DATUK Seri Azmin Ali knew he would have a tough time in the PKR election.
What he did not expect was just how tough his challenger Rafizi Ramli would turn out to be in the contest for the party deputy president post.
He had labelled Rafizi a “toddler”, but the “toddler” has overtaken Azmin in the overall vote count after he emerged the winner in the Federal Territory (FT) and Labuan yesterday.
Rafizi pulled ahead after he secured 2,935 votes against 2,794 votes by Azmin in the FT and Labuan party polls.
There are still another eight states to go in this intense contest, but yesterday could be the game changer for Rafizi, who is not even an MP, whereas Azmin is a second-term incumbent and a Cabinet member.
Rafizi, currently a vice-president, now holds a super slim majority of 48 votes over Azmin based on results from the states that have concluded their polls.
He is now within striking range of the No.2 post in the party.
Some in PKR thought the firebrand Rafizi was talking big when he launched his campaign with a blitz of attacks against Azmin.
They were shocked at some of the accusations that he hurled at Azmin, especially the one alleging that Azmin had been eyeing the presidency. Many of them also did not like the airing of dirty laundry in public.
As one party leader from Selangor put it: “Why is he hanging our underwear on the highway for everyone to see?”
But Rafizi’s attack strategy appears to have paid off.
It was quite startling for Azmin to trail Rafizi in the east coast states, where the deputy president was seen as the favourite.
His team was surprised when Azmin lost the majority vote in Kelantan and Terengganu on Friday.
Moreover, Kelantan PKR chief Abdul Aziz Abdul Kadir is a staunch Azmin man.
The surprise turned to shock on Saturday when Azmin lost narrowly to Rafizi in Pahang. Azmin managed to win in only six of the 15 divisions in Pahang.
Then came the FT and Labuan shock results, which are bound to send Azmin’s team back to the drawing board.
Election expert Prof Datuk Redzuan Othman has been as puzzled as everyone else about the way the polls have turned out.
“There does not seem to be any logic in the voting pattern,” said Redzuan, who is also Unisel vice-chancellor.
For instance, Azmin had the lead over Rafizi in Penang and Johor, two states where Rafizi was said to have good support.
Redzuan pointed out that Azmin loyalist Zakaria Hamid had retained the division chief post in Bera, Pahang, but Azmin lost to Rafizi in the same division.
It was a similar situation in Bandar Tun Razak yesterday.
Azman Abidin, who is an Azmin supporter, retained the Bandar Tun Razak chief post by more than 700 votes, but Azmin beat Rafizi by only two votes in the division.
“PKR does not have much of a presence in Kelantan, where some of the candidates lost their deposits during the general election.
“But I got reports that in Gua Musang, there were suddenly hundreds of members turning up to vote,” said Redzuan.
There has been a lot of unhappiness among Kelantan PKR leaders about the spike in membership in June this year although they had not been actively recruiting.
A local leader in Bachok, Kelantan, had complained bitterly about people with no track record in the party and who joined just a few months ago being allowed to contest for division posts.
According to Redzuan, divisions that registered a spike in membership in June were the ones with hard-to-explain results.
If Redzuan is right, then expect unexpected results in Selangor and Sabah, where there has been a phenomenal increase in membership.
Selangor registered 240,671 new members, while Sabah saw 135,829 new members.
All eyes will be on the Julau division in the Sarawak outbacks. Julau had only 603 members on June 26 but a day later, the membership rocketed to almost 13,000.
The membership spike has been an issue in the party over the last few months.
When outgoing chief of the women’s wing Zuraida Kamaruddin brought it up during a political bureau meeting, party president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail confirmed that she had signed “bundles” of new membership applications.
Some think that PKR is experiencing its own version of “phantom invasion” in the sense that the members exist on paper, but are not visible on the ground.
The party’s e-voting system has also been controversial, to say the least. The bulk of party members have no faith in it and there have been all kinds of stories that it is open to manipulation and abuse.
“I have been confronted by members questioning the new system. They are not comfortable with it, there is a lot of frustration,” said Azman.
The battle for the deputy president post has completely eclipsed every other contest going on in the party.
The party campaign has temporarily cooled down to avoid intruding on the Port Dickson by-election.
But the heat and fury will resume after Oct 13.
Rafizi will probably resume his attacks and this time, he will go for the kill.
By then too, president-elect Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will be the new Port Dickson MP and just a step away from the premiership.
“Based on Anwar’s statements, he appears to be leaning towards Rafizi. Everyone is watching to see whether he will help push Rafizi to the finishing line,” said former PJU chief Khairul Anuar Zainuddin.
It has been difficult for PKR members to say “no” to their president-elect and it will be even more difficult to say “no” to the prime minister-in-waiting on who he wants as his No.2.