Anwar Ibrahim’s party has begun referring to him as Malaysia’s next prime minister at public events.
His first public confirmation that he would soon be returning to parliament came during a by-election earlier this week, and it was greeted with cheers.
He is dead serious about becoming prime minister this time around even though the confirmation was made somewhat tongue in cheek.
Everyone knows he will have to contest a by-election sooner or later, but hearing him say it sent a thrill through the crowd. The string of VIP visitors during his hospital stay that included Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who visited twice), Turkish ministers, Islamist thinker Yusuf al-Qaradwi, the Sultan of Johor and the Federal Territory mufti spoke of his new stature.
The PKR (People’s Justice Party) leader is on the threshold of achieving the dream that has eluded him for so long. It is likely that he will be the new PKR president.
Cyberspace chatter is quite critical of Anwar’s seeming impatience to take over from Mahathir Mohamad who, despite his age and baggage, is seen as an experienced pair of hands helming a largely inexperienced government. The opinion out there is that as the catalyst behind Pakatan Harapan’s win, Mahathir should be given time to change the country and Anwar should not be in such a hurry to take over.
But the change of government is also seen as the culmination of the flame that Anwar lit 20 years ago.
Anwar’s 1998 sacking from the government sparked off a Malay awakening.
Many moderate and well-educated Malays joined the reformasi revolt against Mahathir’s regime, causing then ruling party Umno to lose out to a whole generation of young Malays who would have otherwise gravitated towards Umno.
Anwar is not perfect – there are no perfect beings in politics – but his supporters insist that his time has come.
Becoming PKR president is crucial because PKR has 48 MPs, the most among the Pakatan Harapan partners, and that gives him the locus standi to lay claim to the premiership.
But where will he contest to return to parliament? Who will resign to make way for him?
There are apparently people who are quite willing to make way for him. A party MP from Penang and his longtime friend told friends he is ready to vacate his seat for Anwar.
A popular assumption is that P Prabakaran, the accidental Batu MP, may make way for him. But the circle around Anwar wants him to reclaim the legacy seat of Permatang Pauh where his journey began.
Returning to Permatang Pauh will remind the people of the ups and downs in his political career and also the sacrifices made by his family. That means his daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, will need to vacate the seat, a move that needs to be handled delicately.
She has yet to warm the seat, and people may not take kindly to the way the family plays musical chairs with this legacy seat.
The Permatang Pauh scenario has gathered strength within the party following the death of Seri Setia assemblyman Shaharuddin Badaruddin.
Nurul Izzah will not be left without a seat, and she can follow in her mother’s footsteps to contest a state seat in Selangor. It will widen her political experience.
But all this sounds lovely only on paper. The reality may be far more complicated and fraught with danger.
Becoming the party president and winning a by-election is the easy part.
The tough part is how do you tell Mahathir to make way?
The loyal circle around Anwar is all too aware that the man who had stood in his way two decades ago is still standing between him and the top post.
It makes people in PKR rather jittery. They are unsure whether Mahathir will make way gracefully or if history will repeat itself, especially after the PM has said he may stay for two years or more.
The PKR circle has also been watching the way Mohammed Azmin Ali, given the economic portfolio in the cabinet, has been entrusted with so much clout and power.
Azmin’s appointment to the Khazanah Board sent ripples through his party. Moreover, the appointment came a day after Rafizi launched his campaign to take on Azmin for the deputy president post. They imagine that Mahathir is trying to help Azmin, which the prime minister has denied.
Being Mahathir’s blue-eyed boy may not necessarily help Azmin in the PKR polls given the lingering distrust that party members have for the elder man. However, the establishment opinion is that Mahathir will not play out Anwar again. He is, after all, 93 and his party has only 11 MPs compared to 48 MPs from PKR.
But Mahathir will not be pushed or pressured. He has a job to finish, and he will make way when he feels he has completed what he set out to do.
Anwar had been so close to becoming prime minister but his impatience caused his downfall in 1998.
It is obvious that he is treading much more carefully this time around and is determined not to make the same mistakes.
But as they say, if a week is a long time in politics, two years is an eternity and anything can happen.