Will Anwar rock the boat again?

Philip Golingai, The Star

ROCK the boat. Don’t tip the boat over. Rock the boat. Don’t rock the boat, baby. Rock the boat.”

The song Rock the Boat by The Hues Corporation played in the mind of political analyst Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin when asked about a conspiracy to stop Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from becoming Prime Minister.

The Pakatan Harapan boat was rocked when two PKR leaders aligned to PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli recently claimed there was such a plot.

Kapar MP Datuk Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid alleged that Tun Daim Zainuddin had a role in a conspiracy to again deny Anwar the premiership. He claimed if Rafazi’s challenge for Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali’s PKR deputy president post failed, Anwar would face problem replacing Tun Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister.

Is the conspiracy imagined or real?

“You have to begin by looking at the idea that Dr Mahathir has promised in the next two years Anwar will take over as prime minister,” Shamsul Amri said.

Knowing Dr Mahathir, he continued, if you are given that promise, you don’t rock the boat.

“You do what he asks you to do and when the time comes he will pass the premiership,” he said.

The challenge for Prime Minister-designate Anwar is to stop his people from rocking the boat, Shamsul Amri noted. “The question is, can Anwar control his men so that the boat is not rocking?”

In 1998, the then Prime Minister and Umno president Dr Mahathir had once seen the then Deputy Prime Minister Anwar rock the boat. A then Anwar loyalist, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was Umno Youth chief at that time, had attacked Dr Mahathir publicly in the party assembly when he spoke about cronyism, corruption and nepotism (allegations that brought down Indonesia president Suharto).

“When they started rocking the boat in 1998, Anwar didn’t get to be PM,” said Shamsul Amri. “The same thing is happening now. They can either rock the boat or remain silent, let Anwar become an MP and wait for two years or so for him to be PM.”

“You can see Anwar’s language – that he will take a backseat as a backbencher. What does this mean? He doesn’t want to rock the boat. He will wait when Dr Mahathir is ready to pass the baton. But I cannot see how the people who support Anwar can keep quiet,” he said.

Since the 1990s, according to Shamsul Amri, Anwar’s supporters have always been impatient.

“Anwar knows he cannot rock the boat. He, himself, knows that if he rocks the boat, he might miss the boat for the second time. He also knows that if he rocks the boat, he will sink with the boat,” he said.

History is repeating itself. There’s a fear among some Pakatan leaders of Anwar’s ability to rock the boat, according to Shamsul Amri.

In 1993, Anwar ousted Tun Ghafar Baba and took over from him as deputy Prime Minister and Umno deputy president.

“People around Dr Mahathir feared Anwar as he proved that he was capable of that. They didn’t want this to happen to Dr Mahathir,” he said.

“They had to sort him out. How? All sort of things came out, there were police reports – as much as it was real as it could have been fake news before fake news (became a term).”

The Pakatan boat is rocking with the allegation of a conspiracy, according to Bridget Welsh, a John Cabot University associate professor of political science, because within the coalition there is significant trust deficit.

“These type of stories reflect the trust deficit. There is a deep seated suspicion on Daim and the relationship between Dr Mahathir and Anwar which is fed by Umno as well. Umno thinks the only path to victory is for Pakatan to collapse,” she said.

This type of narrative is not unexpected, Welsh added.

“The question really is what Anwar Ibrahim has done to instill the confidence among others that he is working in a constructive manner toward addressing these issues.

“The stories about the voice recording (which Anwar denied he is the voice behind short audio clips lashing out at Azmin) and others feed this kind of narrative which make people perceive that Anwar is focused on power and not in representing the people and this message has to be addressed by multiple people in Pakatan.”

When the allegations of a conspiracy came from Pakatan, she said, it is not surprising the public believed it was going on as PKR leaders were feeding information that was very distablising to the government.

The allegation of a conspiracy is also a symptom of a divisive PKR polls where Team Rafizi has been attacking Team Azmin. Team Rafizi has been claiming that only they will fight to make sure Anwar become Prime Minister.

The fact that Azmin, said Shamsul Amri, was appointed Economic Affairs Minister is significant. He believed the appointment was due to Daim’s strong recommendation and not Anwar’s.

“What does this imply? Daim suggested and Dr Mahathir agreed. And they (those making conspiracy allegations) superimpose this understanding into a conspiracy that Dr Mahathir and Daim want to make Azmin a Prime Minister,” he said. “That is how they rock the boat. The fear is Anwar will not become PM but Azmin will.”

He added the Rafizi’s faction is suspicious of Azmin. Their suspicion is fueled by the failed Kajang move masterminded by Rafizi. Azmin was not supposed to be Selangor Mentri Besar but PKR president Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Rafizi’s role, according to Shamsul Amri, is to reaffirm that Anwar and not Azmin become the next Prime Minister.

“Azmin was never a PKR candidate for Selangor MB and Economic Affairs Minister and yet he managed to get these two positions,” he said.

Unlike Rafizi, Azmin, he said, was not making any noise. “See, the keyword is ‘don’t rock the boat’.”

If Azmin retained his PKR deputy president post and Rafizi lost, he believes the boat will continue to be rocked. “Rafizi and gang don’t think Azmin is for Anwar,” he said.

At the end of the interview, Shamsul Amri played a YouTube video of Rock the Boat, letting the words loom: “Rock the boat. Don’t tip the boat over. Rock the boat. Don’t rock the boat, baby. Rock the boat.”