PKR polls: What is Azmin’s next move?

(MMO) – All eyes are now on Datuk Seri Azmin Ali now that PKR vice-president and political rival Rafizi Ramli has made an official bid for his incumbent party deputy presidency in its internal election next month.

Rafizi threw down his gauntlet on Sunday, and at the same time unveiled his “dream team”, consisting of several political heavyweights who will be part of his camp for the PKR elections.

With less than a week to go before nominations for the PKR polls (August 5), the question now is how Azmin, who is a two-term deputy president, will choose to respond to Rafizi’s open challenge.

Azmin has not formally stated whether he will defend his current post, but that is the most plausible scenario, given the fact that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has said he will be running for the PKR presidency.

There is no love lost between Azmin and Rafizi either; as their rivalry and past disputes have been open secret.

Malay Mail understands that while Azmin prefers to keep his cards to his chest, his so-called “cartel” ― PKR leaders aligned to him ― are already in the process of deciding on which posts they want to contest in, as well as the general theme of the Gombak MP’s election campaign.

“Even though the nominations are on August 5, right now, he is focused on the Sg Kandis by-election,” a PKR leader close to Azmin’s camp told Malay Mail when contacted, referring to the minister.

“He will likely make the announcement (on contesting the deputy presidency) after the by-elections and once nominations are over.”

Another PKR leader described Rafizi’s decision to unveil his election team ahead of nominations as “disruptive”, and would likely result in more bickering before the actual party elections.

“The actions in hurriedly naming his ‘cai’ or team gives out a bad impression, and will most likely cause division within the party before the elections,” the source said, using the term that refers to a “menu” of endorsed candidates.

Azmin’s team vs Rafizi’s team

Rafizi has named several PKR lawmakers — including Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar for vice-president, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh for Wanita chief, and Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad as a member of its central leadership council.

Sungai Petani MP Datuk Johari Abdul, Selayang MP William Leong and Sungai Siput MP S. Kesavan were three others endorsed for the vice-presidential posts.

Rafizi also endorsed Batu Tiga assemblyman Rodziah Ismail for the Wanita deputy chief.

Johor Baru MP Akmal Nasir was tipped by Rafizi to take over the baton from incumbent Youth wing chief Nik Nazmi, and Sabah Youth chief Raymon Ahuar for the deputy wing chief.

It is understood that among Azmin’s allies, current Wanita PKR chief Zuraida Kamaruddin will be not be defending her post and will instead vie for a vice-presidential spot within PKR.

Current Wanita PKR deputy chief Haniza Talha will face Fuziah for the Wanita PKR post.

The party’s Youth wing may also see a potential three-way fight between Rafizi’s protege Akmal, Azmin loyalist Youth deputy chief Dr Afif Bahardin, and Kota Anggerik assemblyman Najwan Halimi.

Malay Mail understands that Dr Afif has not made a final decision on the matter yet, but is expected to do so within the next 48 hours or so.

Najwan, a former aide of Anwar, will likely contest on a platform of being a “neutral” face as the other two are staunch supporters of Azmin and Rafizi.

“In the event that either Rafizi or Azmin wins the No. 2 post, the Youth wing needs a neutral face like Najwan who can be seen to work with any of the two leaders and to ensure that the different wings can carry out their functions professionally,” another source told Malay Mail.

‘Unity’ vs ‘reformasi’

Rafizi Ramli has said that his decision to contest is about defending the party’s reformist ideals, and to ensure that the agenda remains the current Pakatan Harapan government’s priority after winning GE14.

Rafizi’s campaign is even hashtagged #Reformasi20Tahun.

In contrast, Azmin will most probably rely on a similar campaign manifesto as the “Keadilan Raya” concept used in his 2014 deputy presidential bid.

Back then, Azmin had called on PKR members to vote for a “tested” leader who will unite the party as “one force” and push for the rights of all races in Malaysia.

He had called on members to vote for a leader who is “stern, tested, able and loyal” and one who was in touch with the party’s grassroots movement.

And it is this same message of “muafakat” (unity), consensus and leadership that will be used as overarching themes for his campaign.

“Azmin will be more inclusive in the sense that his campaign will most likely around the same themes as the Keadilan Raya campaign ― the main message will be unity, and selecting a leader who can work with different interest groups,” a senior PKR leader told Malay Mail.

The PKR source added that Azmin has proven his ability as an effective leader by running Selangor successfully and helping Pakatan Harapan win a even bigger electoral majority in GE14.

“Azmin had to face so many challenges, but he came out on top,” the source said.

Another issue that Azmin and his camp will seek to address is the economic affairs minister’s unwavering loyalty for Anwar.

“There has been a perception that having Azmin as deputy will threaten Anwar’s position, when this is untrue. Time and time again, Azmin has proven his loyalty.

“Back in 2014, Azmin could have contested challenged Wan Azizah for the presidency when Anwar did not contest it, but he did not…he was and still is an Anwar loyalist at heart,” the PKR leader said.

Azmin was reported yesterday denying that he is being used by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to keep Anwar in check, insisting his loyalty to the PKR de facto leader.

The party will go to the polls at the end of August.