WHO is going to win - Azmin or Rafizi?” a businessman, who is a PKR leader in Sarawak, asked me in a hushed tone.
He was referring to two-term PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, who is defending his PKR deputy president post from challenger Rafizi Ramli, a PKR vice-president.
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m here,” I told the businessman.
We were at the Petaling Jaya office of Prime Minister-designate Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who won uncontested the PKR presidency on Sunday.
On Tuesday, I was there to meet Farhash Wafa Salvador, a political officer of Anwar, to get his take on the staggered party polls which will end on October 13.
On who the party founder was siding with in the PKR polls, Farhash said Anwar has indicated he does not need to side with anybody. Anwar, he said, has not denied his positive relationships with both Azmin and Rafizi.
“He regards Rafizi as a talented, intelligent reformist, with a very critical mindset, and able to galvanise support as he has shown through Invoke,” he said.
“He has also spoken positively about Azmin, with his experience and proven track record being at the forefront of the Reformasi movement, winning over Selangor and running the state.”
Anwar has not stopped Rafizi from challenging the Economic Affairs Minister, according to Farhash, because he doesn’t believe it was a fight, but rather, a democratic process where there are leaders who feel they can serve the party well.
“Which one – the members will decide. Anwar was even open to being challenged for the presidency, nobody was stopped from challenging him,” he said.
“But it was likely that others felt it was his calling and a deserved post for the man who founded the party without ever being its president.”
PKR’s former Balik Pulau MP Yusmadi Yusoff said as far as he knew, Anwar hasn’t sided with anyone.
“But what I know - and it worked for me - is he is always in the position to encourage, to inspire and to empower. That is why you will never hear Anwar say I am with this guy or that guy,” said Yusmadi, who is a political aide to Anwar.
“When he talked about Azmin, he said Azmin is A B C and Rafizi is A B C. When I saw that, I knew what Anwar was doing. Anwar was trying to enlighten. Anwar tries to inspire.”
Yusmadi is gunning for a supreme council post in the party polls. He’s not in Team Azmin or Team Rafizi.
“I don’t belong to any team. I believe in Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership. I am just a follower of Anwar’s leadership,” said the lawyer.
In fact, he is in Team Muafakat (consensus).
“The formula for PKR to be stronger is through muafakat. To me muafakat is not only just about consensus and cooperation but muafakat is an accord between the concerned stakeholders for a bigger agenda. And the bigger agenda is only one – for PKR to be the most sustainable, leading party for a new government,” he said.
The fight between Azmin and Rafizi for the deputy post, according to Farhash, is 50/50.
“Rafizi is very popular. Anything negative against him is very positive. For example, Rafizi is very outspoken. His idealism is very heavy. He is a true reformist. There’s no corruption issue. There’s not much negative issue with Rafizi; besides he is a firebrand, which can be to his advantage,” he said.
“The disadvantage to Rafizi is grassroots. Azmin is a true political operator. As a politician he is very polished. He has personal touch and relationship with many party division heads and grassroots leaders. They know him.”
Both Azmin, 53, and Rafizi, 40, according to Yusmadi, have the opportunity to win.
“Azmin has his strength, as he built the party while Anwar was in prison. When I say that he built the party, it is not recently but during the tough times,” he said.
The tough times was during Day One of the Reformasi movement, after the then Prime Minister and Umno president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sacked Anwar as Deputy Prime Minister and Umno deputy president. Azmin, said Yusmadi, was among the first to be intimidated, to be arrested in the late 1990s. But he remained steadfast to Anwar’s struggles.
“When I say build the party, it involves resources and engagement and tenacity. I can safely say that Azmin is one of the few leaders who has his hands in all branches or divisions throughout the country from Perlis to Sabah and Sarawak, until the remote areas. That is his advantage,” he said.
Rafizi, said Yusmadi, might not necessarily have what Azmin has, but he has other advantages.
“He is always strategic in his action. And being young, he attracts a different generation of PKR members,” he said.
If the dynamic of the day is about Rafizi’s nuances, then Rafizi has an advantage, Yusmadi said. He gave an example of Rafizi’s nuances.
“As a young leader, he is very fresh in his action and initiative. He is always strategic. Take Invoke for that matter. Invoke was very helpful in GE14,” he said, referring to the big data analytics outfit.
But, said Yusmadi, if the dynamic of the day is not only that but how we can consolidate, how to get whoever is qualified to do the right thing, Azmin has the advantage because he had proven that he was a good MP and assemblyman when we were not part of the government.
“He showcased his talent in Selangor (as Menteri Besar) – it’s not me saying this but some institutions which say that - and it was translated in the recent state election and that is due to his performance,” he said.
Compared to Rafizi, Azmin is much, much ahead in terms of building the party, Yusmadi said.
“Having said so, I do not deny Rafizi’s contribution in the early stage because he was effective in the Free Anwar campaign overseas. He was collaborating with RPK (Raja Petra Kamarudin),” he said.
“The Free Anwar campaign was a successful and effective campaign. People may think it was run by a huge IT department. Actually, it was run by one or two guys. And one of the guys is Rafizi.”
Yusmadi added frankly: “I’m saying this although I am not in Rafizi’s good books. Rafizi doesn’t like me. I can’t even remember the last time Rafizi called me.
“But I am objective enough to say that he is good and that I respect him and that he has achieved something for a young talent, and more important than achievement, he made courageous decision, even though it might not end well for him. It may turn out as a failure. But he made a brave decision.”
On that note, Yusmadi believes Rafizi is a politician who could offer refreshing ideas for the party.
“The party needs him and I always think that the formula for this party to be stronger is through muafakat,” he said.
But Yusmadi’s muafakat formula is not seeing consensus, especially with the deep rift between Team Azmin and Team Rafizi.