PETALING JAYA: One is sometimes seen as a maverick, and has in the past riled up feathers within the party leadership with his frank views.
But Rafizi Ramli holds no government position, indeed not even as MP. As such, there is no question of him being a threat.
His rival, Mohamed Azmin Ali, has been a friend and confidante of Anwar Ibrahim, the central figure in PKR, for more than two decades.
But the PKR deputy president’s recent climb up the political ladder has been quick, and in politics, that’s enough to make one a possible threat.
Party sources say these are some of the dilemmas faced by Anwar, as he prepares to assume the party presidency after his nomination for the post went unchallenged.
All eyes are now on the contest for his second man.
Rafizi, a non-MP and non-minister, is now set to take on Azmin, who is not only the minister in charge of the powerful portfolio of economic affairs, but also part of the inner circle of the government’s cash cow, Khazanah Nasional.
So who is more qualified to be the second in command?
“Rafizi can sometimes be difficult to work with,” said a source within Azmin’s camp in PKR.
He said there was no denying that Rafizi had contributed much to PKR, and his personal sacrifices – including staying out of the elections due to criminal charges against him under the previous administration – were public knowledge.
Former Kapar MP, G Manivannan, who is vying for a place in the Central Leadership Council, agrees.
“Rafizi went around the country and played a major role explaining a lot of issues and agendas of Pakatan Harapan if it won Putrajaya,” he told FMT.
“If he wins, he could help Anwar in fulfilling the PKR agenda.”
Another party leader agrees that Rafizi is “principled” and “does not compromise on issues he feels strongly about”.
But he said: “In politics, this could be a liability, especially to the person immediately above him. This could put him in conflict with Anwar.”
Meanwhile, a long-time PKR member seen as part of Rafizi’s camp said Azmin’s achievements so far were a liability as far as his own party was concerned.
He said the former Selangor menteri besar was increasingly seen as a threat, and his close ties with Dr Mahathir Mohamad was not helping to fend off allegations that he is the prime minister’s preferred choice to succeed him.
“Anwar has been waiting 20 years to be the prime minister,” he told FMT. “He needs a number two that he could work with, someone who will not be a threat.”
Starting next week, about half of some 800,000 PKR members will take part in the party’s internal polls to choose its top leaders.
Azmin today confirmed that he would defend his post against Rafizi. This came as no surprise: both leaders are never seen as the best of friends. But it also ended weeks of speculation that Azmin could challenge Anwar for the president’s post.
As it stands now, party insiders are confident that Azmin still enjoys the upper hand.
The former private secretary to Anwar also has strong support of PKR councillors nationwide, who are thankful to Azmin for their appointment.
‘Dirty battle ahead’
While senior leaders have put up a strong defence of the party amid speculation of a rift that threatens to split PKR, sources said the campaign for the number two post could degenerate into a battle over personalities.
“It might get dirty,” said one source, and recalled the contest between Azmin and former minister Zaid Ibrahim in 2010.
Veteran party leader and former Batu MP, Tian Chua, shares something in common with Rafizi. Both were among the most vocal MPs in the Dewan Rakyat, but were forced out of the recent elections.
Tian Chua denied talks of a rift, saying the Azmin-Rafizi contest “is a healthy competition”.
“After the elections, let us all unite and get back to party matters,” he said.
Subang MP Wong Chen, who has made no secret of his support for Rafizi, concurred.
He said it was normal for different camps to exist in any political party.
On how he would help Rafizi win the contest, Wong Chen said he would be talking to PKR members about the spirit of reformasi, the battlecry of PKR for the last 20 years.
“We will talk about the different policies and our reformasi plans on social justice, and on weeding out corruption.”
And after the polls?
“All members would unite and work to strengthen the party,” he said.