A chief adviser to Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali yesterday suggested that Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim should retire from politics, while Datuk Seri 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 Mr Azmin, described as a "tactical blunder" the call from pro-Anwar figures, including the party's information chief, Datuk Seri 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 prime minister.
"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," he added.
Earlier yesterday, 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 Datuk Seri Azmin Ali has stated a categorical 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 the statement.
"He should remember that Datuk 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 prime minister in 1998 amid sodomy allegations.
Mr Anwar responded to the criticism by dismissing the notion of his former protege threatening 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 said.
But he accepted the views expressed in the joint statement and said: "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 that insinuations about a higher-up being the mastermind behind the clips are "baseless".
Perak PKR chief Farhash had earlier denied circulating the clips which surfaced on June 11, and instead called on Mr Azmin to resign "if the evidence is overwhelmingly against him".