PKR's Kajang Move: A plan gone awry

The result of the Kajang by-election, in which Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has replaced her husband Anwar Ibrahim as candidate, will only be known on March 23, but it would appear that Selangor's Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim has emerged the winner from the ill-fated Kajang Move.

A MISSING airliner, political fatigue and a horrible haze. These are some of the things that have overshadowed the battle for Kajang in Malaysia.

Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail did not exactly have all the answers when she faced the media a day after nominations for the Kajang by-election.

She spoke in that soft, hesitant, girl-like voice of hers. She was not nervous - in fact, she was quite calm and collected, but you could tell that she was trying hard to focus her thoughts as she responded to questions on what she had to offer for Kajang.

The members of the media are quite used to her reticent demeanour. They tend to go easy on her because they know she is still, after all these years, the incidental politician and that she will always be the dutiful wife. They appreciate that she does not pretend to know everything but she answers questions as best as she can and does not twist and turn things like some politicians.

Some said that Kak Wan, as she is known to all, was as surprised as everybody else to be thrust onto centre stage in Kajang. Others said she had been on the ready to stand in for her husband all along but no one could tell for sure because politics and family tend to overlap in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Dr Wan Azizah has tried to keep things simple, unlike opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who had marketed himself as the answer to racial and religious tensions in Selangor.

Although a big billboard in town had the slogan, "Dari Kajang ke Putrajaya - Wan Azizah untuk Kajang (From Kajang to Putrajaya - Wan Azizah for Kajang)", her manifesto boiled down to a few basic goals. She told reporters that she is concerned about the traffic problems in Kajang, she wants to tackle security and crime issues, boost opportunities for small businesses and the youth, and ensure maintenance of the town.

The Kajang Move started off as a grand design to ease racial and religious issues but has petered down to solving issues of traffic, jobs and amenities. PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli, the man behind the Kajang Move, has been left holding the baby.

Party people said Anwar had asked Mr Rafizi to assist Dr Wan Azizah's campaign and he was there at Dr Wan Azizah's side at the press conference. Mr Rafizi, the chief salesman of the Kajang Move, is insisting that:

•the Kajang Move is still on; •it was not meant to replace Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim as the Menteri Besar; •he never said that Anwar would be the next Menteri Besar; •he went ahead with the Kajang Move despite knowing that Anwar would lose the court decision; and •Dr Wan Azizah can make a big difference in Selangor. People still listen to Mr Rafizi but they can also see he is a man in a hurry, someone who is prepared to say and do anything to achieve his objective. A Selangor Pakatan Rakyat politician summed it up this way: "They wanted to get rid of Khalid because he never consults them. But did they consult any of us about the Kajang Move?"

A member of Mr Khalid's office was more direct: "What has happened to him (Rafizi)? If it's not to remove Tan Sri Khalid, then what was the Kajang Move all about? It's better he stops talking for a while."

The tragedy of the Kajang Move is that it smacks of old politics, that very brand of politics that Pakatan politicians have been so contemptuous of.

The by-election has lost its "oomph!" without Anwar in the picture. The polls are no longer about electing the next Menteri Besar and there is also the fact that Anwar and Kajang have been eclipsed by the dramatic search for MH370.

The crowds at PKR ceramah (political rallies) have been sparse and lukewarm, and even the dramatic guilty verdict in the Anwar case failed to bring out the numbers at the Kajang stadium last weekend. Some blamed the haze, others said the campaign had yet to warm up even though Anwar had been working the ground for more than a month.

It is probably also the result of a few things - political fatigue, the voters having made up their minds, and sheer lack of interest. Besides, ordinary people in Selangor have more urgent priorities like the water rationing and the cost of living.

PKR politicians campaigning in Kajang have urged voters to use the by-election as a referendum on the justice system. On nomination day, there were lots of banners proclaiming "Keadilan Untuk Anwar Ibrahim (Justice for Anwar Ibrahim)".

The public sympathy for Anwar's court woes would have been greater had it not been for the Kajang Move. PKR insiders now admit that the Kajang Move was largely to enable Anwar to stay relevant as he battled the second round of sodomy charges.

The plan was for him to contest, win the seat and get sworn in as the next Menteri Besar. Had he succeeded in becoming Menteri Besar, the court verdict would not only be seen as a decision on the PKR leader but also as an attempt to bring down the Pakatan government.

But the plan fell apart even before the court decision because Mr Khalid refused to step aside, and the palace doors did not look like they would swing open for him. In hindsight, his ineligibility for contest was a face-saving way out for him.

Sources said the Selangor palace is quite particular about state leaders embroiled in legal suits. For instance, PKR had nominated a young, second-term assemblyman for a state executive councillor post after the May 5 general election.

But his name was not accepted because he was facing a charge of illegal assembly in connection to the 505 rally in Selangor. Mr Khalid was advised to re-nominate the assemblyman for the post after the court case was over.

There is no denying the lack of interest in Kajang also has to do with the fact that Dr Wan Azizah is seen as a sunset politician.

No one faults Dr Wan Azizah for being party to a by-election that should not have been called in the first place. They know she loves her husband and is obliged to defend the family's name. She is performing her duty as the president of PKR and, as some pointed out, she also wants to block her nemesis Azmin Ali.

But Malaysians are looking for sunrise politicians and there would have been more interest had her daughter Nurul Izzah been the candidate. Ms Nurul Izzah is 33 and still looks as fresh as a Walt Disney heroine. But she is trying to sort out her personal life in what seems like an on-off divorce.

The winner of the Kajang by-election will only be known on March 23 but Mr Khalid has emerged as the winner from the ill-fated Kajang Move. His position as Menteri Besar looks more stable than the Rock of Gibraltar.

Some Umno assemblymen had teased Mr Khalid's former political secretary Faekah Husin: "You must be very happy, your boss will be MB until the end."

But the Khalid loyalist had retorted: "My boss is not happy, he is very worried about the water problem."

Mr Khalid has often been alluded to as the cat with nine lives because he has survived so many attempts to unseat him.

The Malays have a simple way of explaining such things - they call it rezeki or providence. Whatever it is, the cat has survived again.

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