Datuk Seri Azmin Ali occupied center stage in Malaysia’s Parliament this week. Pictures of the Economic Affairs Minister alongside Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad were splashed in all the media reports.
Some in Parliament thought that the way Tun Dr Mahathir gazed at Mr Azmin was like the way a father would look at his favorite son. The mid-term review of the 11th Malaysia Plan was a big moment for Mr Azmin even though it was the Prime Minister who presented the report.
It was a big gesture on the part of Mr Azmin who is definitely in the good books of the Prime Minister.
But the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy president has somehow been unable to make a similar impact in the PKR election that started last month and which is being staggered over two months.
He has managed to stay ahead of his challenger, Mr Rafizi Ramli, but the lead he holds over his rival has been less than impressive.
Given the fact that Mr Azmin is the party’s No. 2 and holding an important Cabinet post, he should have pulled far ahead of Mr Rafizi by now.
But Mr Azmin seems to be struggling and this has surprised even election expert and Unisel vice-chancellor Redzuan Othman, who had expected Mr Azmin to surge ahead based on his experience. “Going on delivery record, Azmin should be much ahead. But the younger members who are voting seem to be going for Rafizi,” said Dr Redzuan.
Selangor is supposed to be Mr Azmin’s home turf; it is where he started his political career and stamped his mark as Menteri Besar.
Mr Rafizi is the underdog in this race, yet he is giving Mr Azmin a good fight in Selangor.
This week, despite eruptions of trouble in some divisions, Mr Azmin came out on top of Mr Rafizi by a significant margin in the second phase of the Selangor polls where a total of seven divisions voted, including Gombak where he had held sway for many years. It was his best showing so far and it helped that the leaders of five of those seven divisions are aligned to Mr Azmin.
When the first batch of nine Selangor divisions voted last week, Mr Azmin managed to stay ahead of Mr Rafizi by only about 770 votes.
Mr Rafizi is currently down with sore eyes – he posted a picture of himself on Facebook, his eyes red and puffy – and has been unable to move around as much as he would have liked.
The incumbent vice-president has made quite a song and dance over the fact that he pipped Mr Azmin in six out of eight states.
Well, you can’t fault him for singing or dancing, given that he has managed to come this far when he is not even an MP.
His crowd-sourcing and campaign method via his Invoke NGO has set the trend for the future of political campaigning in Malaysia, and only someone as innovative as him could have pulled it off.
Mr Azmin is a big name but Mr Rafizi is a brand name. He made a name for himself as a whistle-blower and, although he sat out the general election, he campaigned extensively via his Invoke outfit.
The young cohort who are also the Internet generation know about him on Facebook.
Mr Rafizi claimed victory in Negri Sembilan and Melaka last Saturday, although the Melaka results are on hold following allegations of “missing votes” as a result of technical problems.
His win in Negri Sembilan was not a surprise because Menteri Besar Aminuddin Harun is his ally.
But Mr Rafizi’s strong showing in Melaka came as a surprise because Melaka strongman and Deputy Primary Industries Minister Shamsul Iskandar is aligned to Mr Azmin.
Despite Mr Azmin struggling to stay ahead, the rest of his team is actually doing quite well.
His allies – Madam Zuraida Kamaruddin, Mr Xavier Jayakumar, Mr Tian Chua and Mr Shamsul Iskandar – are ahead of Mr Rafizi’s men comprising Datuk Johari Abdul, Mr William Leong and Mr S. Kesavan.
The exception is Mr Rafizi’s ally, Ms Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is headed for a clean sweep as the top vice-president.
Her pole position is a result of her personal charisma, the family name and also sympathy over the fact that she has not been able to take up any government post.
Mr Azmin’s candidates for the Wanita leadership are also giving Mr Rafizi’s candidates a close fight.
Likewise, Mr Azmin’s team for the Youth wing is doing well.
The Azmin-Rafizi rivalry has caused fights and disputes to erupt in several divisions, especially in Selangor last Sunday.
The police had to be called in and people were arrested. Video footage of the troubles has been passed around like hot cakes.
Fortunately, there were no flying chairs but it speaks poorly of the party whose president is the Prime Minister-in-waiting.
Expect even more action this weekend when Kedah, Perak and the third and final stages of the Selangor polls take place.