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M'sian opposition struggles to explain move to force by-election

Publication Date : 04-02-2014

 

The opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) in Malaysia is tirelessly trying to assure people that its dramatic move to force a by-election in Selangor is for their own good, but many remain unconvinced.

Despite the PKR's efforts to paint it as a move to strengthen the party against a fiercer United Malays National Organisation  (Umno) of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, many still see it as a desperate measure to resolve the squabbling between Menteri Besar (state chief) Khalid Ibrahim and party deputy president Azmin Ali.

Both men have had frequent clashes despite being in the top leadership of the Selangor government, which has been held by the opposition since 2008.

Last week, PKR assemblyman Lee Chin Cheh vacated his Kajang seat to allow opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to contest in what is believed as the first step to taking over the menteri besar's post.

Following a round of befuddlement over the idea of a national opposition leader diving into state politics, PKR strategist Rafizi Ramli repeatedly sought to explain that the PKR needed political fortification in Selangor, even though Khalid was an able administrator.

A description of the so-called "Kajang move", quickly began circulating on social media as a "tactical move to bring someone to power under the pretext of bringing greater good to the people".

Anwar and Khalid have now started going to the ground personally to explain "The Kajang Move" as the campaign goes into full swing.

But while many remain sceptical, observers say Anwar will likely win anyway. For one thing, Kajang is a safe seat. The seat with 39,000 voters was won by PKR's Lee by a 6,824 majority in the 2013 General Election.

The demographic profile is a mixed one, which usually works in the opposition's favour - 48 per cent Malay voters, 41 per cent Chinese, 10 per cent Indian and 1 per cent others.

Anwar will also likely face a weak opponent from the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), which has been struggling for survival since Chinese voters deserted it in the last two elections. The MCA is part of Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

And the opposition leader remains formidable on the campaign trail, with his ability to build an instant rapport with the people.

While he stands more than a fair chance of retaining the seat, the real battle will begin after that. He will have to secure the Sultan of Selangor's agreement to be appointed menteri besar, if indeed that is the game plan. That consent is by no means guaranteed.

Following that, he will have to quickly deliver a noticeably better administration.

Neither of these will be easy but party insiders insist that Anwar will be a more politically savvy administrator than Khalid, who came from the corporate sector.

Many have pointed out Khalid's missteps, such as a hefty pay rise for himself and Selangor assemblymen last year at a time when ordinary Malaysians are struggling with the rising cost of living.

Analyst Ibrahim Suffian, who runs the pollster Merdeka Centre, said  Anwar may do better than Khalid because he has a wider network of expertise to tap on.

"He has the potential to do well and complement Khalid's prudent fiscal management style," he said.

That is exactly what his proponents are hoping will turn "The Kajang Move" from object of ridicule to savvy political manoeuvre.

The Election Commission will meet tomorrow to decide the dates for nomination and polling.

Guessing the motive

Malaysian politics is rife with conspiracy theories and the latest move by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to delve into state politics, not surprisingly, has set tongues wagging. Here are speculations on why Anwar, already the federal opposition leader and economic adviser to Selangor, wants to be a Selangor legislator.

Strengthen Selangor

The party's official line is that Anwar's presence will strengthen Selangor against assaults by Barisan Nasional.

Said Rafizi Ramli, the strategist for Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR): "In the last few days, I reassured myself that it was Churchill who chose to be unpopular and remained a minority voice of alarm against the advancing Nazis till the end despite public popularity to appease the Nazis."

Rafizi had said last week that just as Istanbul was a launch pad for Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his job as Jakarta governor made Joko "Jokowi" Widodo popular, "Selangor can be a great launch pad for Pakatan to take over Putrajaya".

Resolve infighting

Anwar's plan is merely to stop the bitter infighting between Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim and PKR deputy president and Selangor politician Azmin Ali.

While Khalid is an efficient administrator, his political moves - including doubling his own salary and tripling that of state Cabinet members - have been questioned by opposition leaders.

He said he is happy enough to pass the reins after two terms - but not to Azmin.

Escape from sodomy case

The so-called Kajang Move is timed to pressure the government on his sodomy appeal case.

Anwar was acquitted by the High Court in the sodomy case involving his former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, in January last year. Saiful's appeal is expected to be heard on February 12 and 13.

This theory suggests that the court won't dare find Anwar guilty amid a by-election as the government would then be accused of blocking his political career again. A guilty verdict could mean a 20-year jail term for Anwar.

Divert from daughter's marital woes

Calling a shock by-election would divert media attention from the marital woes of his eldest daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar.

She has filed for divorce from her husband of 11 years and bloggers are speculating over reasons for the breakdown.

 

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