With PAS snub, Azmin now exposed on all fronts

Comment by Zainal Epi
With enemies closing in on all sides, only time will tell if Azmin and PKR will rue the day it snubbed PAS and its Malay-Muslim backing. — Picture by Choo Choy May

PETALING JAYA, Feb 20 — Barisan Nasional (BN) has begun sharpening its knives in Selangor, sensing the opening that has presented itself after Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali finally rejected any cooperation with PAS.

While his allies have long pressed him to make the decision, Azmin had resisted until now. The move will have major repercussions for him and Pakatan Harapan’s hope of retaining the country’s richest state in the 14th general election.

Without PAS and its formidable election machinery — or any chance of avoiding bruising multicornered fights — Azmin’s hold of the state is now shaky and BN senses that it is in the best position in recent years to retake the state it lost in 2008.

Azmin, who is also PKR deputy president, had clung to the slim chance of convincing PAS to work with his party in Selangor, where he expects to be assailed from multiple fronts, but all hope vanished around Valentine’s Day when he formally rejected the Islamist party.

BN latched on almost immediately, first hammering Azmin over his policies such as a controversial decision to return land in Ijok to two developers that his predecessor, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, had seized for the state.

Selangor BN chief Tan Sri Noh Omar followed up by targeting the Azmin administration’s complete ban of single-use plastic bags in the state, promising voters that the unpopular policy would be reversed if PH is ousted from Selangor.

BN knows that without PAS to bank on, Azmin will have no one to help fend off the daggers that his personal foes and rivals within PKR are keeping honed and aimed at his back.

The Islamist party is known for its well-oiled election machinery, particularly in the rural and Malay-majority seats, and played a major role in keeping Selangor out of BN hands during the last two general elections.

More crucially, the Islamist party aided PKR in securing most of the 13 state seats won in GE13.

Shorn of this support structure that is said to rival even BN’s daunting machinery, PKR is unlikely to perform as well as it did in 2013.

Matters are made worse as Azmin is believed to consider ally Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) a lesser asset than PAS, as the offshoot Islamist party is still struggling to gain traction with its core audience of conservative Muslim voters.

Amanah is hamstrung by allegations that it is subservient to DAP, which is in turn accused of backing the party to fill PAS’ shoes in the pact. These claims have put Malays and conservative Muslims off Amanah.

These factors, along with the party’s failure to win over Malay-Muslim areas from PAS, mean that it will struggle to hold its own and will be unlikely to aid PKR’s campaign as PAS would have if it were still an ally.

The confluence leaves Azmin with the dilemma of having to repel a full-on assault from BN and PAS while having to watch his rear against “allies” who are said to not be keen on seeing him serve another term as Selangor MB.

With both DAP and Amanah expected to be busy campaigning for their own seats, and with Azmin’s purported unpopularity with both, his PKR will find itself on its own heading into a challenging poll.

Without PAS on hand to help provide the crucial Malay-Muslim vote, the general election will also be a litmus test of the multi-racial philosophy that PKR has been propagating.

With enemies closing in on all sides, only time will tell if Azmin and PKR will rue the day it snubbed PAS and its Malay-Muslim backing.