The issue with Azmin Ali is not his ambition or his alleged sex scandal, but that he continues to rely on support outside Harapan to destabilise PKR’s leadership. It has got so toxic that it would wrong to call Azmin Ali’s supporters enablers when “handlers” would be a better term.
If Azmin was demonstrating solidarity with his party when it came to issues affecting his party, it would not make a difference if he had a sub rosa agenda against Anwar Ibrahim. This is politics, after all. However, Azmin’s continued reliance on outsiders to ferment trouble and consolidate support is the existential threat facing PKR at this moment.
If this was merely an internal squabble, although destabilising, it would not be as toxic to Harapan as it is now. If Anwar, the party supremo, cannot keep control of his party, then he deserves to lose power. But Anwar is not only battling Azmin Ali, for he also has to contend with Azmin’s allies from Bersatu and, of course, the riff-raff from Umno/PAS.
The fact that Anwar continues to genuflect before the prime minister, someone who has shown tremendous public support for Azmin and contempt for the Harapan reform agenda, is demonstrative of how weak the Harapan political establishment is.
All the conflicting reports about what went down at Azmin’s dinner party is just another in a long line of reasons why PKR should kick out the economic affairs minister from the party. At a time when Harapan is facing numerous self-inflicted problems, the presence of Azmin is further fracturing the tenuous alliance.
Indeed, the fact that Azmin remains in PKR reminds us that party discipline is non-existent in PKR. I am not talking about dissenting views or opinions, but rather the perception – that Azmin encourages – that Anwar is not the PM-designate of this country.
How does he encourage this perception? He does so by carrying out acts that undermine the legitimacy of the handover of power to Anwar (above). He does so by thumbing his nose at the various party meetings and personalities that would ensure a cohesive response to issues affecting the rakyat.
No doubt his role as economic affairs minister gives him access and influence, which in turn cultivates relationships across the political divide, which makes it harder for Anwar to engage in the kind of politics that defines Mahathrism.
In July of this year, when Azmin agreed with Muhkriz Mahathir (below) that there was no two-year time limit to the handover of power, this was a direct attack against his comrades and the rakyat who voted for them. What he is doing by agreeing with Mahathir’s son and proxy is encouraging the narrative that whatever promises made by Harapan are open to interpretation.
Not to mention that the old maverick has, on many occasions, couched his support of Anwar taking over, with qualifiers that make it clear that he and he alone can solve the problems this country is facing. Just recently, Mahathir claimed that if people are not careful they could vote in a Hitler. This is an extremely weird thing to say, especially when Anwar is the person taking over.
Internal party politics problems that Harapan faces are mostly created by the machinations of the old maverick. These problems then become the problems of the country because the real issues this county faces are subsumed beneath the internal politics of Harapan and the machinations of the old maverick.
Meanwhile, Azmin, like Mahathir, gives “sarcastic” answers to questions posed by the press. Read the transcript of an exchange between a reporter and Azmin here.
Even the sex scandal surrounding Azmin is part of the problem. No doubt there are elements within PKR who are out to get Azmin, but this is politics and when you put a target on your back, what do you expect? Even then, Azmin could not bring himself to identify his persecutors because, to do so, would not be as damaging as allowing the rumour mill to spin into overdrive.
His comments on the issue of internal schisms within Harapan, which could cause voters’ distrust, have now morphed into the realisation that this is an inside job, after the media made a big deal about Anwar’s missing political secretary.
Azmin does have his admirers in PKR. While most PKR political operatives want to stay out of the fray between the Anwar camp and the Azmin camp, they are growing tired of this nonsense. As one MP told me recently, she is seriously considering throwing in the towel in the next election and letting someone else take her place.
The MP also bemoaned the fact that morale is low in PKR because of this fight between Anwar and Azmin, with loyalists from each side resorting to “degenerate” methods to ensure victory. However, for folks who have no dog in this fight, what makes Azmin’s conduct reprehensible is that he has aligned himself with Umno and Bersatu power brokers.
“Look Thaya, I do not want to be associated with Umno, so these frogs coming into the party is one thing, but Azmin being used by them is another. I barely want to associate with Bersatu,” she said.
This is the point. Azmin’s handlers want to encourage a sense of fatigue They want people to distrust PKR. Let’s face facts, PKR has done a lot, which makes it a target for people who believe that PKR is the weak link in the coalition.
Anwar demanded an explanation for the meeting and since there has been no credible explanation, what we can assume is that PKR and Anwar have no idea how to deal with the minister of economic affairs because they fear the repercussions of expelling him from the party.
Azmin’s continued presence in PKR only reinforces the narrative that Anwar will never be prime minister. The fact that Azmin has not changed parties could be due to several reasons. However, I think that the longer he remains in PKR, the more trouble he will cause.
This is the strategy, after all.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy