WITH her shocking resignation as a PKR vice-president, Nurul Izzah Anwar is stepping out of the shadow of her larger-than- life father, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
“It is important for her political future that she steps away from the infighting and messiness. She has not been given her space to hold an independent reform position in the current context,” said Bridget Welsh, a political science lecturer and South-East Asia expert at John Cabot University in Rome.
“Post May 9, she has been seen as representing her father in the different battles inside her party and the coalition. This distancing will allow her to regroup and refocus,” said Welsh, who was in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week.
On Monday, Nurul Izzah issued a press statement announcing that she has quit all party posts. The 38-year-old Permatang Pauh MP also announced that she will remain a backbench MP committed to reforms.
Without government and party positions, Nurul Izzah would be in a good position to air her views, said Universiti Sains Malaysia political analyst Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian.
“In fact, she can play the ‘check and balance’ role to face those who are turning away from the real PKR and reformasi (reformation) struggle. And this will add value to Anwar’s move towards Putrajaya.
“With Rafizi Ramli (of PKR) and Khairy Jamaluddin (of Umno) who might share the same idealism, she can become a new breed of Malaysian politician.
“This could also move us away from traditional politics dominated by elites and political figures from the old political culture.”
The Permatang Pauh MP is quite a prominent political figure in her own right, says political researcher and former Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Assoc Prof Dr Abdul Latiff Mohd Ibrahim.
“It depends on her being vocal,” he said when asked whether the resignation would affect Nurul Izzah’s political branding.
“Now that she is not tied to any post, she may talk more freely about the party. Overall, her political standing is not overly affected,” he said.
I asked the three political analysts what impact the resignation could have on Nurul Izzah who was a teenager when she was thrust into political prominence after her dad clashed with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1998. Dr M had then accused her father of sodomy and corruption and sacked him as deputy prime minister and Umno deputy president.
There will be a political impact, noted Dr Sivamurugan, as Nurul Izzah is one of the most influential young politicians in Malaysia’s current political environment.
“She is fondly known as Puteri Reformasi, and she is seen as the most promising leader, even designated as PM material. It’s a great loss not only for PKR but also for the nation unless she uses other platforms to remain influential in mainstream politics,” he said, pointing out that Nurul Izzah remains an MP as well as a member of the Public Accounts Committee.
Dr Abdul Latiff thinks that Malaysians who saw in Nurul Izzah some qualities of the reform movement will be a little disillusioned because the Puteri Reformasi was seen as part of PKR wanting to carry on with the reform agenda.
However, he believes that her action is more of a signal to party members that she is not greedy for posts despite winning the highest number of votes for the vice-president’s post during the recent PKR polls.
For Welsh, the resignation shows that there are still issues within the party that are unresolved. It also raises questions about Anwar’s leadership.
“When his daughter is choosing not to stay in posts in a party that he runs, people wonder what’s going on. And people are asking questions left and right. Why? Why? Why? And I think the why is ultimately going to be about what she and insiders know,” she said.
But for Welsh, the question of why is not as important as what Nurul Izzah’s resignation means. Nurul Izzah represents three things, she said.
First, she is a young Malay woman and very dynamic. And there are not enough Malay women in leadership positions in Malaysia. “It’s a real loss in this regard,” she said.
Second, she is a young woman. She’s been a political idol to many, especially to those who are connected to the reform movement. “She’s has the same sort of cachet Khairy has among young Malays. So this has a negative impact on young people and the sense of connectivity to leadership. And that is problematic,” she said.
Third is the issue of reform. “It is a worrying sign that one of the leading spokespersons for political reforms is choosing to take a step back,” she said.
“It doesn’t mean that there won’t be reforms. It doesn’t mean that it is a judgment on those issues. But at the same time, it just raises questions.”
Welsh noted that looking at the process of reform in Malaysia the last couple months touching on issues of religion, race and economic growth, Nurul Izzah’s resignation will help to ratchet down expectations of what can be accomplished.
“At the same time, it shows that the current government still grapples with divisions within itself,” she said.
Will his daughter’s resignation impact Anwar’s move to be Prime Minister?
Dr Abdul Latiff doesn’t think so. The PKR president becoming PM is based on the agreement reached by the Pakatan Harapan leadership, he said. “Only thing is, it appears that this move is a setback for Anwar’s political future. But Anwar would have other strategies in place,” he said.
Dr Sivamurugan agrees. Anwar’s chance to become PM, he said, depends on whether PH leaders uphold what was decided before GE14.
There is a short-term impact, said Welsh, as, to a certain degree, it will have a negative impact on Anwar.
“People ask questions about Anwar and whether he’s engaging in reform and whether he’s going about pushing for his leadership contention,” she said.
But, ultimately, this is short-term, she said, and getting to be PM is a long-term process.
“So who will determine what’s happening with Anwar is ultimately Anwar and Dr Mahathir. In the scheme of things, Nurul Izzah’s resignation is not as important as what these other decision-makers will do,” she said.
Welsh said one of the challenges that children (who are politicians in their own right) of politicians face is how to step out of their parents’ shadow.
“Anwar’s return to politics in the last four months has made it more challenging for Nurul Izzah to be her own person,” she said. “In choosing to step back, she opened up more choices for the future.”
The daughter has stepped out of the shadow.