‘Unknown factor’ to decide winner

RAFIZI Ramli has become some sort of a James Bond figure in the contest for the PKR polls.

Joceline Tan, The Star

He has “a licence to kill”, so to speak. The fact that he is neither an MP nor holding a government post gives him the leeway to speak his mind and shoot from the hip in the fight for the PKR deputy president’s post.

He has accused a close ally of his opponent Datuk Seri Azmin Ali of dishing out local government posts in exchange for votes and challenged Azmin to a public debate.

He has also accused the powers-that-be of trying to sabotage Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s bid for the premiership.

Last weekend, the PKR vice-president was campaigning in Sabah where he is quite confident of getting the votes because his Sabah allies recruited the bulk of some 20,000 new party members in the state.

Rafizi’s simple and uncomplicated message – a vote for him is a vote to make Anwar the next Prime Minister – went down well with the Sabah base. His other advantage is that Azmin has never been very popular in Sabah.

But his biggest weapon is local Pensiangan strongman Raymond Ahuar who has thrown his support behind Rafizi.

Raymond is the type you do not want to, as they say, “play-play” with.

He knows how to move the ground and his last-minute switch in support in the last party polls caused Amiruddin Shari – now Selangor Mentri Besar – to lose to Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad in the fight for the AMK leadership.

This time, Raymond plans to swing the Sabah vote for Rafizi in the fight for the deputy presidency.

Another advantage for Rafizi is that Sabah PKR chief Christina Liew is not with Azmin. Liew is also not with Rafizi but she is a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Azmin has been taking the hits but his camp has also begun to hit back.

Party members have received WhatsApp messages outlining Azmin’s tested loyalty to the party and Anwar.

The messages point out that Rafizi was still in school when Azmin had to endure tear gas and spend time in the police lockup at the height of the Reformasi street protests.

Azmin’s family also suffered and his wife was accused of carrying on a love affair with Anwar.

Despite all this, Azmin stayed put while Rafizi, they claimed, left the party for cushy jobs in the corporate sector. They said Rafizi joined full-time politics only after the 2008 general election.

According to political commentator Eddin Khoo, Rafizi’s strength lies in a certain brand of populism that plays well with the public but lacks real experience.

“Azmin has been with the party through its ups and downs; he brings credibility to the party at a national level and he carried Selangor in GE14.

“There are serious issues if the party is willing to compromise on all that,” said Khoo.

Azmin is not campaigning at all but his right-hand woman Zuraida Kamaruddin has been moving from state to state to campaign on his behalf.

Zuraida, who is Housing and Local Government Minister, has received quite positive feedback – the traditional PKR base is quite warm to Azmin; they are familiar with his track record; and they can see that he has delivered.

But the PKR membership has ballooned from 500,000 to 800,000 over the last few years.

Many of the new members were recruited by division chiefs aligned to Rafizi and the Azmin team cannot predict their support.

The new membership is the new unknown factor in the PKR polls.

What is known though is that the new recruits are mostly young; they are not adverse to the idea of Anwar becoming Prime Minister and Rafizi’s campaign pitch resonates with them.

Everyone is watching every word and body language of the Prime Minister-designate because it may boil down to who Anwar prefers.

Does he prefer the candidate who aims to make him the Prime Minister or the candidate who has been loyal to him and the party?

“Rafizi is very aggressive to imply that Anwar is with him while I can see some gap between Anwar and Azmin.

“Anwar is trying to be above it all. He needs both of them and I know he was not happy with Rafizi setting up a team,” said Unisel president and vice-chancellor Datuk Prof Redzuan Othman.

However, several division chief have received phone calls from Anwar asking them to help Rafizi as well as vice-president candidates Nurul Izzah, Datuk Johari Abdul and William Leong on the grounds that they can help the party move forward.

Nurul Izzah will win even without her father’s help. Members will want to reward her because she has been unable to accept a place in the Putrajaya government.

But Johari and Leong – MPs for Sungai Petani and Selayang respectively – will benefit from a little push from the big man.

Khoo said publicly, Anwar has made the right call not to take sides and to let the democratic process prevail.

But his dream is to become the next Prime Minister and who can blame him if he may privately prefer the candidate who shares the dream.

Still, it is not too late for Azmin to also declare that he too wants to see Anwar as the next Prime Minister.