KUALA LUMPUR: MOHAMED Azmin Ali’s ascension as Selangor menteri besar does not, for now, necessitate a change of guard in PKR’s top hierarchy, currently helmed by de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
However, if push comes to shove as uncertainty looms over Anwar’s pending court appeal — a case in which he was found guilty of sodomising a former aide — Azmin is likely standing ready to lead PKR in the absence of his political mentor.
Anwar’s final sodomy case appeal will be heard at the Federal Court on Oct 28 and 29.
Analysts have already painted a picture of a future PKR without Anwar, while several party leaders were adamant that the opposition leader could still lead the party behind bars, citing South African anti-apartheid revolutionary leader Nelson Mandela as an example of such a situation.
“We are in a struggle which is not anchored by individuals. If the situation requires it, Azmin, or even I, could lead the party,” said party vice-president Tian Chua.
“In Anwar’s case, whether he is sentenced or his appeal overturned... that does not necessarily deny him his leadership role. He can even lead (from jail), just like Mandela.”
Azmin, according to political observers, seemed unperturbed by detractors, after his predecessor Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim was shown the exit from the menteri besar office.
At a press conference yesterday, in response to a rebuke by Khalid’s special assistant Faekah Husin over recent decisions made by the new Selangor administration, Azmin tersely commented: “Who is Faekah?”
The glowing confidence as the richest state’s top executive was expected to help Azmin garner a larger legion of supporters that could well surpass Anwar’s.
Former PKR information chief Ruslan Kasim believed that Anwar would try to act as a “patron” to Azmin’s leadership, with the former leading the new menteri besar on a tight leash.
“Azmin may be close to Anwar, but in the end, he will stand on his own. If Anwar is sentenced to jail, I believe Azmin will rise. When this happens, Anwar will eventually lose his relevancy,” he said.
Political observers were also convinced that the party was already looking beyond Anwar’s leadership, said Professor Dr Jayum Jawan.
He pointed out that Anwar’s role had become redundant at Azmin’s “graduation”.
“Anwar has already passed his ideals on to Azmin. PKR can move on without him as the party had long passed the point where it relied on Anwar,” said the National Professors’ Council deputy political head, adding that Anwar was only instrumental in creating a transformative movement in the party.
A transition in leadership might encounter some difficulties, including the need to find a replacement for the PKR advisor post, which Anwar currently holds.
“Azmin will have to rise to the challenge in moulding his own brand of leadership in the party. It will be up to him and his generation of young leaders,” said Jayum.
However, Anwar’s clout might not wane so soon, said Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Dr Mazlan Ali, who believed he could still wield his influence until the 14th General Election.
“There is no doubt that Azmin is the rising star. But Anwar could still be around since he played an important role in unifying the opposition parties.
“Nevertheless, Anwar’s popularity is expected to dip after the election as party members will turn to Azmin as their future leader.”
As for party president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, whom many regarded as Anwar’s political extension, Jayum said she would also share her husband’s fate.
“She has always been seen and used as a political stand-in for Anwar since the beginning; from contesting on her husband’s behalf (in Permatang Pauh and Kajang). She is not a serious contender to lead PKR.
“Dr Wan Azizah temporarily fills in vacuums. I think she will be a nobody,” Jayum said.
“She will not be able to provide the leadership required post-Anwar.”