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All in the family: Anwar in homecoming plan to 'Malay, but safe' Permatang Pauh?

Places are also assured for his wife and daughter as PKR rotates 'safe' seats for the leader's family.

4 minute read

PKR is believed to have finalised its candidates for the coming polls with Anwar Ibrahim returning to his traditional bastion of Permatang Pauh in a move that party strategists believe will end a long hunt for a "Malay, but safe" seat for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) prime ministerial candidate, MalaysiaNow understands from conversations with reliable sources.

The decision comes after "careful consideration of the chances" for Anwar, who won Port Dickson in a 2018 by-election forced by PKR to allow his parliamentary comeback, to ensure electoral victory for him as well as put to rest debate over his deficit in support from the Malay community. 

"As the prime ministerial candidate, they (PKR strategists) are aware of the need of symbolism to show that Anwar has the support of the Malays.

"With the choice of Permatang Pauh, Anwar not only shows he is coming home to his constituents, but also that he has Malay support," a party leader familiar with internal discussions on Anwar's next move told MalaysiaNow.

Permatang Pauh, a rural northern seat in mainland Penang, has long been considered Anwar's fort. It was there that he made his parliamentary debut as a young Umno leader in 1982.

After his sacking from government in 1998, the seat was contested by his wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the following year. 

She remained there until 2008, when she stepped down as MP to allow her husband to contest and return to Parliament.

In the 2018 election, when Anwar was serving his second prison sentence for sodomy, the seat was contested by his eldest daughter, Nurul Izzah.

Anwar's return to Permatang Pauh would not only mark the coming of a full circle, but also put to rest the long-debated topic within PKR of whether there are seats reserved for his family members.

His wife contested in Pandan in 2018, filling the void left by its former MP Rafizi Ramli, who was at that time disqualified from standing in elections.

Now, Rafizi is set to reclaim the Chinese-majority constituency, forcing the party to think of another "safe" seat that would allow Wan Azizah to remain an MP.

"Bringing back Rafizi to Pandan was a dilemma for the party, because the rule of thumb when deciding who will contest where, is that Anwar's wife must have a seat. She would come in handy if anything were to happen to Anwar," said one veteran politician in Selangor who has been with PKR since its inception in 1999.

He added that it would be unthinkable for someone like Rafizi to be seen pushing out Wan Azizah, "who is not only the boss' wife, but who also managed to double the majority he obtained in 2013". 

At least two PKR personalities, speaking to MalaysiaNow on condition of anonymity, said Wan Azizah was likely to get a "fair replacement" in the form of Bandar Tun Razak. 

This is despite MalaysiaNow's previous report that Anwar was eyeing a proposal from party comrades to contest the seat, a move which could see him taking on his former close associate Kamaruddin Jaafar, who has since joined Bersatu.

New role for Nurul Izzah?

Meanwhile, with Permatang Pauh returning to her father, there have been questions about the future of Nurul Izzah, the eldest daughter of the PKR president who holds senior positions in the party.

Despite not standing in the party polls, the 42-year-old was appointed as a vice-president, as well as chosen to head three PKR state chapters: Penang, Kedah and Perlis.

It is understood that she, too, has been assured of candidacy at GE15, although it is unlikely that she will be placed in a federal constituency this time around.

"There is talk that Nurul is being offered an important state position, which would mean her contesting a state seat.

"Most probably, it will be a state seat under Permatang Pauh."

But a Penang assemblyman, when told about this, said he had no knowledge of any "important state position" being discussed for Nurul Izzah or anyone from PKR.

As a PKR representative, the highest state position in Penang for Nurul Izzah would be one of the two deputy chief minister (DCM) posts reserved for the party.

Since taking over Penang in 2008, the PH state government led by DAP has traditionally appointed two DCMs to represent the ethnic Indian and Malay minorities, seen as a way of assuaging criticism that the administration is "Chinese-dominated".

While DAP's P Ramasamy has remained as DCM II to represent the Indians, the post of DCM I, allocated to PKR to represent the Malays in Penang, has always been volatile.

Just a year after the 2008 election, Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin announced that he was stepping down from the position. The following year, he joined Umno, accusing PKR of abandoning Malay-Muslim concerns.

In 2012, Mansor Othman, who replaced Fairus in 2009, was caught in controversy after he was heard on tape using the word "tokong" to describe then chief minister Lim Guan Eng.

Since Mansor's transfer to a federal seat in the 2018 election, a relatively unknown PKR politician, Ahmad Zakiyuddin Abdul Rahman, has been the party's face in the Penang state government.

"Zakiyuddin's age, coupled with his health condition, do not allow him to make full use of the important role of DCM. 

"With Nurul Izzah, we hope to reverse this and put PKR on a more prominent footing in the administration of Penang, especially in bringing forth issues concerning the Malay-Muslims in Penang who have long remained loyal to Umno," said the PKR source.