With Anwar out, a vacuum at Pakatan top

With Anwar out, a vacuum at Pakatan top
STAR POWER: Ms Nurul Izzah, daughter of jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar, speaking at a rally to protest against his imprisonment in Kuala Lumpur on March 7. The Lembah Pantai MP is ambitious and in a hurry, although she is still trying to find her identity.

It was supposed to be Nurul Izzah Anwar's big moment in Parliament. She was Pakatan Rakyat's choice to speak on behalf of her opposition leader father.

There had been all that political hype over Anwar Ibrahim in the run-up to the Parliament sitting and the Pakatan Rakyat side thought this would be a golden opportunity for her to win hearts and minds as well as showcase what she is about.

The Lembah Pantai MP has a strong yet feminine voice and MPs and the media had been expecting something extraordinary. But the speech, somehow, did not quite measure up to expectations.

It was rather underwhelming and largely a repetition of the things that Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leaders had been saying since the guilty verdict.

It was like going to a movie that everyone has been raving about only to end up less than impressed because one had expected too much.

PKR had created a political theatre over Anwar's standing in Parliament.

If he could not make his presence felt, then they would make his absence felt. Ms Nurul Izzah had demanded that Anwar be permitted to have tea with the king, who had delivered the royal address in Parliament.

PKR's chief whip and Sungai Petani MP Johari Abdul had given interviews claiming he would find a way to get Anwar to attend the sitting. Mr Johari had allegedly lobbied to read out Anwar's speech, but who is he compared with the star power of Ms Nurul Izzah?

It was a game of pure politics because there is no law allowing a prisoner who is an MP to attend Parliament.

There had also been discussions behind the scenes about staging a walkout if the Speaker disallowed Ms Nurul Izzah from reading her father's speech. But the worry was that the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) members would not join them in walking out. It would be a PR disaster if the MPs from PAS remained in their seats while Democratic Action Party (DAP) and PKR left the chamber.

Ms Nurul Izzah is ambitious and in a hurry, although she is still trying to find her identity. She has taken on a highly visible role from the day her father was found guilty. She moved quickly to claim the stage before others could step up to the plate.

Although her mother is the party president, she is seen as the one taking charge of a number of political events. She has been on the streets addressing the young group protesting Anwar's verdict, making the public talk rounds and calling people for help and support.

She has made no bones about the fact that she sees herself as the torchbearer of her father's legacy.


Some think the Anwar family is being used by secretary-general Rafizi Ramli to strengthen his standing in PKR.

Mr Rafizi is a newsmaker and is known for exposing scandals, but his leadership style does not work for everyone. His interpersonal skills are somewhat lacking and he is also known as the "e-mail guy" because of his penchant for issuing orders and instructions via e-mail.

His critics still remember his speech at last year's PKR Congress, during which he told those who did not like Anwar and his family to either contest against them or get out of the party. It was a polarising statement and also quite arrogant.

But Mr Rafizi and the Anwar family enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The family has the name and image and he has the ideas, and they ride on each other's strengths.

There were, however, insider reports about tension between him and the family following the petition for a royal pardon. The family's decision to petition the king left him red-faced because he had been telling all and sundry that Anwar would not seek a royal pardon. He was still saying that just hours before Dr Wan Azizah and her second daughter, Ms Nurul Nuha, handed over the petition to the palace.

Ms Nurul Izzah has also claimed a leading role in the coming Permatang Pauh by-election. She and former secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution are co-chairmen of the party's election committee. Party insiders said Mr Saifuddin expressed interest in taking charge of the by-election. But Ms Nurul Izzah wanted it and she got it.


The buzz over her sister, Ms Nurul Nuha, has fizzled.

There was a great deal of excitement when the family pushed Ms Nurul Nuha centrestage. People were curious for a glimpse of her and to hear her speak.

DAP leaders in Penang were initially keen to consider her as the candidate for Permatang Pauh and had organised a talk featuring her as the new star on the horizon. It is understood that they have changed their minds about her.

Ms Nurul Nuha not only resembles her mother, but she also speaks like Dr Wan Azizah. The slender and attractive mother of two, who used to work as a graphic designer, is a tentative speaker, lacks stage presence and seems to cry at every function. She is clearly not ready for the demanding world of politics.

"Every appearance she makes diminishes her chances as a candidate for Permatang Pauh," said a Penang Pakatan leader.

Ms Nurul Izzah is the only natural politician among her siblings and even she is seen as still having a long way to go. She has the charisma but still lacks depth and breadth when it comes to issues.

In fact, Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said almost stole the thunder from Ms Nurul Izzah's "opposition leader speech" one day later.

Umno's Ms Azalina was at her most aggressive but her fierce, calculated and off-the-cuff response showed the younger woman what experience, a background in law and the ability to think on one's feet added up to.

She tore into Ms Nurul Izzah's speech and dared Pakatan to hold demonstrations in the states where it is in power. She pointed out their double standards over the judiciary and listed all the court cases that Pakatan leaders had won in court.

"When you win, the judges are angels. When you lose, everyone is a devil," she said.

Ms Azalina's speech caused such an uproar that the House resembled a fish market.

Ms Nurul Izzah is also seen as a contender to replace her father as opposition leader after being the one who delivered his speech.

But she may not get her wish simply because there are other more qualified people.

Earlier on, it was thought that DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, who is both MP and an assemblyman, was interested in the post. But DAP sources said the party would prefer "a full-time man" like Gelang Patah MP Lim Kit Siang.

"He is omnipresent in Parliament and knows the ropes," said a Pakatan leader.

Kit Siang is an old hand at the game. He has been in politics since the 1960s but unfortunately, that is also his problem.

He used to taunt Dr Mahathir Mohamad that it was time to retire and those words have returned to haunt him. Kit Siang is 74, just four years short of Dr Mahathir's age when the latter called it a day. Pakatan has younger talent and does not need to resort to recycling.

Despite decades in Parliament, Kit Siang has not quite mastered the national language. During the final ceramah (talk) for Anwar in Petaling Jaya last month, he stumbled so many times in his Bahasa Malaysia speech that he eventually gave up and finished it in English.

The standard of Bahasa Malaysia in Parliament is quite high nowadays and it is imperative that the opposition leader be able to speak Bahasa Malaysia well.

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali is also a contender. The Selangor chief minister received endorsement from an unexpected source - his old nemesis, Zaid Ibrahim.

"Mr Azmin has the resources and the political skills to replace Anwar. There is no need to be sentimental and goad Anwar's wife or one of his daughters to assume the post. The new opposition leader must be able to formulate more cohesive and united policies and show Barisan Nasional (BN) that he is a formidable force in and outside of Parliament," Mr Zaid had written in his blog.

Mr Azmin, 50, seems to enjoy a certain stature even among BN politicians. Recently, he flew economy class to Kuching but was accorded the VVIP treatment by the Sarawak government.

He paid a courtesy call on Chief Minister Adenan Satem and several Cabinet members and met the influential Archbishop Bolly Lapok.

Parliament reporters say Mr Azmin carries himself with authority, is able to stand up to his opponents and uses proper language even when provoking the other side. His problem is that he has his hands full as chief minister of Malaysia's most happening state.

The consensus in Pakatan is that Anwar will remain the opposition leader until his seat is declared vacant.

The political mood this time around has been a stark contrast to Anwar's first imprisonment - no white hot anger or emotional eruption. The #KitaLawan rally the weekend before last drew a respectable crowd, but it was nowhere close to the spontaneous tide of people pouring out into the streets in 1998. That is what happens when the PAS crowd stays at home.

To quote Mr Zaid, who has become the "unconventional statesman" of Malaysia, it is time they show there is more to their struggle than Anwar Ibrahim.

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