Anwar's daughters step up to the plate

Anwar's daughters step up to the plate
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim gestures while addressing his supporters at a gathering in Kuala Lumpur on February 9, 2015

It was a rather teary debut for Nurul Nuha Anwar, the second-born of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's six children.

The slender and attractive 31-year-old broke down barely minutes into the press conference, her voice shaking with emotion and her cheeks wet with tears as she read from a prepared script.

Her big sister Nurul Izzah was clearly in charge as she draped a protective arm over her sister while the rest of the siblings looked on silently.

The children have stepped up to the plate to take charge of the March to Freedom campaign that is aimed at garnering national and international support for their imprisoned father. It is not unlike the "Free Anwar Campaign" during the first sodomy case.

Their mother, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, was not present and the children said they wanted to share her burden and responsibility.

Despite struggling with her composure, Nurul Nuha is said to be the most spunky and politically-astute among the Anwar brood.

Nurul Nuha is the daughter who most resembles her mother in terms of looks. Many would remember her as the skinny adolescent who, shortly after Anwar's black-eye incident in 1998, thrust her body from the window of a moving car and shouted out "reformasi!" to the crowds. It was one of those riveting moments in politics.

The young gawky girl with cropped hair and spectacles has grown up and is now a mother of two.

The Anwar clan is very tight-knit but Nurul Nuha has often stood out for her fierce belief in her father. At the start of the second sodomy trial, she had leapt to her feet when she saw Saiful Bukhary Azlan in court and shouted at him. Family members had to quickly calm her down.

Some PKR politicians insisted that having the family take charge of the March to Freedom campaign was to give it a less partisan dimension. They said a "family affair" would encourage participation from NGOs and individuals who might otherwise be put off if it was done by a political party.

But many saw Wednesday's press conference also as a move to project Nurul Nuha as a possible candidate for the impending by-election in Permatang Pauh.

"She is a quick thinker and has good people skills. I saw how well she got along with people, old and young, when she used to accompany her mother to Permatang Pauh," said Faekah Husin, the former political secretary to Dr Wan Azizah.

Another Anwar family name is about to enter the fray. The political dynasty is about to become more entrenched, and not everyone in PKR is too comfortable about that.

Nurul Nuha's name was proposed as a candidate in Penang in the general election but Anwar had shot it down. But her turn may have come.

It is going to be quite awkward for the party, especially for those who feel that PKR must wean itself from the dominance of Istana Segambut, as the powerful Anwar family is known among party members.

The party is still smarting over the starring role of the husband-and-wife pair in the party election last year. This carried into the Kajang by-election and the Selangor mentri besar crisis. It was way too much family politics, and it had turned the party into some sort of laughing stock.

But few would dare to object to another family member in Permatang Pauh even if they think it smacks of nepotism. The seat is synonymous to Anwar and it would seem callous for anyone to insist that it goes to a non-family member, even in the name of democratic politics.

Those arguing for a non-family candidate said the seat is symbolic of Pakatan Rakyat's strength and that someone who is measurable to public expectations would be more suitable.

"Anwar claims that his cause is that of justice and democracy for Malaysia. If that is the case, it should not preclude others. There is no need to go down the family line," said a Pakatan politician from Penang.

Actually, a number of other people are eyeing the sure-win seat.

A day after the Anwar verdict, a well-meaning PKR politician had called Dr Wan Azizah to offer words of comfort and also to suggest that she consider PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu for Permatang Pauh.

The caller said it would allow Mat Sabu a platform to go for the presidency and if he wins, he can ensure that PAS stays with Pakatan. Giving the seat to a PAS man is out of the question but there was no harm trying.

There are equally eager candidates within PKR, and one of them is former secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution whose career is now in limbo after losing badly in the PKR election.

Saifuddin had complained during a party meeting that he felt like he had been abandoned. He indicated that he was struggling to cope with a lawsuit brought against him by Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim. Saifuddin had made corruption allegations against the former Selangor Mentri Besar at the height of the mentri besar crisis and he has been sued for that.

Being an MP would help him return from the cold and restore his political career.

Another name that has cropped up is that of Yusmadi Yusoff, a lawyer and former Balik Pulau MP.

Like Saifuddin, Yusmadi is also looking to make a comeback and what better opportunity than via a high-profile by-election.

But this is no ordinary by-election and some of the above names are rather too garden variety to excite the electorate. Moreover, there are already suggestions of a watikah or authorisation from Anwar about the seat and, like it or not, he will have a big say from prison.

Some in the party have even suggested Dr Wan Azizah for the seat.

Kak Wan, as she is known, stepped in and won the seat in 1999 after Anwar's sacking. In 2009, she resigned to pave a by-election for Anwar to return to politics. Then she made her own return to politics in the Kajang by-election last year.

It was starting to look like a revolving door, the way the family went in and out as they liked but they do seem to get away with it. As such, Kak Wan's candidature should not be discounted.

PKR's first lady may become even more powerful now that she is the chief conduit between the party and her imprisoned husband.

The focus on PKR was interrupted by the death of PAS leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat on Thursday night.

It was the passing of a legend and the by-election in Chempaka is likely to happen sooner than in Permatang Pauh.

The Permatang Pauh seat will only be declared vacant 14 days from the date of conviction if Anwar fails to get a royal pardon. To date, there is no sign that he is seeking a royal pardon.

Pakatan leaders welcome the breathing space because they need to get their act together, patch up some of the cracks and agree on a suitable candidate.

Anwar was an important figure in Penang because he was the Malay face to the otherwise Chinese-centric government. But there will never be another Anwar and they may have to settle for his daughter.

Pakatan leaders want nothing less than a landslide victory in the by-election. This is crucial to show that the people are still with Anwar and to validate Pakatan's standing as a coalition.

The last seven by-elections have not been encouraging for Pakatan. The coalition lost Teluk Intan and it retained the seats where it was the incumbent by smaller majorities. In contrast, Barisan won with bigger majorities in the seats where it was the incumbent.

The signs of voter disenchantment are there. Pakatan needs to restore its image with a big win in Permatang Pauh.

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