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Rafizi's political future in limbo as subsidies abolition plan gets underway

The ambitious PKR deputy president has plans to take over the party, but what are his odds?

3 minute read
With Anwar Ibrahim's family members firmly entrenched in PKR, Rafizi Ramli (3rd right) has no chance of realising his dream of leading the party.
With Anwar Ibrahim's family members firmly entrenched in PKR, Rafizi Ramli (3rd right) has no chance of realising his dream of leading the party.

Rafizi Ramli's political future has become the subject of intense discussions both within PKR and among political observers, less than two months after heavy criticism over the Central Database Hub (PADU).

The issue is not only whether the PADU mechanism, which sparked controversy over its method of collecting personal data, is capable of supporting the targeted subsidy system about which few details have been forthcoming, but also the fact that senior government officials – including Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim – did not openly come to Rafizi's defence when he was attacked by Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders, among others.

The government's subsidy rationalisation plan, which calls for the scrapping of bulk fuel subsidies and their redirection to the poor based on PADU data, is set to begin with the removal of diesel subsidies.

Anwar's announcement last week raised concerns over price hikes, leading to questions over whether Rafizi would again be left alone to defend the targeted subsidy plan largely attributed to him.

Any public anger over the targeted subsidy plan would see Rafizi, not Anwar, paying a heavy price, according to several former PKR leaders who note that Rafizi is seen as Anwar's closest challenger for the top party post.

Rafizi, who lost to Mohamed Azmin Ali in the race for the deputy president's post during the 2018 party election, finally landed it after defeating Saifuddin Nasution in 2022.

But observers say this is the highest position he can reach in PKR.

A former senior PKR leader said that based on his experience in the party, there was no way the top position could go to anyone other than members of Anwar's family.

"Rafizi has no chance. Anwar will hand it over to Nurul Izzah. It's like the Kajang Move," he told MalaysiaNow, referring to Anwar's eldest daughter who is said to wield influence as an adviser in the finance ministry helmed by her father.

In 2014, PKR instructed its assemblyman for Kajang to vacate the state seat to allow Anwar's wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to run in a by-election with a view to appointing her the Selangor menteri besar, as part of a grand plan to oust Abdul Khalid Ibrahim.

However, the strategy known as the "Kajang Move" failed after the sultan of Selangor did not consent to Wan Azizah's nomination for the post of menteri besar.

Rafizi 'on his own'

While Rafizi has been left to defend PADU, the government's mixed messages about its plan for targeted subsidies has also raised questions.

This was evident when Anwar denied a report in Singapore's The Straits Times that diesel subsidies were to be withdrawn in June, leading to questions about whether the prime minister was performing Rafizi's duties.

Two former PKR leaders agreed that Rafizi would be in trouble if PADU and the targeted subsidy plan ran into problems.

Former PKR Youth deputy chief Dr Afif Bahardin said there was something suspicious in Rafizi's announcement of a campaign at a recent special convention for PKR to retain Anwar as the prime ministerial candidate at the next general election.

"Out of nowhere came this campaign to make Anwar the prime ministerial candidate for GE16, when he will be 80 years old. Do we want an 80-year-old prime minister?" asked Afif, who is now a Perikatan Nasional assemblyman in Selangor.

"That's the whole idea behind the special convention, to get people to talk about a transition plan in PKR."

Former PKR vice-president Tian Chua said the responsibility of rationalising subsidies should not be left to one ministry alone.

He said the plan went beyond the scope of the economy ministry.

"But there is the impression that the economy minister will be to blame if the plan fails. That is wrong.

"The Cabinet should take collective responsibility and no one should be seen as the 'fall guy'," he told MalaysiaNow.

Tian Chua also warned that any failure in the subsidy rationalisation plan would also affect Anwar.

"This is not the time for any minister to play the hero or claim that he is solely responsible," he said.

Afif said Rafizi's weakness was evident in his actions and speeches as the economy minister.

"People do not see Rafizi's actions the way they thought all along. The way he gives his responses and deals with problems shows that he is not the competent and capable technocrat that many had assumed," he added.