KUALA LUMPUR - In a blow to former Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy president Azmin Ali, close allies who control Malaysia's richest state Selangor have opted to stay in the party despite their mentor walking out with 10 other MPs.
The former economic affairs minister is a key mover of the so-called National Alliance that coalesced on Sunday (Feb 23) to form a wider coalition including opposition parties such as Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
The coalition aims to ensure Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad serves out a full term as premier instead of handing power over to PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, as agreed within Pakatan Harapan (PH) prior to it winning the May 2018 election.
But the move has stalled, with existing PH leaders insisting Dr Mahathir resigned as both prime minister and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) chairman on Monday. They were protesting against plans to bring Umno back into government less than two years after ending its six-decade rule since independence.
While Datuk Seri Azmin has often had the support of at least 15 of the other 49 MPs in PKR, not all joined him in exiting the party when he was sacked for "an open act of betrayal".
On Monday, Selangor chief minister Amirudin Shari, a protege of Mr Azmin, briefed assemblymen from PKR that the state administration would remain stable.
"We hope ties with Azmin won't be broken but we are loyal to Keadilan and PH as well as the mandate from the public," an aide to the Menteri Besar told The Straits Times.
Datuk Seri Amirudin confirmed this in a statement on Tuesday, saying he had an audience with the Selangor Sultan as PKR Selangor chief, along with the state chairmen of other PH components Democratic Action Party and Parti Amanah Negara.
"His Royal Highness was satisfied with the explanation that the existing government intends to continue its commitment to realise the mandate of the people of Selangor in the 2018 general election and consented for the Selangor government to resume as normal," he said.
Mr Azmin was the previous Selangor chief minister, and was widely influential in what is a PKR stronghold.
But other Selangor PKR leaders aligned to Mr Azmin, including Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah and central leadership councillor Sivarasa Rasiah (Subang MP), have decided to stay in PKR.
"If reorganising the coalition is necessary, it must only be done by consensus. Pakatan Harapan's spirit of shared prosperity and realising democratic reforms must be maintained," Ms Chin, who was formerly chief of electoral reforms group Bersih, said in a statement on Monday.
However, Mr Azmin, and the 10 MPs who exited PKR with him insisted that their "proactive measure was to head off a conspiracy to topple the Prime Minister mid-term".
"We are convinced that efforts to force the Prime Minister to set a handover date is an evil attempt to make him a lame duck PM," they said in a joint statement, referring to repeated calls from pro-Anwar leaders for Dr Mahathir to make way, which culminated in last Friday's showdown PH leadership talks.
Should other colleagues in the Azmin faction, which won two-thirds of leadership positions at the last internal PKR polls, remain in the party, it would severely weaken his position in the current state of uncertainty.
While Dr Mahathir was appointed interim prime minister by Malaysia's King hours after handing in his resignation on Monday, it remains to be seen whether the 94-year-old statesman decides to form a new government or pave the way for a snap election.
Mr Azmin would be in a weaker negotiating position in the case of the former, and would not enjoy the backing of the PH election machinery should national polls be held.