JOCELINE TAN : WHO’S NEXT SELANGOR MB – AZMIN OR KHALID?

Sunday October 14, 2012

Battle for MB post eclipses polls

INSIGHT By JOCELINE TAN joceline@thestar.com.my

 

Rivalry for hot seat: Khalid (left) and Azmin have been circling each other like ambitious lions in their tussle for the coveted post of Selangor Mentri Besar. Rivalry for hot seat: Khalid (left) and Azmin have been circling each other like ambitious lions in their tussle for the coveted post of Selangor Mentri Besar.

The rivalry between Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and Azmin Ali for the Selangor Mentri Besar post has overshadowed the battle for control of the state.

THE exchange of fire between loyalists of Azmin Ali and Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim last week was not the first but it was the fiercest to date.

The stakes have increased as the general election draws near and there is no denying that the two PKR leaders are doing what it takes to be in the cushy seat of Selangor Mentri Besar (MB). The Azmin-Khalid feud has reached a new level of intensity.

But politicians are such natural actors. When Khalid walked into the House shortly before the Dewan Rakyat session began on Monday, Azmin leapt to his feet with outstretched arms. There was no man-hug – that would have been over-acting – but they smiled like they were in a toothpaste advertisement as they shook hands, knowing that all eyes were on them.

Anyone looking at the pair last week would have been puzzled, even confused, as to whether they are rivals or buddies. The two adversaries are, quite ironically, seated next to each other – Khalid as the Bandar Tun Razak MP and Azmin as Gombak MP.

Azmin immediately launched into an earnest explanation about his interview in a Malay daily that had sparked off the latest rounds of attacks, saying that the reaction generated was not fair to both of them.

Faekah: The petite but fierce political secretary has taken the bullets for Khalid. Faekah: The petite but fierce political secretary has taken the bullets for Khalid.

Khalid was quite blasé about it and told him: “No problem, there’s no need to apologise. In fact, I just told reporters outside: ‘Thank you to Azmin for saying that I am federal material.’”

The pair even left the House together a couple of hours later – Khalid to attend a meeting and Azmin to visit one of his party workers in hospital. In the afternoon, they were together again, this time at a PKNS meeting in Shah Alam. Again, there were lots of smiles and jovial exchanges, with Azmin praising Khalid’s handling of Selangor’s financial affairs.

It was not exactly Oscar-winning stuff but it was a good show. Beneath the civil smiles and pleasantries lie a simmering rivalry that is centred around the post of Selangor MB. The two men are savvy enough to leave all that I-say-you and the you-say-me attacks to their machais.

They are well-matched to take on each other. Khalid is the MB, but Azmin pulls the strings in PKR as the deputy president, Selangor chief and party election director.

Azmin is not only a political animal but a smooth operator. Khalid, on the other hand, is not as naive as some imagine. Behind that absent-minded professor demeanour is a man determined to hold on to what he has.

Khalid has often been described as an accidental politician. That is not really the case because he has been interested in politics since his days as CEO of Guthrie Bhd. He had even vied for a division post in Umno. The MB’s office is a dream come true for him and he is not going to let go without a fight.

The latest attack began with a front page interview in Sinar Harian where Azmin praised Khalid’s achievements in Selangor and declared that Khalid’s corporate experience would be needed at the federal level if Pakatan takes Putrajaya.

The headline the next day was: MB Baru Selepas PRU13 (new MB after general election). That was when the bullets started flying between supporters of both sides.

In the corporate world, that would be known as being “kicked upstairs” – removed without losing too much face.

Zuraidah: She walks and talks like a man but is a fierce defender of Azmin. Zuraidah: She walks and talks like a man but is a fierce defender of Azmin.

Azmin has often told those who claim that he wants to take over from Khalid that, “I am eyeing Putrajaya, not Selangor”. But he is well aware that Pakatan’s hopes of winning the federal government are getting slimmer by the day and the coalition is more likely to hold on to Selangor than arrive in Putrajaya. Hence, his move to close in on the MB post.

Khalid’s chief defender has been his loyal political secretary Faekah Husin. She did not mince her words about Azmin’s interview; as a result she has been severely criticised by Azmin’s camp.

The petite lawyer admitted with a laugh, “there are bullet holes all over my body.”

Azmin’s boys joke that Faekah is the “First Lady of Selangor”. They go for her because she is an easier target to hit than Khalid and there are now renewed calls to sack her for criticising Azmin.

Mundane remarks

But sacked from what and for what? Faekah is only an ordinary party member, she does not have a party post and her remarks about Azmin were rather mundane.

Moreover, the only person who can sack her is Khalid and he trusts her implicitly; that is what makes her so powerful in Selangor.

Faekah is Khalid’s spokeswoman, and during the launch of his book Fearless: From Kampung Boy to CEO, he singled her out for mention. Going by the video that was aired during the launch, it is quite clear that she is central to Khalid’s politics and work.

Her power status goes up another notch if one considers that she was the former political secretary to PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and they are still very close. Azmin’s boys know they will have to take Faekah down before they can get Khalid, hence the periodic calls for her removal.

In June this year, a group using the Twitter handle @PecatFaekah had agitated for Faekah’s resignation. The group has not given up and has since extended their scope to @PecatFaekah/Arfah, the latter being Khalid’s press secretary.

While Khalid relies on Faekah to check Azmin, Azmin uses Ampang MP Zuraidah Kamaruddin to poke at Khalid. They are Alpha females who do not mind taking the heat for their men.

Zuraidah, who is Azmin’s No. 2 in Selangor, ticked off Khalid a few months ago when he declined to defend Azmin over some compromising photographs of a couple in a toilet. More recently, she lectured Faekah for “jumping the gun” and told her to improve her communication skills with party leaders.

Azmin’s supporters maintain that the MB post should have gone to him instead of Khalid. Azmin was in the lead to be the MB when Selangor fell in 2008.

But in the early hours of March 9, Khalid’s name overtook Azmin’s and by the time the sun came up, Khalid was confirmed as the choice of MB. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had opted for Khalid because he was a big corporate name and also because he thought that Khalid would be easier to control than Azmin; he was wrong on the second count.

Azmin was deeply disappointed and one of those at Anwar’s house that morning recalled witnessing how the de facto leader tried to placate Azmin for almost an hour.

“Azmin’s face was white with anger – if you had cut it with a knife, there would have been no blood,” said an insider.

Anwar’s pitch at that time was that Putrajaya was within arm’s reach and he needed Azmin to be in charge. The younger man was sucked into the Sept 16 fairy tale along with many other Malaysians. He is older and wiser and going for the realistic option this time around.

In that sense, Azmin’s remarks in Sinar Harian were very much about about staking his territory and preparing everyone for his ascent.

But while Azmin has control over his party, he has problems getting the support of the coalition. DAP’s Karpal Singh reminded him that the MB post is a consensus decision while PAS secretary-general Datuk Mustafa Ali said he was “too ambitious”.

Khalid’s situation is the reverse – he is the preferred choice of Pakatan but he does not seem to have the backing of his party. His other problem is that his state seat in Ijok is said to be quite vulnerable and he will have to work hard to do well there.

Third candidate

There has also been talk about positioning Nurul Izzah as the next MB, and Taman Medan, a state seat in Selangor, has been named as a possible constituency for her. It is not an implausible scenario because Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo was only slightly older than her when he was plucked from obscurity for the post.

The Lembah Pantai MP and party vice-president has popular appeal and there is still that wow-factor surrounding her.

But her problem is that, intellectually, she has not measured up to her generational peers like Rafizi Ramli or Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin. She has not shone in Parliament compared to several other first-time MPs. Without her father’s name, she would be just another pretty and ambitious politician.

Her other problem is that she seems to be modelling herself after the eccentric Batu MP Tian Chua whom not many people take seriously these days. They like to pursue sensational and gimmicky issues without proper research and when proven wrong, they simply move on to a new issue. Over time, such incidents affect one’s credibility.

For instance, Nurul Izzah went to town about the Defence Ministry submarine that could not dive. She got loads of publicity but when the submarine dived in the sea off Sabah with no less than the King on board, she behaved as though she had never talked about it.

Nurul Izzah is a good ceramah speaker but has yet to show that she can think and argue factually in a debate. She has a lot of catching up to do and Azmin will see to it that she stays in Lembah Pantai.

Nurul Izzah and Dr Wan Azizah have made statements to the effect of siding Khalid but Anwar has been silent on the feud but it should not be read as impartiality. The de facto leader holds the veto decision and he will use it when the time comes.

In the meantime, the feud will simmer on. Azmin and Khalid will continue to smile and say lovely things about each other in public while the knives are sharpened behind the scenes.

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