As Harapan rallies behind Mahathir, Azmin steps out of the shadow

AUGUST 24 — Last Friday, in an invitation-only dinner in Shah Alam, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali provided the clearest indication that he wants to be Pakatan Harapan’s prime minister candidate and that he is ready for it.

The Selangor mentri besar spoke in front of a 700-strong crowd of youth leaders, activists, local community leaders and grassroots workers.

Thus far, only Tun Mahathir Mohamad has said he would take on the post of prime minister, if forced to, if the opposition wins at the polls but cannot decide on a suitable candidate. 

Now Azmin has thrown his hat in the ring.

In launching the new Team Selangor initiative which seems to mirror data outfit Invoke, Azmin pledged his support for young people to lead this grassroots platform and engage with local community leaders.

Young people, he said, are the leaders of today and the future. He even joked that working with them has made him look 23 instead of 53. 

When Pakatan Harapan announced its line-up last month, Azmin was only named as one of four vice presidents. 

While some may brush it off as trivial, positions matter in Malaysian politics. 

Azmin has proven to be patient, biding his time as a nuanced operator behind the scenes while others hog the media spotlight. 

That explains his appointment by Tun Mahathir as Harapan’s elections director tasked with negotiating seat allocations with all opposition parties, not only the quartet within Pakatan Harapan. 

Mahathir knows Azmin better than many, having handpicked him to be Anwar Ibrahim’s political secretary in 1987. Since then, Azmin has played the loyal number two until becoming mentri besar of Malaysia’s richest state in 2014. 

There is one big difference between Azmin and his two gurus, Mahathir and Anwar: The latter two spent a great deal of their career crafting and perfecting an image of themselves. One as a Malay nationalist, the other a Muslim democrat. 

Azmin, however, hasn’t spent much time defining himself but he seems to be a smooth operator... knowing what to do at precise moments. 

There are however factions within the opposition—even from his own party—who disagree with him. Some would rather work with Mahathir than Azmin himself. 

When PAS President Datuk Seri Hadi Awang posted a picture on Facebook of himself alongside Azmin and Datuk Seri Wan Azizah, I saw many condemning Azmin and PKR for still trying to bring PAS back to the negotiating table. 

But that post remains one of Hadi’s post popular in recent weeks, and comments from PAS supporters suggest that they would be willing to work with PKR again.

There is coffee-shop talk of mismanagement of funds within the state government but no evidence has yet been brought forward to back these allegations.

Now, Azmin seems to have a better communications team and has forged a good relationship with the Sultan. 

In his 45-minute address on Friday, there was no mention of Anwar. 

Instead, he shared his recent experience of meeting with new Selangor police chief Datuk Mazlan Mansor, the same man he claimed beat him for eight days after being arrested in 1998, and that he is willing to put his personal difference aside to work for Selangorians. 

He also was careful to point out that he fought Mahathir for nearly 20 years as he was against the policies of the former prime minister, and that those disagreements remain. 

Azmin spent a great deal of time explaining that many people he’d met outside they state wanted to come to Selangor because of the state’s successes under the opposition’s leadership which have been ramped up since he took over three years ago.

“They don’t have to move to Selangor”, he said. “Let me move to Putrajaya and we’ll solve the problem.” 

Say what you want about the man, but he seems to be moving ahead steadily. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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