Malaysia's 'princess of reform' Nurul Izzah says resignation not an overnight decision

Malaysian politician Nurul Izzah Anwar has announced her decision to quit as vice-president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat.
Malaysian politician Nurul Izzah Anwar has announced her decision to quit as vice-president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat. PHOTO: ST FILE

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It's 3pm and way past lunchtime, and Malaysian politician Nurul Izzah Anwar has finally found time to have her meal. She is joined by her two children and a family member.

But her phone is ringing incessantly. Leaders and members of her Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), a member of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, are shocked that she has just announced her decision to quit as party vice-president.

Some think it is fake news. Others think that this is just theatrics from her and that she would eventually retract her announcement after a flood of orchestrated pleas from members.

But those who know the three-term Member of Parliament well are aware of her stubborn streak. If she has made up her mind to do something, it will be tough to dissuade her.

Her parents, Malaysia's PM-in waiting Anwar Ibrahim and Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, and other family members have all left for the Philippines for their first real family holiday in a long time.

"Yes, dad and mum are aware of my decision. It's not something that's decided overnight," she said. And that was all she was prepared to say on record, beyond her press statement.

Nurul Izzah spent the entire morning working on the press statement to ensure it was properly crafted, and released it just after 12.30pm.

And now that last piece of business had been settled, she was frantically trying to book a flight to join the rest of the family.

The resignation was without doubt a bombshell, and yet, her close friends and supporters weren't surprised.

CONCERNED ABOUT DEFECTIONS

Recent developments in Pakatan Harapan, and even within PKR, had disturbed her, and she felt let down. Always the idealist and reformist, and a child born out of the Reformasi movement, she must have felt disappointed with some of the things that had taken place in recent times. After all, she did not get her Puteri Reformasi moniker for nothing.

Nurul Izzah is unlikely to completely open up to party members and the media about what she probably felt is the "derailment of the reformasi spirit" in the new Pakatan government. She is well aware that her statements and remarks would have far-reaching consequences - she being Anwar's most outspoken and most political child.

But there had been signs. She shot off a Twitter message, just days ago, on the defections of Umno MPs to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which is headed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. She didn't make any specific references but the message was clear.

"Betrayal of mandate given the 9th of May insults those who are loyal to the cause. Our party was attacked before by defections. Wouldn't want that kind of pain and antics upon anyone else. There is no meaning to democracy if Malaysia is governed by elite-based politicking," she wrote.

Six more Umno MPs have quit the party since the resignation of a number of Sabah Umno elected representatives and division heads last Thursday.

Her father took a more measured tone.

 
 

"Pakatan Harapan must maintain its integrity and principles as it faces the prospect of crossovers from Umno. We are a democratic country, but we must maintain our integrity as a coalition with principles that stand against corruption and racism," he said.

"This is why when I was asked by Umno MPs about joining (PKR), I was very cautious. I told them to stay where they are first and let us discuss the matter in more detail so that the rakyat (people) will not have the perception that we are shifting from the principles of our struggle."

"They were worried that Pakatan's spirit would be eroded, but I gave assurance that Pakatan will hold on to its principles even if we have new members," he said after chairing a Sarawak PKR meeting last week.

The exodus of Umno members into Prime Minister Mahathir's party also had an impact on her plans. One of Nurul Izzah's supporters had described the exodus as "the instigation of defections" and said it hampered the ideals of reforms.

OTHER FRUSTRATIONS

There have been other pent-up frustrations, including the appointment of former inspector-general of police Abdul Rahim Noor as a facilitator for peace talks in southern Thailand.

"I unequivocally oppose this appointment of a brutal assaulter of an innocent man as he lay there blindfolded and handcuffed - left without medical attention for days," Nurul Izzah wrote on Twitter in August, referring to what had happened to her father in 1998.

Tan Sri Abdul Rahim was eventually charged with the assault and received a two-month jail sentence. He later apologised to Anwar and his family.

The assault took place on the night Anwar was arrested on Sept 20, 1998, after which the former deputy prime minister appeared in court with a black eye.

An angry Nurul Izzah went on to refer to Abdul Rahim as a "being" in expressing her disapproval with the latter's new appointment.

"This being then lied to the whole world as to the victim's whereabouts and well-being. Shame on those who executed this travesty," Nurul Izzah reportedly said.

Again, Anwar cooled things down by saying Dr Mahathir should be given leeway in determining the best decision on Abdul Rahim's appointment.

According to those close to her, Nurul Izzah had also questioned the attempt by former Melaka chief minister, Tan Sri Rahim Thamby Chik, to join PPBM, as the bitter feud between him and Anwar is well known.

There has been a series of issues that she finds hard to accept, and the short of it is that she feels the ideals of reforms have been betrayed through "high-handed political machinations", in the words of an aide.

Her loyalists say she is fed up with the games some are playing that are hurting reforms and the work her father and many people are trying to do.

"She feels she can be more outspoken and fight for the promises of the election and reforms without a party post, as that reduces significantly her ability to speak up," a family member said.

In private conversations, she has shared her frustration over the federal government's failure to address many issues, even as reforms have been carried out.

The family member said Nurul Izzah wanted to make it easier for her parents - with one being Deputy Prime Minister and another a future PM - and minimise the tight spots they are in. He likened her to "being stuck between a rock and a hard place".

She has also been perturbed by the government's plan to reboot the national car, a pet project of the Prime Minister, and had tweeted that she hoped the government "will take into account the concerns shown by the people".

PARTY FACTIONALISM

One critic said that the "reformist spirit seems to be fading" as the Pakatan leaders seem reluctant to speak up, preferring to be on the safe side, with "a few even pandering to the powers that be".

And within PKR, she is obviously unhappy with what she sees as a betrayal of her father by senior leaders in pursuit of ambition for higher posts in the party and possibly in the federal government. Her sentiments were pretty obvious just after the acrimonious party polls recently, which has had a divisive effect on PKR.

Factionalism has crept into the party, with allegations of manipulations, and worse, even fist fights breaking out, which has tarnished the party.

Politics is the art of the possible, and her supporters are quick to point out that she is the most popular figure in the party after Datuk Seri Anwar, having won the vice-presidency with 80,000 votes, 20,000 more than the next candidate.

But the harsh reality is that all is not well, and Nurul Izzah is a big name in Pakatan. She is the most senior PKR vice-president, and her decision has rocked the party and Pakatan, although she holds no government posts.

In the days to come, she will need to give more compelling reasons, beyond her statements, as to what led to her resignation, whether it is professional or personal.

Clearly, she is not ready to share for now. But her party members and admirers out there want to know and this can only get more intense. She owes it to her party and supporters to open up.