Malaysia PM Anwar casts unity net wider to smother lingering uncertainty

Six states will elect new governments in polls expected by August which are becoming increasingly viewed as a referendum on the Anwar government. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

KUALA LUMPUR – As the mercury rises in Malaysian politics, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has set about recruiting former foes as he seeks to widen alliances in the face of unrelenting opposition pressure to undermine his leadership.

Having already allowed crucial ally and Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi to appoint Umno loyalists in key government agencies this past week, he surprisingly handed the chair of the government’s premier think-tank on Tuesday to a top adviser of former senior minister Azmin Ali.

The latter was a key defector in the 2020 Sheraton Move, which blocked Datuk Seri Anwar from succeeding then Premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Dr Faiz Abdullah has been made chief of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia (Isis Malaysia), in a coup for Mr Anwar.

His government is also set to bestow a senatorship on Datuk Seri Anifah Aman next week, despite Mr Anwar filing and losing at a cost of RM100,000 (S$30,000) a defamation suit against the then foreign minister in 2015.

Mr Anifah said in 2009 that Mr Anwar had tried to bribe MPs to support him to become prime minister the year before.

Mr Anifah, a veteran of Sabah politics, confirmed his appointment to Parliament’s Upper House when contacted by The Straits Times.

It remains to be seen if this is merely a reward or a mutually beneficial boon after Mr Anifah, a former Umno warlord, campaigned for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar at November’s general election when the latter’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition was locked in a fierce battle with the Umno-led Barisan Nasional.

The polls threw up a hung Parliament and even though parties in government now make up a two-thirds supermajority in Parliament, PH has just 82 of the 222 seats in the Lower House.

Mr Anifah’s continued support could go some way in shoring up the Anwar administration’s stability, as Sabah has been the shakiest state controlled by the parties in the federal government.

“These appointments not only widen Anwar’s support base outside of Parliament but also help shore up his position as he faces increasing attacks. He is also setting his opponents back, buying his government time to show results,” Mr Amir Fareed Rahim, strategy director of risk consultancy KRA Group, told ST.

Meanwhile, the success in bringing Dr Faiz into Isis Malaysia is seen as a coup for the Prime Minister as he was among a clutch of former Anwar aides who took Datuk Seri Azmin’s side when the then top two PKR leaders split in 2013.

Dr Faiz had been a key member of Mr Azmin’s inner circle and brains trust both while the latter was economic minister in the 2018 Mahathir administration, and after Mr Azmin defected to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia to become senior minister of international trade and investment under Muhyiddin Yassin’s premiership.

ST has learnt that Dr Faiz returned to Mr Anwar’s camp after the unity government was formed in end-November.

Separately, the appointments in the past week of Kelantan Umno chief Jazlan Yaakub and outgoing Umno youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki as chairman of rural land authority Felcra and Majlis Amanah Rakyat, respectively, have drawn public ire, especially from civil society and supporters of PH’s reform agenda.

They want to see an end to political appointees for government agencies and state-owned enterprises.

Both bodies are targeted at improving the livelihoods of bumiputera, a term grouping together the Malay majority and aboriginal minorities.

This has led to the view that the appointments of the two Umno chieftains are aimed at restoring the party’s fading relevance among Malays, whose support is crucial to any government.

These recruitments come even as opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional seeks to spark a groundswell of dissent against what it claims is selective and political persecution of chief Muhyiddin after he was handed seven graft charges this month.

Six states will elect new governments in polls expected by August, which are becoming increasingly viewed as a referendum on the Anwar government.

A poor performance, especially a loss of one of three states currently held by PH, could be a fatal blow to confidence in his leadership of strange bedfellows and once bitter rivals.

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