IN A surprise move that raised questions about his national ambitions, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is to contest a by-election in Selangor state.
The move appears to be designed to placate infighting in his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), chiefly between current Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim and state party chief Azmin Ali.
But the idea of Datuk Seri Anwar, who has ambitions to be Malaysia's next prime minister, delving into state politics took allies by surprise and caused confusion all round.
It also raises questions about his opposition coalition's ability to manage Malaysia's wealthiest state, and for that matter, the country, analysts said.
"Mr Anwar's strategy is fast becoming the joke of the year," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs.
On Tuesday, Mr Anwar, who is also a Member of Parliament in Permatang Pauh in Penang, said the party decided that he should contest the Kajang state seat, after state assemblyman Lee Chin Cheh resigned abruptly on Monday. Mr Anwar's MP position would be unaffected.
Asked if he would take over as Menteri Besar, he said no. He also declined to explain how his becoming Kajang assemblyman would help the PKR's bid for federal power.
"It's too early to say," he told local media. "Let's focus on winning the by-election first."
PKR, founded in 2003 by Mr Anwar's wife and later led by him after his release from prison, is one of three parties under the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition.
In the 2008 election, and again in 2013, the PR denied the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition its traditional two-thirds parliamentary majority, and won control of the rich, industrial states of Penang and Selangor.
But the fledgling coalition has struggled to smooth differences between its component parties, which include Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), and the mainly Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP).
On Tuesday, PAS and DAP leaders, including Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, professed surprise at events in Selangor.
PAS' Selangor branch said it did not approve of Mr Anwar's latest moves. "We remind PKR that Selangor is jointly managed by PAS, PKR and DAP," youth wing chief Syarhan Humaizi Abdul Halim said in a statement.
But for PKR, the immediate challenge appears to be preventing the feud between Tan Sri Khalid and Mr Azmin from spiralling out of control.
Mr Khalid, a former corporate leader, is popular among voters for improving the state's finances and general efficiency but has alienated party insiders with his distaste for political patronage.
He has also made missteps, such as tripling the salaries of state executive members last November at a time when voters are struggling with rising costs.
Mr Azmin, a long-time Anwar ally, MP for Gombak and Selangor state assemblyman, is said to be eyeing the Menteri Besar post.
None of this looks good for the PKR, said analyst Khoo Kay Peng.
"PKR has not only wasted taxpayers' money but disregarded the electoral system which should be above the politicians," Mr Khoo, who runs his own consultancy, told The Straits Times. "The party has exposed the coalition's weaknesses and makes it look unfit to run the federal government."
BN immediately said it would contest the Kajang state seat.
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