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Friday, January 31, 2014

What can happen after the Kajang move?


ANALYSIS Two days after Anwar Ibrahim ended a weekend of intense speculation by confirming he will vie for a state assembly seat via the Kajang by-election, the repercussions of the move are being hotly debated among those within and outside his party, PKR.

The main political figures in this drastic move - such as Anwar, Selangor Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali - will have to digest different sets of possible consequences for every possible outcome of this by-election.

The ruling BN coalition, especially MCA, and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak will not be exempt from the microscopic focus as their performance in this by-election is bound to affect the dynamics of MCA, and also of Umno.

Malaysiakini analyses the consequences that the political players could stand to gain from - or lose - through this by-election.

Anwar Ibrahim

Already the opposition leader in Parliament, PKR de facto leader, Permatang Pauh MP and Selangor state economic adviser, Anwar is now foraying into state politics by contesting this by-election, after the Kajang incumbent Lee Chin Cheh suddenly resigned earlier.

Anwar is believed to be entering state politics with the intent of replacing Khalid as the Selangor menteri besar, after infighting between Khalid and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali’s camp in the party shortly after the 13th general election of May 5 last year showed no sign of dissipating.

The outcome that would go according to the party’s script would be for Anwar to win the Kajang by-election, months after PKR retained the seat with an increased majority.

If Anwar wins the by-election, he could soon make a move to replace Khalid as the menteri besar by asking the latter to resign to pave way for him.

However, the ideal scenario could be dented by several possibilities - one being Khalid’s refusal to step down. This might cause a vote of no confidence, and bring internal PKR struggles to a new height that will affect Pakatan Rakyat’s administration of Selangor as well.

The Selangor Sultan is also well within his rights to refuse Anwar’s nomination as a MB. If any of these two scenarios take place, PAS could demand for the post of menteri besar as it, along with DAP, has the highest number of state seats (15 each) in the state assembly.

Anwar’s majority in Kajang, if he wins, could also be used as a yardstick to measure the people’s confidence in Pakatan.

If he retains the seat with an even bigger majority, it will send a signal that the people are ready to forgive Pakatan for causing the by-election, and that issues of the economy and price hikes have not been erased from their memory.

Reduced majority means possible backlash

A reduced majority would mean that Anwar and his allies need to take note of a possible backlash in future, if such drastic political moves are pulled off again. The BN, however, could use this as a leverage to attack Anwar’s credibility when the next general election comes near.

Some quarters opine that Anwar’s decision to contest the by-election is a way to stop personal attacks against his family, especially daughter Nurul Izzah Ibrahim, over her reported divorce move.

However, campaigning in Kajang would open up avenues for his detractors to subject him and his family to even more personal attacks that could dominate the campaign period.

In the event of Anwar losing, he would suffer great damage to his stature as an opposition leader, and his prospect to become the next PM. This could cause frictions within Pakatan if the leader that unified the three parties is seen to have a waning influence.

Abdul Khalid Ibrahim

Khalid stands at the crossroads as he faces the possibility of being asked to step down as menteri besar to make way for Anwar, should Anwar win the by-election.

The ideal scenario is for Khalid to be offered a concession, possibly to run a state arm, since his financial prudence and abilities have been well proven, in return to paving way for Anwar to take over.

That way, Anwar would use Khalid’s expertise to ensure the latter’s influence in the state policies are not absent.

However, as stated before, Khalid can put up a stubborn act and insist on seeing through his second term as menteri besar, which could cause a backlash from his party.

This could further damage his already strained relationship with PKR’s political bureau, and strip him from the party’s state political machinery that helps with state programmes and policies.

However, if the Selangor Sultan interferes and refuses Anwar as MB, Khalid could stay on as MB, but a new round of reconciliation would have to take place to ensure no infighting plagues the remaining four years of his tenure.

Expected to be fondly remembered

If Khalid does decide to step down, it could spell the end of his political career - as it, by his own words, would be an admission that he cannot run the state anymore - thus making his chances of being part of the government, should Pakatan gain federal power in the next election, very slim.

But all the same, he is expected to be fondly remembered by the people of Selangor, especially in terms of the financial management of the state.

There is also a chance of Khalid defecting from the party, though this remains very slim. If this does happen, his Port Klang state seat would not belong to PKR, and thus make it difficult for PKR to install a MB before PAS, which holds 15 state seats.

However, if Anwar loses, it can be read as a mere backlash by voters in Kajang in a move to keep Khalid, who led Pakatan to win 44 state seats in the last election, as the menteri besar. For Khalid, this will be akin to killing two birds with one stone.

Anwar’s challenge for the MB post will disappear, while Azmin Ali’s reputation as a PKR strategist will be damaged, which might also cause harm to his position as PKR deputy president.

However, PKR losing one more seat would place it short, with only 13 state assembly seats or two less than PAS, and Khalid may face a new round of lobbying by Selangor PAS to have one of its assemblypersons to be installed as the menteri besar.

Azmin Ali

It is an open secret that Azmin has been vying for the post of Selangor menteri besar ever since 2008, and his criticism of the state government intensified as soon as the 2013 elections concluded, even before Khalid was re-appointed as the menteri besar.

This “Kajang move” as it is now known, has put Azmin in a very difficult position, thus greatly damaging his ambitions.

If Anwar wins the Kajang by-election and is made the menteri besar, Azmin will still have to wait before he gets a chance to get the post for himself, despite being the Selangor PKR chief.

However, the good relationship between him and Anwar could pave way for Azmin to be offered a role in the state government.

While Azmin is not expected to be a vocal critic of the state administration should Anwar take over as menteri besar, doubts could be raised as to whether the relationship between Anwar and Azmin, or their respective camps, would remain the same if Azmin is overlooked for any state decision-making bodies should Anwar take over.

Anwar and Azmin have long been seen as the best of political comrades, dating all the way back to their days in Umno.

Azmin is likely to be reduced to being a mere spectator no matter what happens. Should the palace refuse Anwar as MB, there is very little reason to believe that Azmin would then be offered as a candidate for the post.

And, should Azmin throw his hat into the ring, it would immediately attract demands from PAS for the post - which is growing louder by the day.

Could Azmin be the 'outside' candidate?

However, if Azmin manages to convince DAP and PAS, and gain their subtle support, he could become the outside candidate for the post - and he would be credited for finally managing to cause the ousting of Khalid after years of trying to do so.

He could capitalise on the fact that DAP, which also has 15 state seats, is unlikely to agree to having a PAS representative as the Selangor menteri besar.

If Khalid refuses to resign, Azmin will be expected to lead the move to prove that Khalid does not command confidence in the state, but then this may do little to shed the image that he is the one who has been causing trouble to the state administration.

If Azmin’s team succeeds in pressuring Khalid into resigning, Anwar would still be first in line to be the menteri besar.

Azmin stands to lose just as much as Anwar should Anwar lose the by-election. As the state PKR chief, Azmin could be accused of having pulled the rug under his party leader’s feet.

Also, PAS could gun for the MB post, and if it succeeds, this will curtail Azmin’s influence in Selangor, which is believed to be still significant.

Pakatan Rakyat, PAS and DAP

If Anwar succeeds in becoming the menteri besar, he will need to embark on an exercise to soothe any discontent among his allies about the way in which PKR went about causing the by-election.

However, any other outcome is likely to strain inter-Pakatan relations greatly. Any slip-up by Pakatan, such as the palace’s refusal or Khalid’s refusal to resign, could lead to PAS attempting to lobby for the menteri besar’s  post, and this might not go down well with DAP, which also has 15 seats in the state.

Anwar losing the by-election could also lead to a similar outcome, as PAS would have two more seats than PKR and would try to take over the post.

If more trouble and infighting are eventually caused by Anwar’s “Kajang move” and failure to quell the moves by Azmin’s camp to make him the menteri besar could cause DAP to lose patience with PKR’s lack of inter-Pakatan consultation before making drastic calls.

MCA

MCA is now put in a very difficult position due to the by-election. The only way out for MCA is to field a strong candidate and defeat Anwar. A victory will propel the candidate and the party to political stardom, no matter how brief, and redeem its strength in the eyes of the BN partners.

MCA’s chances of winning the election will depend largely on its ability to manipulate the voices of discontent among people who are upset with PKR’s orchestration of this by-election.

But a loss, big or small, could spark questions about Liow Tiong Lai’s leadership of the party barely a month after taking charge. If MCA dodges the challenge and hands the seat over to Umno, which is beginning to make demands for the seat, the MCA will effectively cement its position as a junior partner in BN and lose further leverage among its grassroots.

Najib Abdul Razak

For Prime Minister Najib Razak, the by-election does present its own headaches. As the Umno chief, he needs to decide if his party will indeed take up the challenge of contesting the seat.

If Umno contests and loses the seat, he will face more pressure from within his own party, where there is said to be a movement to remove him.

If its contests and wins the seat, Najib will be able to re-affirm the notion that he is leading Umno to stronger grounds. This will strengthen him in Umno but will do little to his cause of appealing to the non-Malay voters.

If MCA contests the seat, its victory will be a bonus for Najib, while a loss, again, will rankle the pressure on his position as prime minister.

Kajang voters

This group of people could very well be the biggest winners and losers in this by-election. As their constituency is seen as a platform for the national ground of politics, Kajang voters could get almost every one of their basic wishes fulfilled during the campaign period.

But an overload of candidates (with at least two independent candidates), is bound to take the focus away from Kajang and put it entirely on Anwar Ibrahim, and the BN candidate, who is expected to be a big enough personality to take on Anwar.

And when such personalities become their state assemblyperson, the voters might not be seeing their state representative all that often or have him/her to tend to their problems.



RAM ANAND is a member of the Malaysiakini team.

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