Posted by SM Maulana
All three of these men were promising Umno members once. Each of them have paid for their political beliefs to varying extents – Ezam with his ISA detention or Azmin with the countless court cases against him. Over the past decade relations amongst each of the three men and indeed with Anwar himself have undergone various stresses and strains.
By KARIM RASLAN, MySinchew
The Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) without a doubt emerged as the biggest winner in the last General Elections. From only one seat in Parliament and dark mutterings that it was a spent political force, the party has been given a new lease of life with thirty MPs and roles in all five Pakatan Rakyat states. The PKR, however, will continue to be dogged by sneers that it is essentially a one-man party, that man being (who else but) Anwar Ibrahim- the implication being that it is nothing more than a vehicle to further his political ambitions.
But behind the scene, three other names come to mind; Ezam Mohd Nor, Azmin Ali and Saifudin Nasution
All three of these men were promising Umno members once. Each of them have paid for their political beliefs to varying extents – Ezam with his ISA detention or Azmin with the countless court cases against him. Over the past decade relations amongst each of the three men and indeed with Anwar himself have undergone various stresses and strains. For example, in the aftermath of the 2004 polls, Saifuddin stepped away from active involvement in PKR to take up a prize NGO position with the PAS government in Kelantan allowing him privileged access to that party’s inner workings.
One in fact is almost reminded of another famous trio, the three brothers of the Peach Tree Oath, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei of the Chinese classic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Certainly, the fortunes of these men are proving to be just as epic as the myriad plots in the novel. Ezam’s decision to rejoin UMNO last week has provided a major boost to Umno’s flagging fortunes. It is also a timely reminder that two can play at the “cross-over” game and that historically the Barisan has been more adept at ‘winning over’ such support.
As for Azmin and Saifuddin, it is clear that they shall assume increased prominence in the PKR as it refines its ideology and becomes used to the ways of power. Why are they important? Whilst the party is avowedly multi-racial, its core support base is Malay and this ‘constituency’ needs to be constantly maintained and managed by loyal and committed lieutenants especially as Anwar charts out his ambitious multi-racial agenda. If PKR wishes to grow its cadre of Malay leaders like Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, it needs to keep its pre-existing, Reformasi era ‘storm-troopers’ like Azmin and Saifuddin in place.
It was not surprising, therefore, that Anwar responded by bringing Saifuddin closer into the PKR fold, culminating in a carefully stage-managed return and a standing ovation for the recently elected Machang MP during the 2007 PKR congress in Seremban. Saifuddin was subsequently appointed the party’s Director of Strategy thereby helping to minimize the impact of Ezam’s withdrawal. It must be said, however, that Azmin and Saifuddin are a study in marked contrasts.
Azmin, is a suave, American-educated mathematician and economist. He is unflappable and calculating regardless of the situation, something that has made him indispensable to Anwar but also an object of loathing to his mentor’s enemies. It was Azmin’s superb organizational and managerial skills, in particular the harnessing of the Internet and mobile phone networks that ensured PKR’s success in the 2008 polls.
Saifuddin, on the other hand chooses to focus on his grass-roots earthiness and ‘ceramah’ style. He may lack Azmin’s polish, but is clearly the superior in terms of intellect and ideology. This is indicative of the length and breadth of his time in politics more than anyone else, and his journey down the corridors of power have taken him down some strange turns: Umno Youth Secretary-General, APCET demonstration, Reformasi activist, founding member of Keadilan, Lunas state assemblyman, a flirtation with PAS through his appointment to Yayasan Tok Kenali and thence back to PKR. Still he has nonetheless managed to create an underlying political rationale for his travails.
Both men however, have clearly broken-free of their UMNO past and the boorish, ethnocentric ethos that informed it. Although the old dictum that anything in politics still holds water, they strike one as being committed to their party and its struggle for the long haul. They will be vital to the PKR’s move to redefine itself as being something more than just the party of Anwar Ibrahim. In the meantime, non-Malay counterparts to men like Azmin and Saifuddin need to be moved up as well, if the party is to live up to it’s multiracial promise.
As the Pakatan and Barisan slug it out over the next few months, Anwar will depend more and more on this cadre of second tier leaders to implement his over-arching, macro ideas. One has a feeling that the angry young men that first came to prominence during the Reformasi of 1998 will finally come unto their own then.