With Dr M backing Azmin, is the race for PKR deputy presidency already over?

A. Ruban
Analysts believe that the race between Azmin and contender Rafizi Ramli may already be over with the former currently seen as having the upper hand. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — Is Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad indirectly influencing the outcome of the PKR deputy presidency race with his endorsement of Datuk Seri Azmin Ali?

Analysts believe so, saying that the race between Azmin and contender Rafizi Ramli may already be over with the former currently seen as having the upper hand.

“Well, Dr Mahathir is obviously grooming Azmin, giving him control over most GLCs, which, in the Malaysian political context, means providing him with plenty of ‘resources’ to attract support,” principal advisor of Pacific Research Centre, Oh Ei Sun, told Malay Mail, referring to government-linked companies.

Oh was responding to the recent move by Dr Mahathir to appoint Azmin to the board of government-linked investment company Khazanah Nasional Bhd.

Praba Ganesan of watchdog KUASA also echoed similar views, and pointed out that Azmin will be the highest-ranking PKR member in Putrajaya if the latter wins the party election.

“Definitely. More clout via Dr Mahathir, means party members will gravitate to Azmin,” said the chief executive of the democracy outreach organisation when asked if the prime minister had charted the path for Azmin to retain his deputy presidency post.

Besides the Dr Mahathir factor, Oh and Praba both said that Azmin would have the upper hand in terms of grassroots’ support over Rafizi because of the former’s position as the previous Selangor mentri besar.

“After Azmin became mentri besar in 2014, within a year, the attitude [of his party members] towards him changed. People, who were usually lukewarm, kissed up to him,” Praba said.

“And now he controls the economy ministry,” he said, referring to Azmin’s portfolio in the government as minister of economic affairs.

Outgoing PKR vice-president Rafizi is contesting the deputy presidency position against incumbent Azmin.

The rivalry between the two began during party polls in 2014 when Rafizi almost lost his vice-president’s position to Azmin’s men.

The subsequent “Kajang move”, a move orchestrated by Rafizi, also backfired when Azmin took over the position of Selangor mentri sesar from Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim after Anwar, who was supposed to assume the position, was sent to prison on a sodomy charge.

Things got uglier when Rafizi, in 2016, lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on claims of graft and “requests for women” in dealings involving the Selangor government.

And just days after the nomination of both Azmin and Rafizi for the PKR deputy presidency position, attacks by those aligned to both factions surfaced.

On Monday, Lembah Pantai PKR Youth vice chief candidate Nazrin Idham Razali claimed that there were misunderstandings within the division’s party chapter.

He asserted that Lembah Pantai PKR had already been split into two camps due to the previous PKR branch’s leadership and PKR grassroots’ leadership.

Nazrin, who is aligned to Azmin’s camp, also blamed MP and PKR communications director Fahmi Fadzil for failing to unite the different factions.

And in Sarawak, PKR’s Wanita wing also announced its support for Azmin to retain his party position.

Despite speculation that PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim backs Rafizi for the party’s number two position, Praba said, it would be a struggle because “Rafizi lacks reach inside the party”.

“There are senior party leaders who are OK with Invoke, but many others are not so keen with the centre,” he said referring to the research centre which Rafizi established.

According to Praba, Invoke Malaysia is an independent entity and thus, speaks for its own interests without taking into consideration that of PKR or its members.

“Anwar will campaign for Rafizi. Not sure how he will do this [though],” he said.

PKR currently has more than 800,000 members after recently registering some 300,000 new recruits following Pakatan Harapan’s GE14 win.

“It is common that many rush to join the new ruling party, seeking either political patronage or opportunity to expand political ambition,” Oh said.

“I think most of them will see the ‘swing of the wind’; for example, Dr Mahathir’s preference, and go for Azmin,” he said, referring to the important roles given to Azmin by Dr Mahathir.

Ismail Yusof, secretary of PKR party elections committee, was reported as saying that party polls are expected to kick off in September and conclude by early October.