Selangor may get new Menteri Besar

KUALA LUMPUR - Selangor may get a new Menteri Besar should he win a state by-election, national opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim acknowledged, backtracking on a previous stance.

"We know my coming is to play a more effective role in the state.

"Yes, yes, the option is on the table," Datuk Seri Anwar was quoted as saying in an interview with The Malay Mail Online published on Tuesday.

Last week, Mr Anwar stunned the nation by announcing he would contest the Kajang state seat, after a surprise resignation by an ally.

But the chief of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition initially denied talk that the move was to pave the way for him to replace current Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim, who is from his own Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Winning a state seat is a prerequisite for becoming Menteri Besar.

Selangor is Malaysia's richest state and the PR's crown jewel.

The other PR component parties are the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

The PKR initially said that the move by Mr Anwar - who has portrayed himself as Malaysia's next prime minister - into Selangor politics was to strengthen the state leadership.

Amid widespread disbelief, PKR leaders elaborated that the move was to fortify Selangor to prevent a coup by Prime Minister Najib Razak's Umno, which leads the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

PKR strategist Rafizi Ramli accused the federal government of provoking religious and racial tensions with the goal of declaring a state of emergency, so as to take over the state.

Far-fetched or not, Mr Anwar appears set for a comfortable win.

"With the DAP rooting for him, he should have the Chinese votes with him and only has to win 30 per cent of Malay votes in the constituency," Professor James Chin of Monash University told The Straits Times on Tuesday.

In the event of a shake-up, Mr Anwar said, Tan Sri Khalid would remain in the state government, perhaps as deputy Menteri Besar or state economic adviser - a post which Mr Anwar currently holds.

The Election Commission meets on Wednesday to decide on the by-election date.

But even before this, the by-election was shaping up to be a circus.

One Umno division chief suggested fielding badminton superstar Lee Chong Wei, a suggestion quickly vetoed by the sports minister.

And on Tuesday, a former tennis buddy of Mr Anwar's, who turned on him and became a star witness for the prosecution in his 1999 sodomy trial, offered to run against him.

"I was the first to challenge Anwar since all of his secrets are in my pocket," Datuk S. Nallakaruppan, a senator and chief of the Malaysian Indian United Party - an obscure party within the BN coalition - told reporters.

The PKR has held Selangor since 2008, and Mr Khalid is a popular leader who has improved the state's finances. But his ongoing rivalry with Selangor party chief Azmin Ali - an Anwar loyalist - is causing cracks in the state leadership.

Mr Khalid has also made missteps, including handling poorly the aftermath of a surprise raid early last month by state religious officers on the Malaysian Bible Society, when they confiscated some 300 Malay-language Bibles.

"We need a political maestro like Anwar to handle the political problems. It is no longer an administrative issue here," Mr Rafizi said on Tuesday.

Analysts like Dr Arnold Puyok, a political analyst at Universiti Teknologi Mara Sabah, agreed, saying that there is no one in the opposition as politically savvy as Mr Anwar.

"Mr Khalid and Mr Azmin lack the capability while the others in the coalition are too young to handle a crisis in Selangor," he told The Straits Times.

yyennie@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.