Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has openly stated for the first time his intention to contest the Parti Keadilan Rakyat's (PKR) top post, held for more than a decade by his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Datuk Seri Anwar told the Malay Mail Online news portal on Saturday that he is "strongly considering" contesting the post in the May elections of the party founded by his wife in 1999.
"(Wan) Azizah has indicated for some years now of stepping down," he said.
A final decision will be made after the March 23 by-election for the Selangor state ward of Kajang, vacated by PKR assemblyman Lee Chin Cheh who resigned.
Mr Anwar, 66, had earlier grabbed headlines when he announced his candidacy for the Kajang seat. If he wins that, it will pave the way for him to assume the post of Menteri Besar or chief minister of Selangor.
Both moves - the bid for the leadership of the party and that for the state seat of Kajang - are believed to be to quell an increasingly public spat between the current Selangor Menteri Besar, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, and PKR's deputy president Azmin Ali.
Allowing the rivalry to continue could potentially destabilise the party and rock the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat's (PR) hold on Malaysia's wealthiest state, which it has governed since 2008. PKR is one of three parties in the alliance, the others being the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
"PKR's internal troubles worsen political instability in Pakatan's Selangor. With Anwar as party president, they both cannot say no to him," noted Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political analyst Abdul Ghapa Harun.
The two men had locked horns recently over Mr Azmin's removal last month as a board member of a state investment corporation.
Mr Azmin's supporters had called for him to make a bid for the Selangor chief minister post, but Mr Khalid is favoured by PR's coalition parties.
Meanwhile, PKR members have tried to quash rumours that Mr Anwar's move to become party president is so that he can mediate between the two feuding men, and insisted that it had been planned since 2007 for Mr Anwar to take the top party post.
"This is just to formalise his position as party leader and strengthen his position as the coalition's leader," Mr Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, a Selangor assemblyman and State Deputy Speaker, told The Sunday Times yesterday.
Political analysts expect Mr Anwar to win the party's top post unchallenged.
They note too that quelling the growing unrest in PKR is important given that the party already has a weaker hold on the state than its coalition partners. It has only 13 state seats against the DAP's and PAS' 15 seats each in the 56-seat state assembly.
"He should have contested as party president a long time ago. So far, his leadership is just based on his charisma and influence, not on legitimacy," said Mr Ghapa.
Before yesterday's remarks, Mr Anwar had consistently denied that he was going to contest the party president's post while his protege, Mr Azmin, had been strongly tipped to be the next president.
The news has been received positively by the PKR's partners.
"Yes, it will increase support (for Anwar) within Pakatan Rakyat. It's also to respond to (ruling party) Umno's future moves to retake Selangor," said PAS' deputy president Mohamad Sabu.
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