PETALING JAYA — Former Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli has made the first move in the campaign for the PKR deputy presidency, a contest that has been oddly muted despite the ramifications to the dynamics of the party.
Incumbent Datuk Seri Mohd Azmin Ali has responded to the challenge without fanfare despite the animosity between the two men, appearing almost not to acknowledge his rival.
The PKR grassroots also appear to show little public interest in the race, forcing the founder of the Invoke data analytics firm to make his own waves in order to generate the attention he will need to put up a convincing fight against Azmin.
An estimated 860,000 PKR members will vote between Sept 14 and Oct 14 in the party’s internal election, but aside from the candidate announcements, there has not been much jockeying for position yet beyond Rafizi’s recent moves.
The self-styled whistleblower will need to build more momentum to ensure that his challenge does not fizzle out before the race even begins, and has taken to raising issues within the party for this purpose.
Unless Rafizi can gain more traction in the coming weeks and generate enough interest leading up to polling, Azmin is likely to retain his post without difficulty.
In the previous PKR election in 2014, Rafizi was elected as one of the party’s four vice presidents.
Azmin had to fend off a challenge from former PKR secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail to retain the post he first won in 2010, but did so with nearly twice as many votes.
However, the political climate then was vastly different. At the time, PKR was still fiercely opposed to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his role in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s first sodomy case in 1998.
Now, Dr Mahathir is both an ally and the prime minister of the Pakatan Harapan federal government, of which PKR is a member; he also helped secure Anwar’s royal pardon for his second sodomy conviction.
Anwar, in turn, will finally become PKR president, assuming the post from his wife, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, after years of holding the role of unelected de facto leader.
With the head of the party already decided and with PKR now in the corridors of power, the wrangling will occur in the lower rungs where leaders and members expect to be rewarded for their years of dedication and loyalty.
Still, the main event remains the contest between Azmin and Rafizi, who won his vice-presidency in 2014 largely on the strength of his public exposes against rivals, an endeavour that has been as damaging as it has been rewarding.
For his efforts, Rafizi was convicted under the Banking and Financial Institutions Act and Official Secrets Act, the latter of which cost him the opportunity to defend his Pandan federal constituency in the 14th general election. Dr Wan Azizah is now the Pandan MP.
Rafizi has managed to make it seem as though he is Anwar’s proxy to curb the continued rise of Azmin, who is Dr Mahathir’s economic affairs minister and thought now to be closer to the PPBM chairman than the PKR president.
Although it is an internal election, the contest between the two rivals will not be like a rivalry between sibling, but rather a full-blooded and no-holds-barred fight.
Anwar has issued veiled warnings to holders of government posts telling them not to abuse the positions in the race. With Rafizi outside of the government and Azmin in the Cabinet, it is not difficult to identify the intended recipients of the message.
Rafizi is also trying to shape his candidacy as a bid to prevent outside influences from further infiltrating and controlling PKR, and for more party loyalists to also be included in division of spoils following the shock general election result.
Azmin has so far resisted the bait and appears to be in control despite his silence.
Given how Azmin ended up as Selangor menteri besar despite Rafizi’s so-called “Kajang Move” to prevent him from attaining the post, one would be wise not to take his apparent stillness for inaction.