Anwar vs Azmin: Both will lose

Will PKR break up? With each passing day, the inevitability of the party that took flight on the wings of the Reformasi slogan in 1999 breaking up looms large.

There is a clear split in the party with some backing party president Anwar Ibrahim and others supporting his erstwhile confidant and deputy president Azmin Ali, who was appointed economic affairs minister by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The daggers are drawn, as the stakes are very high for both Anwar and Azmin.

Azmin and his backers have been agitating against Anwar, with Azmin directly saying, on a few occasions, that Mahathir should complete a full term, although the Pakatan Harapan leadership had agreed before the May 9, 2018 general election that Mahathir would hand over the reins to Anwar before the term ends.

Following the Tanjung Piai parliamentary by-election where PH was thrashed, there was talk that it was time for Mahathir to hand over power to Anwar. In fact, some impatient supporters of Anwar, have been calling for the power transition for almost a year now.

When Azmin, soon after the by-election, held a meeting at his house with 22 Umno MPs and some of his supporters, it started tongues wagging, Reports say they discussed, among other things, how to ensure Mahathir would continue to be prime minister.

Azmin’s action has been seen as a clear attempt to dash Anwar’s dreams of becoming prime minister.

Now, as the PKR national congress draws near, there is talk of another party national assembly being held at the same time and to be opened by Azmin.

This is unlikely as there is only one PKR; and whether Azmin and his supporters like it or not, Anwar is PKR. If they do hold a separate congress, it is unlikely that the registrar of societies will recognise it.

That there is even such talk reflects how deep the split is in the party that has the highest number of MPs in Parliament and, therefore, will have a big say in who becomes the next prime minister.

Azmin and his backers know that Mahathir likes him and they may be hoping that with Anwar out of the way, Azmin would become the top choice for prime minister. In fact, they may strike a deal with Mahathir to help make Azmin prime minister in exchange for Mukhriz Mahathir being made deputy prime minister, and later leading the nation.

Azmin knows he has no future in PKR if Anwar remains president.

If Anwar becomes prime minister, the PKR deputy president and his backers will all be soon forgotten. Anwar is unlikely to retain Azmin or his staunch supporters Zuraida Kamaruddin and Baru Bian and others in his Cabinet; even if he does, in order to demonstrate his magnanimity, it may be only for a while.

Others backing Azmin, such as PKR deputy youth chief Hilman Idham, who is also Azmin’s political secretary, can hope for a Cabinet post or as least some position of importance if their man becomes prime minister.

For Anwar, it is now or never. His dream, and those of some of his ardent Reformasi supporters, to be prime minister will be dashed. Those in Mahathir’s Cabinet currently backing him will find themselves without ministerial power and its accompanying perks if, in the unlikely event, Azmin does indeed win this battle.

Anwar, who came so close to the top position before being sacked in 1999, is not going to twiddle his thumbs and watch his second chance at the top spot being thwarted.

Azmin, at 55, is still young but Anwar at 72 may not be able to wait longer, although Mahathir, at 94, has upended all talk about age and the post of prime minister.

Azmin can afford a split in the party. After a few months, he and his supporters will, in all likelihood, join PPBM. Of course PPBM leaders will perform the usual wayang about not accepting them etc etc for a couple of months or so before opening the doors to them, giving reasons such as that it is being done for the good of Malay unity or the nation.

There’s coffee shop talk that a new coalition could even take shape involving PPBM, Umno, PAS and Azmin’s guys for the sake, again, of Malay unity. But, as some of Azmin’s supporters are non-Malays, this may be a problem.

Anwar, however, cannot afford a major split in the party; especially not the loss of MPs. If too many MPs leave with Azmin, his clout in PH will be clipped and that will certainly reduce his chances of becoming prime minister.

However, he can expect the support of Amanah and especially the DAP in his bid to be prime minister. In fact, there is coffee shop talk that the ills befalling the DAP, including the arrest of some members for alleged involvement in terrorist-related activities, have something to do with the DAP’s full backing for Anwar. Conspiracy theorists say it is to weaken the DAP or pressure it into not pushing for Anwar as the next prime minister.

Whatever happens, it will not be the end of PKR, not as long as Anwar stands. We won’t have to wait long to know whether the party splits right in the middle or not – just until this weekend when the PKR congress is held.

And whether Anwar wins or Azmin wins, they both lose. Because the winner will inherit a weakened PKR; because it will affect the PH coalition and how it is perceived; because the public will realise this is really a fight about who will enjoy the perks of power, not about the well-being of the voter.

If, in the unlikely event that PH collapses as a result of these political wayang kulit, the voter who voted for a New Malaysia will be the ultimate loser.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.