The spotlight swung so completely to Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim last week that it eclipsed developments in PKR indicating that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is planning to take over from his wife as party president.
THE PKR supreme council meeting on Wednesday night was supposed to tie up the loose ends on the party election scheduled for March.
Instead, it turned into a heated discussion over the way the party’s deputy president, Azmin Ali, was sacked from the PKNS (Selangor State Development Corporation) board and from his position as PKNS working committee chairman.
The target was Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim who is seen as the hidden hand behind the sacking.
The uproar had less to do with the PKNS post per se than the fact that they thought the Mentri Besar has not shown due respect to the party.
Moreover, Azmin is not only the party’s deputy president, he is also Selangor PKR chairman and an MP and assemblyman in the state.
Khalid was not there to face the shelling and the meeting went on until about 1am.
Khalid has been like a cat with nine lives, surviving one crisis after another. But this one is quite serious because many in the party feel that Khalid used his clout as Mentri Besar to fix his political opponent. He has crossed the line and he might be standing on the precipice.
One supreme council member after another questioned the way Azmin was removed from the PKNS board and at one point, PKR Youth chief Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin grew quite dramatic and threatened to ask the party’s Selangor Youth wing to picket outside the Mentri Besar’s office.
“We will ask for his resignation,” said the chubby lawyer who is still revelling in his newfound reputation as a giant killer after defeating Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam for the Bukit Katil parliamentary seat.
Such theatrics are normally reserved for those on the opposite side of the fence. But Shamsul is planning to move on to contest a vice-president post in March and he needs Azmin’s support, hence the strong words on behalf of the No 2. But the threat had the support of many around the table.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim watched on silently and, finally, Azmin interjected and said that was not the way to do things.
Khalid’s handling of the PKNS matter is the latest in a series of complaints about how his administrative actions seemed divorced from the interests of the party.
Moreover, this was coming on the heels of other controversies. The big pay hike for state-elected representatives had embarrassed the party and this was followed by Khalid’s slow response to the seizure of the bibles.
PKR leaders are also worried about the looming Giat Mara issue. Giat Mara, the industry training arm for Mara, has 23 centres in Selangor, all of which are located on state land.
There was an outcry after the land office issued an eviction notice to the training centre in Selayang.
TV3 has been playing up the issue, questioning why the Selangor Government is shutting down the Giat Mara centre while massage parlours are allowed to thrive.
“Our concern is the Malay votes. Why give bullets to Umno,” said a PKR Youth politician.
Party leaders are also disturbed about news of a water deal between the state and federal governments.
They have not been properly briefed and they are wondering whether all those protests held to defend Selangor’s control over water treatment have been in vain.
There was also criticism of Khalid’s right-hand woman Faekah Husin whose tweets on issues have offended some party leaders.
But the lady is a rising star and arguably the most powerful woman in the state government today.
Nevertheless, those complaining about her tweets are often the same people who call her names like “de facto MB” and refer to her and her colleagues as “Penguins of the 21st Floor”.
Some in PKR have described the PKNS fiasco as outrageous while others find it “kelakar” or funny. But most people did not know whether to laugh or to cry because the blame game was quite bizarre.
Shortly after news broke that Azmin had been dropped from the PKNS board, Khalid tried to duck the issue and pin the blame on PKNS general manager Datuk Othman Omar. The next day, PKNS said the general manager has no power to remove a board member and passed the buck back to Khalid, insisting that it was the state executive council that did it.
Anwar has since asked Khalid to reinstate Azmin. Khalid, in a brief but terse statement, said he would consider Anwar’s request.
Will Khalid eat humble pie and heed Anwar’s request or will he, as usual, do it his way and get away with it? Everyone is waiting to see what happens next.
The PKNS issue has been like a golden fruit falling onto Azmin’s lap with the party polls nearing. It has painted him as the victim and Khalid as the bully.
Azmin’s boys are expecting Khalid to go for the No 2 post. They claim he has begun fishing for support from Sabah.
He reportedly hosted a dinner for the party delegates from Sabah and Sarawak during the PKR congress a couple of months ago. At another dinner in Kuching hosted by the new Sabah chief Datuk Lajim Ukim, Khalid’s political secretary Azman Abidin was seated at the main table.
Selangor and Sabah are the two biggest states for the party and home to some 60% of the party’s membership. These two states and, to a lesser extent, Perak are the main fishing grounds for votes in the party polls. Anyone aspiring for a post has to play ball with Selangor and Sabah.
Anwar probably knows this better than anyone else in the party given the way he has defended Azmin of late.
PKR insiders say all the signs point to Anwar going for the party presidency. The political animal in Anwar knows that his ketua umum position has outlived its purpose and it is time to move on.
He has not declared his intention as yet but he dropped a broad hint during a supreme council meeting earlier this month.
After declaring that the party polls should be a healthy and friendly fight, he asked those present not to attack or belittle his wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who had made sacrifices for the party.
He drew giggles when he said he was not trying to be like the Umno president talking about “jasa-jasa Rosmah” (Rosmah’s good deeds), referring to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s accolades of his wife at the recent Umno general assembly. But he asked everyone to give Dr Wan Azizah a break because she had contributed a lot and withstood challenges during difficult times.
He also told them not to resort to calling her names like “sleeping beauty”, presumably referring to some of the tweets about her leadership. Then, almost too casually, he dropped the bombshell that Dr Wan Azizah had decided not to seek re-election. The room went quiet although the heartbeat of a few leaders probably shot up.
There has been a lot of talk of Dr Wan Azizah stepping aside after 15 years at the top but this was the first confirmation of any sort, and by no less than Anwar. As for himself, he said he had yet to decide.
“There is only one way to read this. Anwar is going for the president post. If he wants to be PM, he has to go for the presidency,” said a Perak PKR politician.
Anwar may be parodied by the other side of the political divide and the subject of jokes among the cynical set but he is without a doubt the most influential figure in PKR.
Anwar’s final words to the meeting was that he knows who is loyal, who has been working hard and who to support in the party election. It sounded a bit like Santa Claus talking about who has been good and naughty but, said the above Perak politician: “Anyone hoping to win a top party post will fail without his endorsement.”
It is understood that Azmin is all for Anwar replacing Dr Wan Azizah. If Anwar takes over, Azmin will have direct access to the president.
Azmin and Dr Wan Azizah have a civil but somewhat strained relationship. They smile at each other but the smiles do not reach their eyes. She has never been on his side and that is why he is still waiting for his turn to be the Mentri Besar.
Khalid has been fighting too many fires and the irony is that he himself set off some of these fires.
Even his own party secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution is wary of him. The party had put Saifuddin as the liaison officer to Khalid after the general election to facilitate a closer working relationship between the party and Khalid’s administration.
But instead of utilising him, Khalid made the point that he did not need a liaison man by putting Saifuddin on the fifth floor of the state government complex, way down from the Mentri Besar’s office on the 21st floor. Saifuddin, according to insiders, has not set foot in the office and had spent the last few months attending a course in Oxford University.
On Thursday night, Azmin turned up for Thaipusam at Batu Caves with Khalid. It was a happening scene at this spectacular religious event but anyone looking at the pair would not suspect there was anything happening between them. Politicians are such good actors and the two put on their best face, smiling through the night.
Everything is coming to a head for Khalid. Hopefully, he still has a few lives left to survive this difficult phase in his career.