Rafizi-Azmin contest a harbinger of fights to come

Zainal Epi
The clear underdog, Rafizi is slowly building up support for his bid although he is far from achieving the critical mass needed to be a serious threat to Azmin. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

PETALING JAYA, Aug 28 — An inevitable rift is forming in PKR over the race between challenger Rafizi Ramli and incumbent Datuk Seri Azmin Ali for the party’s deputy presidency.

Although it is early days yet, the battle lines are clearly forming in this factional fight that has been a long time coming.

Incoming president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has sought to be neutral in the matter, but this has been read as an indirect nod for Rafizi to take on Azmin, notwithstanding the latter’s loyalty to Anwar since even before his 1998 sacking as the deputy prime minister.

Azmin is now seen to be more aligned to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a view that has allowed detractors to suggest that he must be brought to heel once more.

Outwardly, the contest between Rafizi and Azmin is an internal PKR affair, but it will lay the foundation that will determine the future power dynamics within Pakatan Harapan (PH) that is already showing signs of strife.

Friendly fire is far from rare in the pact, with allied parties more than willing to take snide shots at one another.

One such instance was when Sungai Petani MP and Gurun assemblyman Datuk Johari Abdul claimed he would be able to do much for Kedah once Anwar becomes prime minister.

The prime minister now is Dr Mahathir, while his son, Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, is Kedah mentri besar; Johari’s message was far from subtle and suggests that another larger storm is already brewing.

It has also given added meaning to the PKR poll. Its allies will be watching closely to determine how much influence Anwar still wields in his party.

Rafizi has built up a head of steam, having secured Anwar’s blessing and the open endorsement of PKR secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, another Anwar loyalist and a trusted advisor to DAP’s Lim Guan Eng.

Political observers will already have interpreted the contest as an attempt to wrest back control of the party from Azmin, who has slowly but quietly built a formidable support base within, and to curb the continued spread of his influence.

His previous position as Selangor mentri besar and economics affairs minister now have already led to accusations that he favours his supporters over others in the party.

For all involved, the stakes are high. Defeat for Azmin could set him back years and even cost him his Cabinet post.

While this is unlikely, even an unconvincing victory may give his political ambitions pause, especially with Anwar finally taking over the presidency of the party after years as its unelected de facto leader.

The clear underdog, Rafizi is slowly building up support for his bid although he is far from achieving the critical mass needed to be a serious threat to Azmin.

What the party fears, however, is that the fierce contest may lead to a rift that will split the party in two for years to come.

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