Anwar Ibrahim's failure to name a minister in charge of cost of living more than four months after the death of the incumbent has been attributed to a decision to await the outcome of a looming power struggle in Amanah, various sources in Pakatan Harapan (PH) have revealed to MalaysiaNow.
It is learnt that Anwar decided to wait and see which group in Amanah comes to power after the party polls this month before choosing who to name as the new domestic trade and cost of living minister to replace Salahuddin Ayub, who died on July 23.
The decision to await the outcome of party politics has resulted in a vacant portfolio at a time of rising food prices and living costs, factors that have affected the ratings of Anwar's administration.
This was confirmed in a recent survey by pollster Merdeka Center, which revealed problems tied to living costs as the main reason for the government's plummeting popularity as it marked its first year in power last month.
The issues with 'Team Mat Sabu'
A source close to Amanah's founding president Mohamad Sabu said Salahuddin's replacement would have been a "done deal" were it not for the prime minister's delay in confirming Adly Zahari as a full minister.
"Adly is the right-hand man of Mat Sabu, but with the latter himself facing brickbats over his handling of the rice crisis, among many others, Anwar was advised not to proceed with this idea," the source, known as part of Mohamad's inner circle, told MalaysiaNow.
Adly was the Melaka chief minister during PH's first term in power. He was ousted following the coalition's collapse at the federal level in 2020.
The businessman-turned-politician had been a rock for Mohamad throughout the latter's time in the political wilderness after his defeat in the PAS elections of 2015.
"They were brought together by a common ideology to which both subscribe and for which their faction lost in PAS in 2015," the same source added, referring to Mohamad's defeat to Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man for the post of PAS deputy president.
The "common ideology" is believed to be linked to a perception that Amanah is comprised of two main factions united by their 2015 defeat in PAS, leading to the formation of a splinter group which was later converted into the party as it is known today.
"Mat Sabu belongs to the Shia faction while leaders like Mujahid Yusof Rawa and Khalid Samad represent the Salafi group," said an individual close to Amanah leaders in Perak, referring to two opposing schools of thought in Islam.
Shia Islam is largely banned in mainly Sunni Malaysia, while authorities frequently frown upon Salafi teachings, which are patterned upon the Wahhabi doctrine.
The run-up to the PAS polls in 2015 had led to intense talk of Mohamad's leaning to Shia Islam, claims that he has denied.
But after then Umno deputy president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi publicly named Mohamad as a Shia follower, the home ministry released what it said was evidence that confirmed Mohamad's links to the Shia ideology.
"Whether he is Shia or not is up to you to decide," said a former close confidante of Mohamad when contacted.
Mat Sabu's final term
The same talk of Mohamad's ideological background has seen a revival in the run-up to the leadership polls at the coming Amanah convention, where he is expected to face a stiff challenge from the more "conservative" faction.
"Based on the party constitution, this is Mat Sabu's chance for a third and final term. But there is a wide belief that the man who helped found the party has overstayed his welcome," said another party source.
There is also brewing anger from the faction opposed to Mohamad over how their men had been sidelined over the last year, beginning with the general election which saw many sent to contest "unsafe seats".
"They include Khalid who was sacrificed in Titiwangsa, and Mujahid who was not moved out from Parit Buntar amid a resurgent Perikatan Nasional," said the same source, referring to the defeat of the two Amanah founding members, both ministers in the previous PH administration led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Mat Sabu's performance and Amanah's failure
Ideological differences aside, those opposed to Mohamad's continued leadership point to Amanah's decline and failures, especially in its declared aim of replacing PAS as the party of choice for Malay Muslims.
"Seven years have passed, and we continue to be perceived as a DAP lackey. This is only strengthened by the fact that the president himself was given a safe seat by DAP," said an Amanah leader from Klang.
Since 2004 and despite his reputation as a crowd-puller in PAS, Mohamad lost three times contesting under the party in predominantly Malay seats in Kedah and Terengganu.
Following his exit from PAS, he was moved to the DAP stronghold of Kota Raja in Selangor for the 2018 election, returning to Dewan Rakyat after 14 years.
An Amanah leader who claimed to be neutral spoke to MalaysiaNow about a debate within the party on the increasing perception of Mohamad as a liability.
"His performance as a minister is open knowledge," he said, referring to Mohamad's agriculture and food security portfolio in the Cabinet.
"Not only has he failed to come up with anything noteworthy or revolutionary to stop our food dependency, the rice crisis confirmed his inability," he added.
Meanwhile, a former PKR MP said Anwar's refusal to agree to the appointment of Adly to replace Salahuddin showed which faction the prime minister was leaning towards.
"For now, it will not be in his interest to back Mat Sabu. So he prefers to wait and see which faction is in power."
There is speculation that despite his falling popularity, Mohamad is likely to keep his presidency for a final term due to good-will from members.
"But he is also likely to be surrounded by those who are not in his team.
"This is why Anwar is playing a wait-and-see game before embarking on the long delayed Cabinet reshuffle," said the former MP.