Exit Danyal, enter Anwar: Welcome to the latest wayang kulit show

Just four months after he was elected the Member of Parliament for Port Dickson, my senior in school Danyal Balagopal Abdullah has vacated his seat, triggering a by-election to enable PKR president-elect Anwar Ibrahim to enter Parliament.

The decision of the former rear admiral to quit the seat has disappointed many people, including some of his former schoolmates. We were all hoping that he would be an exemplary MP, just as he had been an exemplary naval officer.

Danyal is a straight-forward, incorruptible, and jovial person. His conviviality is most apparent at the annual dinners of the King Edward VII School Old Boys Association, which he never fails to attend.

He was, in fact, not originally slated to stand for Port Dickson. PKR’s losing candidate for the Linggi state seat in the 2013 general election, Rosman Jonet, was to have contested the Port Dickson parliamentary seat in the 14th general election on May 9.

However, on the eve of nomination day PKR found out he would be disqualified as he had not submitted his election expense account for the previous election to the Election Commission, as required by law. That was when Danyal came into the picture.

It would be wrong, though, to say that Danyal’s nomination was accidental, for he had been a potential PKR candidate in GE14. In fact, I understand the party had been considering fielding him for the Tambun parliamentary seat in Perak.

Some are criticising Danyal for giving up the seat, saying it is a betrayal of the trust placed on him by the voters in his constituency. This is, of course, open to debate. One can argue that the people there voted for Danyal the individual who was representing PKR. One can argue also that most Malaysians vote for the party, not the candidate, and, therefore, in voting for Danyal, they were really voting for PKR or the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

If we accept the first argument, it may seem a betrayal of trust. If we take the second argument, the voters will still be getting a PKR man – in fact the most powerful PKR man. They have everything to gain if Anwar becomes their MP.

I am sure it is not lost on Port Dickson voters that having Anwar as their MP will benefit them more than having Danyal, simply because Anwar is likely to be the next prime minister and every prime minister will use his power to ensure his constituency is well served.

In announcing his resignation, Danyal told a press conference that it was not an act of betrayal as he would continue to serve the people there with Anwar as MP. He said he had discussed Anwar taking over as MP with some of his constituents and that they were pleased.

Anwar said he had accepted Danyal’s offer to step down for him because the latter was very serious and sincere about it, noting: “In politics, there are those who are reluctant and those who will announce that they are willing but then back down.” As a seasoned politician, Anwar knows that to get into the good books of the party leader many will stage a political wayang kulit now and then.

What Anwar said about Danyal corresponds with what I’ve heard about Danyal: he keeps his word.

There are those who argue that Anwar’s wife or daughter should have given up their seats for him to contest. It is a sound argument, of course.

In trying to understand why Anwar didn’t want his wife or daughter to give up their seats, I’m looking at several possible scenarios, and a new wayang kulit in play..

Nurul Izzah Anwar is a young politician who has good support both in PKR and the public. There are those who see her as future prime ministerial material.

If she had given up her seat, she would soon find herself in the political wilderness – at least until the next general election. In such a situation, she stands to lose her support both in the party and the public. In politics, out of sight is definitely out of mind. And an elected representative who loses her seat becomes yesterday’s news.

If I, as a voter, think Nurul Izzah has immense potential and should stay on as an MP, what more Anwar, who, as her father, has more reason to see her remain in the corridors of power so that in the next few years – provided Pakatan Harapan remains in power – she becomes a minister at the very least.

If Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail had quit her seat, it would just have confirmed the view that she had been warming the seat for her husband.

More importantly, if she had quit her seat, it would mean the temporary loss of the post of deputy prime minister for PKR. Anwar has said he will not hold any position in the cabinet if he wins a seat – that would include the post of deputy prime minister. Anyway, I don’t think he relishes the idea of again serving as Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s deputy.

But you need a deputy prime minister. If the prime minister goes on leave or is unable to perform his duties, the deputy has to step in. The post cannot remain vacant until Anwar becomes prime minister.

The most senior PKR leader in the cabinet now, after Dr Wan Azizah, is Azmin Ali. Would Anwar allow him to be made deputy prime minister and risk the possibility of Azmin challenging him for the prime ministership?

Let’s say Dr Mahathir decides to appoint Azmin as his deputy since Anwar has said he does not want any post for now. What then? After all, the prime minister can appoint anyone he likes as his deputy and we know he has taken a liking for Azmin. Then again, Dr Mahathir being his own man, what if he appoints Muhyiddin Yassin, the PPBM president, as DPM? A PKR revolt will risk the break-up of PH and losing control of the government.

Anwar cannot take a chance, especially now with an internecine war raging in the run-up to the party polls; a conflict which shows that Azmin and his allies are not on the same page as the PKR boss.

There is also another reason why Anwar is in a hurry to get into Parliament. I pray it does not happen but let’s imagine a situation where the prime minister suddenly falls ill and someone has to take over. It will trigger several simultaneous wayang kulit shows.

If he is an MP, he can be swiftly sworn in as prime minister, and anyone from among PH coalition partners, or within PKR, planning their own wayang kulit will find the cloth screen missing.

Also, it is not just Dr Mahathir who is getting old, and Anwar probably sees this as his last chance at becoming prime minister.

So, Anwar is just trying to make sure that the wayang kulit of which he is the dalang triumphs. And the first character to go off the screen is Danyal, my senior in school.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.

The views of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.