EARLIER this week, on Tuesday, Sept 23, the waiting game for a new menteri besar in Selangor was finally over when Azmin Ali was sworn in as Selangor’s 15th menteri besar.
To say that the new MB has massive challenges ahead of him is putting it lightly. Re-examining the water agreement with the Federal Government, reviewing the increase in the business license fee, ensuring that there are no major disruptions in the water supply, looking at how to resolve the confiscated bibles issue and deciding how to proceed with the six proposed toll highways in Selangor including the controversial KIDEX project, are but a few of the more urgent unresolved issues left behind by his predecessor, Khalid Ibrahim.
Within his own party, Azmin has his own share of detractors who objected to him being named as the new MB. He has the opportunity now to close ranks and offer an olive branch to his political rivals by involving at least some of them in his new administration in one capacity or another. Doing this would somewhat temper Azmin’s reputation for being ruthless to his political rivals. Appointing the two top voter getters in the PKR Youth Wing elections, Amirudin Shari and former deputy speaker, Nik Nazmi, seems like a step in the right direction. Anwar’s exact role in advising Azmin is still in doubt especially if his appeal in the Federal Court over Sodomy II fails.
He also has the tricky challenge of managing his relationship with PAS leaders at the national as well as the state levels. How will he find the balance between sending a strong enough signal to show that the actions and words of some of the PAS leaders were deeply hurtful to PKR and almost caused the collapse of the state government but at the same time, try to move forward so that the trust that has been lost can be slowly but surely rebuilt?
His relationship with the PAS excos, especially the two holdovers from the previous exco – namely Iskandar Samad and Dr Ahmad Yunus – would be closely watched. The thorny issue of settling the remainder of the councillor positions between PAS and PKR is bound to cause frictions within one or both parties.
After the exco portfolios are given out, Azmin will have to set the tone on how he wants to manage his colleagues in the state government. He cannot use the one-man-show approach adopted by Khalid and for which he was highly criticized but at the same time, Azmin still needs to exert his own leadership stamp and vision over his new government. If he wants to empower his exco to do more than what many of them were allowed to do under Khalid, he would have to outline his own distinct vision of what he wants to achieve for Selangor in the next 3 to 4 years before the general elections.
He also has the opportunity to involve more ADUNs and MPs in giving feedback and input and in helping implement and push through state government policies. Many Pakatan state reps felt disempowered and left out of the loop under Khalid’s administration which then led to the building up of great dissatisfaction and unhappiness of his decision making process. One of the first things which Azmin needs to do is to get the majority of the state reps on his side by letting them have a greater say of state government policy especially at the local government level.
It was clear that Khalid favoured the civil servants in his decision making process to the point of excluding most of the Pakatan state reps even in issues involving their respective constituencies. Azmin would not and should not repeat the same mistake. The ideal would be to have a check and balance between the civil servants, many of whom carry out their job to the best of their abilities, and the elected reps, who are closer to the voters and can push through policies which are more people friendly.
Last but not least, Azmin will have to manage his relationship with the palace especially on sensitive subjects like Bumiputra rights in areas such as housing and religion in the form of MAIS and JAIS. While Azmin must acknowledge the fact that he was the palace’s ‘pick’ to be the MB, he cannot, at the same time, ignore the demands from this partners in Pakatan on important issues where the public and the palace’s view may differ.
After waiting for such a long time to hold an executive position as an elected representative in government, Azmin finally has his chance, at the very top of the most developed and richest state in the country. It is a new beginning full of challenges. Let’s hope that Azmin, by virtue of his many years in politics both at the federal and state levels, will be more than up to the task of taking the state of Selangor to the next level.> Dr. Ong Kian Ming is the MP for Serdang. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.