feels secure enough to go abroad.

He was in Jakarta last month where he called on the Indonesian Speaker of Parliament. He then led a state government delegation to Taiwan to look at the government system, and he was in the Middle East when the cross-over rumours began.

“The MB is not worried, he has the numbers. His image is high because he is hard-working, he works well with the civil service and has a good relationship with all the media,” said PKR supreme council member Azmizan Zaman Huri.

Azmin seems confident that PAS will stick by him in Selangor until at least the general election. More important, he has a good relationship with the palace and has the ears of the Selangor Sultan.

When asked for comments on the crossover issue, he had texted: “Back to KL on Friday and travel with Tuanku Selangor on Saturday morning to Singapore for two days. Back again in KL on Monday.”

It was an oblique way of indicating that the Palace is with him and also to stamp out gossip dancing out there that certain individuals were reportedly seeking an audience with the Sultan of Selangor.

The Mentri Besar will be with the Sultan for the Sultan of Selangor Cup tournament in Singapore on Sunday, and it will be an occasion where a picture speaks a thousand words.

“Azmin is shrewd and strategic, he is able to cut off nonsense. That’s where his strength lies,” said Khoo.

But the pressure to get PAS out before the general election has begun. The Chinese vernacular press reported DAP’s Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi calling on Azmin not to wait any longer in removing PAS from the state government.

Ooi said there was no more basis to accommodate PAS in Selangor because the party had labelled Pakatan the enemy and declared war on the coalition.

But what is Selangor DAP’s stand on this? The silence on the part of the party with the most seats in the Selangor government has been deafening and also baffling. It has been playing second fiddle instead of calling the shots.

Another odd thing about Sept 16 ala Selangor is that there are people out there who actually think it is an inside job, that the rumours were started by those opposed to Azmin.

PKR is deeply split with several co-existing camps. It is also the only party where the secretary-general is working for a DAP leader while the former secretary-general, who is also a vice-president, is more interested in building up his own NGO. So who is running PKR?

“As a party, PKR represents where Malaysia should be heading in the future but in reality, it reflects the state of Malaysian politics –egos, camps, infighting, money games. The party has lots of ideals which it cannot seem to put into practice,” said Khoo.

It does not make sense for a party to grab power with just a few more months to go before the general election. Barisan is also not interested in forcing a snap state election so near to the big one especially given that it has no chance of winning Selangor.

However, logical arguments do not sell very well in politics, and the rumours will linger on for a while more.

If there is a conclusion to be drawn from Selangor’s Sept 16, it is how well PAS has played the game.

The party has been vilified and written off by the cafe society in the Klang Valley yet it has single-handedly shown that without the Malay numbers, Selangor cannot have a strong and stable government.

PAS has played an astute double game. It has been cuddling with Umno to get favours on the RUU355 while canoodling with PKR to maintain its footprint in Selangor.

Khoo does not see Azmin ditching PAS from his administration. He sees Azmin working out an understanding so that the Islamist party will be by his side even after the general election.

Azmin’s survival instincts are impeccable, and he should be writing his own playbook on political survival.

The poker-face Mentri Besar is not easy to read but he is the one to watch in Selangor.