Quandary over who will be MB of Selangor

Political drama: (clockwise from right) Khalid is refusing to resign even as Anwar campaigns in Kajang to be the next Mentri Besar; Rafizi has been unable to justify the Kajang Move while Azmin is in Mecca to perform the umrah.

MALAYSIA - Selangorians are getting mixed signals. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is acting like he is the next Mentri Besar of Selangor while MB Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is behaving like he is here to stay.

Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has looked rather well groomed of late. The Selangor Mentri Besar has been keeping his hair neatly combed and was even seen sporting an Elvis-like pompadour on a few occasions.

Khalid can be rather moody when he is over-worked or if things are not going well, and reporters covering him have learnt to use his hair as a "mood meter".

If his naturally wavy hair is nicely groomed, it means he is in a good mood and everything is under control. But if his hair is all over the place, it is best to keep the questions short and sweet and not try to be funny with him.

But hair and "mood meter" aside, Khalid has been in an upbeat mood.

He has granted press interviews to one publication after another, talking about a variety of issues from the state water situation to the upcoming Kajang by-election.

It is evident that something big is looming on the water front. Khalid has been dropping hints of a solution over the long-standing water restructuring saga in Selangor.Earlier last week, he made headlines when he said that if the water restructuring exercise were successful, there could be free water not only in Selangor but also for those residing in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

And all this was happening even as PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was busy positioning himself to be the next Mentri Besar via the Kajang by-election.

Khalid's demeanour and action over the last couple of weeks are not that of a man who is preparing to bow out. All the signs are that Khalid is here to stay and earlier last week, he confirmed that he is not resigning as Mentri Besar while side-stepping questions of whether Anwar will take over.

Khalid's upbeat mood seems to be premised on two factors. The first factor is the unequivocal support he is getting from PAS in Selangor and the young Turks in the party's Youth wing who have been critical of the Kajang Move.

Selangor PAS is standing by him and in the event that he is pushed out by his own party, PAS will nominate someone from their own party as the Mentri Besar.

PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang put it a little more diplomatically: PAS will help Anwar win in Kajang, but the Mentri Besar post will be discussed after the by-election.

A PAS politician in Selangor indicated that PAS will welcome Khalid into the party if PKR decides to sack him. That is how far PAS in Selangor is prepared to go for Khalid.

The second reason for Khalid's buoyant mood is believed to have come about after his weekly audience with the Sultan of Selangor two Wednesdays ago. He got the assurance that the Palace will not interfere in the political situation. The Palace will adhere strictly to its constitutional role and will follow the letter of the law.

A huge load was lifted from his shoulders and he left the royal audience walking on air.

Neutrality on the part of the Palace is crucial to Khalid because he is aware that Anwar and his backers have been trying to establish communications with the Palace.

There was talk that they had attempted to get through to the Palace via a Selangor princess.

For instance, Pakatan Rakyat supporters were shocked when Anwar said that former Mentri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib would be able to advise him on the state's rural development. They could not understand why Pakatan wanted to be linked with Umno's "Gold Coast sensation" whom they used to mock as "me no speaking English".

Mat Taib, as he is known, was briefly married to the Sultan's younger sister Tengku Zahariah and some claimed that Anwar's advisors were hoping to capitalise on that.

Unfortunately, Mat Taib has been persona non grata to the Palace ever since the day he eloped with the Princess known as Ku Yah and with whom he has a son who is now grown up with movie star looks to boot.

About a week ago, the PKR newsletter Suara Keadilan splashed a picture of Anwar alongside an uncle of the Sultan on its front page. Inside was another photograph of Anwar seated at the same dining table as Tengku Sulaiman Jalil Shah. The pair were guests at the wedding reception of the son of a Terengganu-based PAS politician.

The Palace wasted no time in clearing the air. On Wednesday, the Sultan's private secretary Datuk Mohamad Munir Bani issued a statement on behalf of Tuanku advising political parties and politicians not to associate the Selangor Palace with their campaign in the Kajang by-election.

The statement also advised members of the Selangor royalty against being involved or allowing their name to be used by political parties in the by-election.

It is understood that the Sultan's uncle had never met Anwar until the wedding event. Sources said he was seated at the VIP table when Anwar appeared at his side and joined him. Suddenly, three photographers appeared and started taking pictures of them.

It is learnt that Anwar's group had also approached a family friend of the Sultan but he told them that as a member of the Royal Selangor Council, he couldn't be associated with any political party.

The clumsy and amateurish attempts to get through to the Palace do not speak well of whoever is advising Anwar.

It is no secret that the Palace is comfortable with Khalid but, basically, the Palace wants to keep a clear distance from the big time politics taking place out there.

Several days ago, Rafizi Ramli, the man credited with the Kajang Move, said that a party survey showed that only 17 per cent of Kajang voters were critical of the reason for the by-election compared to 25 per cent who approved of it.

He dismissed the critical group as mainly Barisan Nasional supporters.

"This means that only a small number of Kajang voters are against the by-election," Rafizi Ramli said at a press conference earlier last week.

Of the remaining group, 21 per cent wanted to know more before deciding, 26 per cent could not care less while 10 per cent pleaded ignorance. Those who wished to know more and those who did not care added up to 47 per cent and they are the undecided voters. It is an unusually big number of undecided voters for a highly-urbanised seat but it also means that candidates have a good chance to canvass for support.

Everyone tells Anwar he will win but he is not taking anything for granted. He has kept a punishing schedule in Kajang. He tried his hand at Chinese calligraphy at a Chinese new village dinner, he went to a church where he received a standing ovation and he attended a futsal game to touch base with the youth. By polling day, he would have covered every housing estate at least twice over.

The Penang born and bred Anwar wants to present himself as somebody who cares for Selangor.

In fact, he had kicked off his campaign by attending a Selangor Football Association event wearing the yellow and red jersey of the state. A witty commentator labelled him "pemain import baru (latest imported player)" for Selangor.

The internal dynamics in PKR has almost eclipsed the by-election as well as the other candidates in the race, namely Barisan's Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun and independent Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

The tight and loyal circle around Khalid claimed that their boss has the numbers to survive. Rafizi, on his part, has said that the Mentri Besar issue will not be put to the vote in the State Legislative Assembly.

"Khalid knows that no one can really do anything if he refuses to resign," said a political insider.

Rafizi has been talking about an Umno plot to topple Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak but the real plot is within PKR to topple Khalid.

The Anwar for MB camp had been bending over backwards for Khalid because they needed him to go without making a scene. They even gave in to his demand to be made the director of election over the party's deputy president Azmin Ali.

By-elections are normally led by the deputy president of a party and Azmin, who is also the Selangor chief, is a seasoned organiser with a good grasp of the Selangor ground. But he was pressured to back off for Khalid. Azmin has since left for Mecca to perform the umrah.

It is evident by now that Khalid is not interested in any move by Anwar's advisors to have him sign a post-dated letter of resignation. That was the original plan for a smooth transition.

Khalid was supposed to resign effective March 23 and Anwar, fresh from victory, would be nominated and sworn in as the new Mentri Besar. In hindsight, it was wishful thinking on their part and yet more proof of the lack of experience among Anwar's advisors.

Anwar is now trapped in a situation where the man he is trying to dislodge refuses to go and is in charge of his election campaign.

There is no denying it - the Kajang Move has become a hot mess.

Some are expecting the Pakatan Rakyat convention on March 8 to involve some kind of call for Anwar to lead in Selangor. It will be tricky but who would object if it is presented as the road to Putrajaya?

The Anwar side sees Anwar, with his charisma and oratory skills, as the catalyst for the Putrajaya dream.

But the Khalid side says that the best advertisement for the Putrajaya dream is the Selangor model under Khalid's leadership.

In the meantime, they have to tackle the road to Kajang.

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