KUALA LUMPUR - A chief adviser to Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali on Thursday (July 18) suggested Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim should retire from politics while Mr Azmin’s faction in Malaysia’s largest ruling party closed ranks to chastise their president for not supporting his deputy over allegations of gay sex.
The show of force by the pro-Azmin camp was signed by 23 out of the 64 members of the central leadership council. Five other MPs also signed the statement. Significantly, the signatories include 20 of the 27 who won their places in the party’s highest decision-making body at last November’s party polls, with the rest of the leadership later appointed by the president.
Datuk Khalid Jaafar, Special Officer to the Economic Affairs Minister, described as a “tactical blunder” the call from pro-Anwar figures including the party’s information chief, Shamsul Iskandar Akin, for Mr Azmin to take leave pending investigations into sexually explicit videos that went viral last month.
“It brings back the China doll video saga that was nearly forgotten. The then Inspector General of Police said forensic investigations showed the video was genuine,” he wrote in a Facebook post, referring to the 2011 video implicating the former deputy premier.
“The call from the information chief means precisely that Anwar must relinquish the party presidency,” said Mr Khalid, a former press secretary to Datuk Seri Anwar. “He is already advanced in age, and the return journey is long. Anwar Ibrahim should just retire from politics.”
Earlier, Azmin loyalists criticised the “inappropriate” and “speculative” comment by Mr Anwar, 71, on Wednesday that if the purported videos of Mr Azmin, 54, were authentic, then the PKR deputy president should resign.
"As YB Dato' Seri Azmin Ali has stated a categoric denial of the video, he should as the party president stand by his deputy in the interest of party unity - and not seek to undermine him using speculation," the group said in a statement.
They reminded Mr Anwar that "the party has defended him against identical tactics using sex videos and other means of gutter politics even when the police chief in 2011 declared a sex video implicating him as genuine".
"He should remember that YB Dato' Seri Azmin Ali has defended him and his family for more than 20 years against the same type of gutter politics," they said, referring to how Mr Anwar was ousted as deputy premier in 1998 amid sodomy allegations.
Mr Anwar responded to the criticism by dismissing the notion that his former protege threatened the agreed transition of power from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
“MPs are with me. Pakatan Harapan has made a categorical stand that there is no change (on who becomes the next prime minister). I have the numbers,” he told reporters.
However, he accepted the views expressed in the joint statement, saying, “I need to be magnanimous enough to accept the fact that I need to lead a coherent, united party”.
The two factions in PKR - which has 50 of the ruling Pakatan Harapan's 129 MPs - revived a war of words this week following the arrest of nine people suspected of spreading the videos, including Mr Anwar's political secretary Farhash Mubarak and several other party members.
Mr Anwar has denied involvement, saying insinuations about a higher-up being the mastermind behind the clips are "baseless".
Perak PKR chief Farhash earlier denied any involvement in the circulation of the clips and instead called on Mr Azmin to resign "if the evidence is overwhelmingly against him".
Mr Azmin, who is seen as a threat to Mr Anwar's position as the ruling coalition's next prime minister, has denied being in the video and dismissed it as a plot from within the party to destroy his political career.
The clips sparked a furore among rival factions in PKR when they surfaced on June 11. After investigations, police on Sunday arrested six suspects, including former PKR youth leader Haziq Aziz, who had confessed to being one of the two men shown in the video engaging in sexual acts. Mr Haziq claims that the other man in the video with him was Mr Azmin.
On Monday, Mr Anwar insisted that the public needed to know if the video clips were genuine.
He added on Wednesday that he had heard rumours that the authenticity has been confirmed, and Mr Azmin must resign if this was true.
Mr Azmin on Wednesday told his former mentor to "look at the man in the mirror".