Partyforumseasia: After nearly nine months of “gestation”, the drama around the replacement of Khalid Ibrahim, chief minister of Malaysia’s richest federal state of Selangor, comes to an end. In the unique set up of leaving the final appointment of his replacement to the local Sultan, the new chief minister will be Mr. Azmin Ali. He is the Selangor chief of Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and its vice president on the national level. Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah thus thwarted the strategically desastrous attempt of PKR to establish Anwar Ibrahim’s wife Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as chief minister. The series of political moves brought the opposition coalition of PKR, Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Muslim party PAS to the abyss of breaking apart and undermined the standing and authority of de facto coalition leader Anwar Ibrahim. It really looks like the UMNO and Barisan Nasional dream of neutralizing the opposition threat is coming true (see our 30 July post), their leaders must be watching their luck in disbelief. Their initial input was preventing Anwar Ibrahim from running for the Selangor state parliament and eventually taking over as chief minister himself by simply reviving the dubious sodomy case against him. If this triggered Anwar’s decision to let his wife run instead, the Pandora box was open. One strategic mistake followed the other and created internal problems of the coalition partners, especially in PAS.
Strategy-wise there were arguably several mistakes:
1. The evidence against chief minister Khalid Ibrahim was not sufficient to sack him immediately. For his obviously unexpected refusal to step down there was no plan B.
2. Obviously the necessary early co-ordination with the coalition partners was neglected. The move looked more like a strongman decision by Anwar Ibrahim.
3. The final say-power of the Sultan seems to have been underestimated with the coalition’s focus on a narrow majority in the state parliament for Dr. Wan Azizah.
4. The internal mood in PAS and its controversial discussion about a female chief minister has not been taken seriously enough. The tensions within the party between a more religious (Ulama) and a more liberal (Erdogan) faction would have necessitated a more sensitive approach by PKR.
5. By not considering long term supporter Azmin Ali as a natural choice for Khalid’s succession Anwar himself created tensions and factional divisions in PKR.
Outlook: After the PAS party convention last weekend, which also weakened PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition of anyway not too compatible partners is still standing. But it looks definitely more fragile and a lot less dangerous for the UMNO government. Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership prestige is definitely dented. It will be more difficult than ever before in the last six years of its existence to hold the coalition together.