What Rafizi’s stunning comeback means for PKR

Joceline Tan, The Star

THE only person who was not shocked about the outcome of the PKR deputy president contest was apparently Rafizi Ramli.

While his team fretted about his chances, Rafizi studied the data and was confident he could make it.

And he made it, coming in from the cold with no incumbency or blessings from the top to become the new PKR deputy president.

It was an amazing comeback for someone who had walked away from it all after losing to Datuk Seri Azmin Ali in 2019.

Rafizi swept through state after state like the proverbial wind of change, securing the majority vote in one division after another to clinch the No 2 post.

Those who voted in the PKR polls have sent a clear signal that they are thirsty for something different after seeing the party trampled in two state elections.

PKR members see what people say about their party on social media and it has hurt their morale.

“Those at the top may not like to hear this, but the party is ready for bigger changes. The mood for change is there.

“These are critical times, the ground is restless and they are fed up with the direction of the present leadership,” said political commentator Eddin Khoo.

While Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution staked himself as a loyalist and team player, Rafizi was about ideas and selling a dream for the future.

He was also not tainted by some of the things that happened during Pakatan Harapan’s 22 months in power.

It is likely that Rafizi, 44, benefitted from the fact that those who voted online comprised the younger cohort who were not too bothered about what their president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim wanted or about sticking to the “cai dan”, that is, the candidate lists handed out by different camps.

For instance, although an overwhelming number chose Rafizi over Saifuddin, many of them threw their votes to Adam Adli and Fadhlina Saddiq, both of whom are aligned to Saifuddin.

The icing on the cake for Rafizi was winning big in Selangor, the state once controlled by his arch-enemy Azmin.

Selangor is PKR’s biggest state. Whoever controls Selangor will be able to control the party.

Saifuddin had teamed up with Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amiruddin Shari but members were not impressed and Rafizi went on to defeat Saifuddin by more than 3,000 votes in Selangor.

“Our members know what they want, they are more astute than we think and they have spoken,” said lawyer William Leong, who retained his post as Selayang division chief.

What does Rafizi’s comeback mean for PKR?

Will he be able to work with Anwar?

It is no secret that Anwar preferred Saifuddin and there is already chatter that he is, once again, stuck with a deputy who is not on the same page as him.

The new No 2 is also against Pakatan’s big tent concept. He advocates the party going on its own in the general election and this could spell problems for PKR’s ties with its partners.

“Many of us see the big tent as a euphemism for working with Mahathir, Bersatu and Warisan,” said Leong.

It is is quite possible that those who voted for Rafizi also see him as the potential successor to Anwar when the time comes.

“That is a dangerous topic. Let’s not talk about it for now,” said Leong with a laugh.

Saifuddin has accepted defeat like a gentleman. He congratulated Rafizi shortly after 8pm on Sunday (May 29) even as the results for a few other states had yet to be released.

The voter turnout was only around 13% but those who voted had taken a leap of faith.

“Rafizi has to watch his temperament which will be tested especially in this transitional phase. There is no room for sulking or stomping of feet when things do not go his way.

“He campaigned on the note that he will not compromise on principles nor will he be a sycophantic deputy. But politics is the art of compromise and that means being able to strike a balance,” said Khoo.

Many noticed a more mature and sober Rafizi during the recent campaign. He did not resort to wild allegations and he played it cool.

But he does have a reputation for being cliquish and selective about people he works with.

This is the opportunity for him to drop the habit, to reach out and be more inclusive.

Rafizi’s win was a landslide that few saw coming, but big wins come with big expectations and he will have to deliver.