Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's plan to elevate his wife as Selangor's menteri besar is in tatters after the state ruler lambasted his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) for defying the request to nominate more than one candidate as the next state chief.
But this opens the way for the party's influential deputy president, Mr Azmin Ali, to finally take power after PKR's top leadership decided on Tuesday that it will nominate him should the palace reject party president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Sources told The Straits Times that a letter from the palace arrived yesterday evening, in which "His Majesty chided the party for defying his decree".
PKR issued a statement late last night saying that the letter was a reminder that more than two names were required, without rejecting its president's candidacy, but the party retracted the statement moments later.
Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, who ignored Dr Wan Azizah's request for an audience last month, set yesterday as the deadline for PKR and its two partners in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition to offer more than one name for the menteri besar post.
On Monday evening, PKR officially declared Dr Wan Azizah as its sole choice. The Democratic Action Party, its partner in PR, did the same on Tuesday.
However, fears that the Sultan would view the party's stance as defiant forced PKR's top leadership to capitulate - and decide that Mr Azmin, the choice of third PR partner Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), should be the alternative.
PKR, which has controlled Malaysia's richest state with its PR allies since 2008, agreed on Tuesday night to nominate Mr Azmin for royal assent should the palace reject Dr Wan Azizah, sources told The Straits Times.
"Although the top leadership will not supersede the earlier letter, they agreed to hold a special meeting to endorse Azmin if the palace rejects Wan Azizah," a source said.
PAS said on Tuesday it would submit the two names as had been decided by the Islamic party on Aug 17, despite Mr Azmin saying he would support PKR's nomination of Dr Wan Azizah.
However, he did not turn down the PAS nomination outright and a source close to him told The Straits Times that if PKR decides to submit his name to the palace, "Azmin will surely accept as a party loyalist".
Beleaguered Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim was sacked by PKR on Aug 9, ending a seven-month battle between him and the party, which had accused him of being uncooperative and abusing his position to clear a RM70 million (S$27.6 million) debt.
But the Sultan allowed him to stay on as PAS refused to endorse Dr Wan Azizah as the sole PR candidate.
Mr Azmin, who is PKR's Selangor chief, has repeatedly been tipped for the menteri besar post. PR had preferred Tan Sri Khalid because of his experience as a corporate baron.
Mr Anwar's setback will further damage his credentials as PR's prime ministerial candidate. Analysts have said that although the country's former deputy prime minister remains an icon of the opposition's struggles, his waning ability to deliver results has undermined his grip on the PR leadership.
This article was published on Sept 4 in The Straits Times.
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