June 22, 2023
KUALA LUMPUR – A number of rising stars who were defeated at Malaysia’s general election last November are making crucial decisions on whether to launch a comeback at upcoming polls in six of 13 states.
Candidates can be officially announced after the state legislatures begin to be dissolved in the coming days, beginning with Kelantan on Thursday, before Selangor, Penang, Kedah, Negeri Sembilan and Terengganu follow suit.
Polls are expected to be held simultaneously by August.
Among the high-profile names set to seek a second shot at elected office are Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar, and his right-hand man turned rival Azmin Ali, now Selangor chief of opposition alliance Perikatan Nasional (PN).
Other names that have cropped up are former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Investment, Trade and Industry Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, who is in Cabinet by virtue of being appointed a senator. All four have previously been bandied about as future prime ministerial material.
They have also been touted as potential candidates for chief minister of Selangor, Malaysia’s richest state and a key prize in the polls. But where, and if, they choose to contest will depend on several factors.
Ms Nurul is expected to stay out of the crowded field in Selangor and instead make a bid for the deputy chief ministership of Penang, according to sources from the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition led by Datuk Seri Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
The island state is considered PH’s safest bet among the six states, offering swift redemption for Ms Nurul, who lost Permatang Pauh in November after four decades of the Anwar family controlling the parliamentary ward in Penang.
Meanwhile, Selangor has been the stronghold of PKR for the past 15 years, thanks in no small part to Datuk Seri Azmin, who was the party’s deputy president from 2010 until 2020, when he left to join Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
He was also the state’s chief minister from 2014 to 2018. In November, Mr Azmin lost his Gombak parliamentary seat to his former protege and successor as Selangor chief minister Amirudin Shari.
Although he has repeatedly expressed his desire to retire from elected office, he has been singled out to lead the charge for the PN coalition headed by Bersatu president and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
“It is Azmin’s duty to deliver Selangor for us,” said Muhyiddin during the launch of PN youth’s machinery in Selangor on Saturday.
On Monday, the PN chief also met former Umno youth chief Khairy, who was sacked from Umno in January, ostensibly due to criticism of deputy premier Zahid Hamidi’s leadership.
But despite being offered a seat on Bersatu’s supreme council, sources with knowledge of the talks told The Straits Times that Mr Khairy is not expected to join the opposition party as yet, given the slim hopes of PN wresting any of the three PH states – Selangor, Penang and Negeri Sembilan.
The three PN states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu are controlled by Parti Islam SeMalaysia, which will want to retain the chief minister positions in these states in the likely event of a PN victory.
Mr Khairy and Datuk Seri Zafrul are likely to sit out the state elections and bide their time till they get a better opportunity, say sources close to both men.
While Mr Zafrul’s name has for months been bandied about to spearhead Umno’s campaign in Selangor, the former finance minister is likely to take his hat out of the ring, given the dynamics involved in the party’s role as an ally in the federal government led by Mr Anwar’s PH.
Official sources said that the Umno-led Barisan Nasional will have only about a dozen seats to contest in the 56-strong Selangor state assembly, making it unlikely that Mr Zafrul, despite his strong rapport with Selangor’s Sultan, will be conferred the chief ministership.
Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah must constitutionally decide on a chief minister who can command the confidence of the legislature.
“The indication from the palace is that incumbent Amirudin Shari will be retained unless there is a surprise result,” said a top state official, referring to the current chief minister from PH.
Umno colleagues believe Mr Zafrul, with his deep connections within the business elite and Malay aristocracy, “should focus on the economy and trade” to put him in good stead when party president Zahid, 70, and his deputy Mohamad Hasan, 67, retire.
“He is in the top four elected Umno supreme council members, and a good performance as minister will put him in pole position come the next general election, even if he has no administrative role for a couple of years,” a source said, noting that the former CIMB chief executive turns only 50 on Sunday.