KUALA LUMPUR, March 17 — Rafizi Ramli officially ended his three-year hiatus from Malaysian politics on Tuesday with the announcement that he would be running for PKR deputy president when party elections take place in April.
The former PKR strongman also said that he was coming back to help his party and the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition attract more supporters.
Some view the return of the one-time Pandan MP — who is known for his strong stance against corruption, as well as for taking the lid off a number of high-profile controversies — as a good step forward for PH to win back voters come the 15th general election (GE15), which many believe Barisan Nasional (BN) will be pushing for following its thumping victory in the recently concluded Johor state polls.
With all this in mind, Malay Mail spoke to several political analysts and researchers to find out what Rafizi's reemergence really means for PKR and PH.
Independent political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said that Rafizi’s return to the political arena will be viewed favourably by his supporters, but his hard-headedness and opposition to the ‘big umbrella’ or ‘big tent’ concept is already pitting him against some Amanah and DAP leaders.
“Rafizi's return would be welcomed by some who think there's hardly any good news in PH, but others in Amanah and DAP would dread to deal with him.
“Rafizi is an ideologue. He would take the hard and longer route to promote the kind of politics he believes in and it is certainly not a mere accommodation to win power, something a few DAP and Amanah leaders have grown fond of after a short stint in the Cabinet,” he told Malay Mail.
Khoo said that it is now up to PH leadership to decide if Rafizi’s reentrance would only cause further strife within the coalition, adding that if they choose to embrace Rafizi’s ideals and strategies, it could potentially be a turning point for the coalition.
“If they decided that the long and arduous road is too much work, they could leave PH and regroup with Perikatan Nasional (PN) under a new coalition. PH could suffer a split too. Not all can accept PN and the betrayers, as some would call them,” he said.
Oi Eh Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, shared with Malay Mail that he felt it is rather timely for Rafizi to announce his return to a prominent position in PKR, just as the party was hit by a string of state election defeats in Melaka, Sarawak, Johor and likely beyond.
“Rafizi is like a breath of fresh air which could hopefully restore some of the erstwhile support for PKR in particular and PH in general that has dissipated in the past months due to both Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s broken vows and the signing of the MoU to support Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob,” he said.
But Oh also warned that Rafizi would need to survive his own coalition’s internal power struggle, as it is understood that some DAP and Amanah leaders do not particularly like the style and ideology that Rafizi brings with him.
This sentiment was shared by Azmi Hassan, senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research, who told Malay Mail that this is the best time for Rafizi to reenter the political stage.
“Following PKR and PH’s disastrous outing not only in Melaka and Sarawak, but also in Johor, this is the best timing for Rafizi to embark on his political career again since not only PKR, but PH as a whole need new leadership — a fresh breath of air, especially PKR.
"With the entry of Rafizi, I think working together with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will give more clout to PKR within PH itself, so the entrance of Rafizi, if he succeeds in the number two position, will make Anwar a little bit stronger when dealing with Amanah and DAP,” he said.
Azmi said that Rafizi’s return provides a new lifeline for PKR, but with PH as a whole, his different views on how to approach politics would hit some walls with a few DAP and Amanah leaders.
“Sentiments within PKR itself will improve tremendously, but I’m not sure within PH because sometimes, DAP and Amanah have a different point of view regarding Rafizi’s political ideology or strategy.
“But I think, with PKR, they have a new lifeline, and it is better for PH as a whole,” he told Malay Mail.
As for Sunway University political scientist Wong Chin Huat, he told Malay Mail that Rafizi's return fills the vacuum of not just the party’s number two position, but eventually the number one role as Anwar's retirement is now only a question of when — paving the way for Rafizi to take over the party when Anwar steps aside.
He added that DAP and Amanah would stay in PH regardless of who is running PKR as this works best for them in GE15.
“After PKR's debacle of losing badly in two polls under its own logo, Rafizi would not push for PKR's exit from PH.
“Rafizi is, however, too junior to command respect across parties. So, he would have to be more diplomatic than how he was in PKR, if he hopes to become the Opposition's next supreme leader,” he said.
Wong said that Rafizi’s talk about “problem solving” is the right direction for PKR and PH as anger mobilisation no longer works, but workable policy alternatives need to be offered at the level of PH, and not PKR, as the latter stands no chance of dominating the next government on its own.
“If Rafizi is serious, he should push PH to appoint a shadow Cabinet with MPs and a few non-MP key leaders like him.
“That's how PH can be fundamentally different with Rafizi back on board, as Anwar just won't appoint shadow ministers to do policy work on a daily basis even though he dreams of being prime minister every day,” he said.
Rafizi, a close confidante and former adviser to Anwar, formally announced his withdrawal from active politics in 2019.
His Pandan seat was contested by Anwar’s wife and then PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail in the 2018 general election.
PKR will be holding an internal election in April to decide the party’s leadership from 2022 to 2025. Its national congress is slated to take place from June 10 to 12.
Nominations for the party polls will be open from March 11 to 19 and PKR will hold online voting for the first time.