November 9, 2022
KUALA LUMPUR – For the last three terms, the Gombak parliamentary seat in Selangor has been an opposition stronghold, thanks to strong grassroots support for caretaker International Trade Minister Azmin Ali, who had contested and won there under the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) ticket.
But that could soon change.
In 2020, Datuk Seri Azmin defected from PKR and the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, and will now defend the seat as a member of rival Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), which leads the Perikatan Nasional alliance.
PKR is instead fielding Selangor chief minister Amirudin Shari, whose fortunes rose in tandem with Mr Azmin as a member of the former party deputy president’s inner circle for more than a decade.
But while loyal PKR supporters will likely withhold their vote from Mr Azmin in the Nov 19 polls to punish him for leaving the party, PH will still have to fight hard to continue solidifying its base in the Malay-majority ward.
“Gombak voters might have felt betrayed when Azmin left PKR,” University of Malaya sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi said.
“But Amirudin would still need to work hard due to Azmin’s good service (as an MP),” he said, referring to Mr Azmin’s former protege-turned-rival Datuk Seri Amirudin.
The Gombak seat was won by Mr Azmin in 2008, before he became PKR’s deputy president and later Selangor menteri besar in 2014. After PH’s victory in the 2018 General Election, Mr Azmin made way for Mr Amirudin to lead the state government, while he was appointed economic affairs minister.
But Mr Azmin’s friendship with Mr Amirudin soured in 2020, after Mr Azmin led a faction of PKR leaders out of PH to form a new federal government with Bersatu, Parti Islam SeMalaysia and former rival Umno.
The so-called Sheraton move, named for the hotel at which the plan was supposedly hatched, resulted in the collapse of the 22-month-old PH government.
Mr Azmin was later sacked from PKR, after a feud with opposition leader and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim. Still, Mr Azmin possesses considerable support of a group of members from his old party.
Mr Amirudin, who had for years been Mr Azmin’s protege, will have to step out of his mentor’s shadow and show his mettle at the polls.
“Amirudin will have to prove how he is more than just a protege to Azmin, and how during his tenure, he has managed to come into his own and make a mark as Selangor menteri besar,” said Mr Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, associate director at public policy consultancy Vriens & Partners.
Meanwhile, Mr Azmin will find out if his influence in the ward extends beyond the PKR name and endorsement.
“On Azmin’s end, this is a first contest beyond the comfort of backing from PKR in a seat which he has called his own for many terms. What is riding for Azmin is the need to prove his worth on his own, to show the naysayers that he remains a force to be reckoned with,” Mr Shazwan added.
A win for Mr Amirudin would also signal that Mr Azmin’s hold over PKR has come to an end. If Mr Azmin emerges victorious, it could represent validation of his decision and role in the Sheraton move and a bright political future.
“If Azmin wins and his bloc wins big, Azmin’s future as a prime minister or deputy PM candidate would also be bright,” Associate Professor Awang Azman said.
Sharing his thoughts on his upcoming battle against Mr Amirudin, Mr Azmin said “this isn’t about a clash between two personalities”.
“If the party that has been given the people’s support in the last general election failed to implement all the lavish promises (it made), do I still need to defend it? In fact, if I defend PH, that would be betraying the mandate,” Mr Azmin said.
Responding to those who continue referring to him as Mr Azmin’s protege, Mr Amirudin said: “If I really was his (Azmin) shadow, I would have followed him everywhere (and left PKR).”