As the campaign for Malaysia’s 15th General Elections enters the home stretch, four contests have captured national attention after the nomination papers were stamped on 5th November 2022, seeing heavyweights line up in Tambun, Kuala Selangor, Sungai Buloh, and Gombak.
Pakatan Harapan Chairman Anwar Ibrahim took a bold step to contest against Bersatu number two and former Perak Menteri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu, popularly known as Peja, former Health Minister Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad takes on Prime Minister hopeful Tengku Zafrul, while another self-professed Prime Minsiter Candidate Khairy Jamaluddin hopes to wrest back Sungai Buloh from Pakatan Harapan.
But the contest which has consumed the most national bandwidth and will likely determine the country’s future is the Battle of Gombak, as Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari battles Azmin Ali, an individual who needs no introduction and was the chief architect of the tragic Sheraton Move leading to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government in February 2020.
Newly-minted PKR Vice President Amirudin Shari has taken on the toughest assignment of all the top leaders in Pakatan Harapan, as he battles to claw back a majority of 48,721 Azmin won as the then Selangor Menteri Besar and PKR Deputy President in the 14th General Elections.
Peja won Tambun in 2018 by 5,320 votes, while Dr. Dzulkefly reclaimed Kuala Selangor with a difference of 8,498, and outgoing MP Sivarasa Rasiah defended his seat with a majority of 26,634.
Despite shouldering the burden of an entire nation who cannot wait to see the back of Azmin, Amirudin has laced up and folded his sleeves, taking on this challenge positively without taking anything for granted.
Experts and pundits have billed this battle as a contest between a mentor and mentee, the master and his apprentice, friends-turned-foes, former Chief Minister against the Current Chief Minister, and some other iteration.
But the most accurate which makes Gombak the Battle of the Ages is a battle between the dark sins of Malaysia’s past, against a yearning for a better, brighter future which can begin in Gombak.
And for me personally, this is a contest between my former and current bosses.
On the one hand, Azmin has labelled this a proxy war, as he struggles to get over his former boss despite having left PKR nearly three years ago.
Not too long ago, after assuming the role of Minister for Economic Affairs, Azmin was talked about in the corridors of power as a possible future Prime Minister after Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
However, Azmin’s fall from grace began just 3 days after the 14th General Elections on 12th May 2018.
After announcing his first trio of Cabinet appointments – Lim Guan Eng as Minister of Finance, Mat Sabu as Minister of Defence, and Muhyiddin Yassin as Minister of Home Affairs – Tun Mahathir turned up at the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital at 5pm for an emergency meeting with Anwar just after Sabu, Guan Eng, and Azmin arrived.
Visibly disappointed at being overlooked for the coveted Finance Minister portfolio, Azmin refused to address local and international journalists gathered outside the lobby of the Cheras Hospital. Instead, he told Zuraida Kamaruddin, “You can address the media. After today’s announcement, there is nothing for me”, referring to Guan Eng’s appointment as Finance Minister.
From that moment, Azmin always felt he was playing second fiddle as Minister of Economic Affairs to Guan Eng as Finance Minister.
It is due to this – his dislike for Anwar, and Guan Eng since both were leading Selangor and Penang – that likely sowed the seeds of discontent in Azmin’s mind to begin a hatchet job which led to the Sheraton Move.
Since nomination day, Azmin’s campaign has been predicated on a deadly cocktail of lies and half-truths that pose a unique threat to the idea of democracy.
He has largely attempted to engineer nostalgia back to the days when he was Selangor Menteri Besar, while also going on to suggest that he was instrumental as Minister of International Trade and Industry to Malaysia’s increase in exports to RM1.014 trillion.
Azmin has also proven to be a chameleon of convenience, slamming UMNO’s court cluster as kleptocrats in his campaign speeches, but conveniently avoiding the fact that he enjoyed joining Najib Razak on the campaign trail during the Chini by-elections in July 2020.
However, his reliance on support from PAS’ grassroots to organise campaign activities in Gombak has somewhat backfired after lukewarm reception from PAS’ Muslimat Wing due to certain matters of principle towards the candidate.
As a result, he left Gombak after just 3 days to join Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) national campaign, hoping that the change in tactic would create a national wave of Malay support which would have a ripple effect in Gombak.
PAS President Hadi Awang’s glaring absence at the PN event in Gombak on Monday night is sure to have a stunning blow to morale, especially among local PAS members.
On the other hand, Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari has deployed a traditional twin-pronged approach to his campaign; getting the support on social media while sticking to the tried and tested approach of door-to-door canvassing in the three state constituencies under Gombak; Sungai Tua, Gombak Setia, and Hulu Kelang.
Amirudin has not only fact-checked Azmin’s fallacies on a number of occasions, but he has displayed moral clarity and presented a vision of a more just Malaysia using the example of Selangor’s 14 years under Pakatan Rakyat and Pakatan Harapan’s stewardship.
A vision of a government whose primary aim to act as an enabler and troubleshooter, not a troublemaker. And a path towards a conversation driven by issues like the economy, education, transport, climate while celebrating our diverse identities.
Not by predicating politics solely on identity as a means to rob people of their dignity by playing on fear to achieve political survival.
And most importantly, the Selangor Menteri Besar has constantly welcomed differing views while also being decisive, a rare quality in politicians.
Gombak has seen a sharp increase in voters from 141,112 in 2018 to 206,744 voters who will be able to make their choice on Saturday, 19th November 2022.
The choice is clear.
Azmin represents the dark past of Malaysia’s divisive history bereft of ideas to solve the grand challenges we face as a nation.
A win for him will embolden the dark forces still lurking in Malaysian politics and hand a crowbar to a few ringleaders who will relish the opportunity to crack open the country’s racial fissures.
However, if Amirudin emerges as the victor come night time on Saturday, he will emerge as the person who defied all odds and defended the seat for Pakatan Harapan by embarking on a matured and principled brand of politics, sending a strong message to chameleon politicians to start growing a backbone.