The Long Goodbye: Wan Azizah’s Departure

Wan Azizah (left) intimating advice to PM Mahathir Mohamad.

No ship can have two captains. Anwar Ibrahim’s inevitable procession to PKR party president raises a truckload of questions, however, it does provide one conclusion.

The departure of Wan Azizah Wan Ismail from top political leadership.

Fan or no fan, there has to be admiration for the lady for staying in the game as various avatars for more than twenty years.

Founding president of a new party, parliamentarian, leader of the opposition and now deputy prime minister.

More so since she never wanted it. This life in politics.

She was happy enough to be married to a politician. And despite all her years in the game, there is little to suggest she would not be happy to become only a politician’s wife only, again.

She has not hidden the fact to her what matters most is her husband’s political career, and when he is barred from fulfilling his role, she’d be his fill-in or proxy.

A family quota

Anwar as president means he represents the 50 parliamentarians or almost quarter of Dewan Rakyat. While Wan Azizah can remain as DPM for the medium term, the next leg after party elections is Anwar’s ascension — to reinforce himself as a major Pakatan Harapan voice and ready the country to accept him as national leader.

In the image building process, there can be no confusion about leadership.

If Anwar is in, then Wan Azizah can remain in her present capacity, but only as a lame duck DPM. Anwar wants to be in the room, with Guan Eng and Mat Sabu, to discuss with coalition boss Mahathir Mohamad.

The younger couple, the days when Anwar was the politician, and she the doctor.

One party, one seat at the coalition table.

The period where Anwar becomes the party representative, it can be awkward for Wan Azizah. To be the deputy prime minister who has notional party authority inside the Cabinet.

Still, as the first female deputy prime minister, it would be bad manners to ask her to step down in the first year.

See her years in politics, and the roles she’s had.

Stood successfully for Permatang Pauh in the 1999 GE, because Anwar was in prison. She almost lost in the 2004 GE as the party floundered.

In the 2008 general she wins convincingly, but resigns in three months later so that Anwar can contest the family seat. In 2013 general election, she sits out of the race and supports Anwar’s bid to become prime minister.

In 2014, the Kajang (state seat) by-election was manufactured to line Anwar up as the next Selangor mentri besar. When the courts got in the way, Azizah as ever stepped up to fill-in for Anwar.

In 2018 GE, she moves to the city’s Pandan as daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, goes for Permatang Pauh.

Soon, party president Anwar would need legitimacy to rule, which is exactly why he runs for the top party post rather than assume the informal de facto leader position.

If legitimacy is critical, then being voted in as party president is only part one of two steps, the second being to gain an elected position which qualifies him to be prime minister, which means a parliamentary by-election.

It can’t be chanced and Pandan is a stronghold.


I see Wan Azizah stepping down as deputy prime minister and parliamentarian after the Chinese New Year holidays next year, and a by-election before the fasting month to propel Anwar to parliament and sworn in as deputy prime minister, following a Cabinet reshuffle.

The reshuffle is necessary to pass a critical ministry to Anwar, as a dress rehearsal to the real thing.

All of these may not happen, as in Anwar’s promotion beyond the party. While a week in politics is a long time, a year in politics is a lifetime.

But the Anwar camp’s intention to go for it does mean Wan Azizah steps aside as to stand by him as the future wife of the prime minister, or failed politician in the new world of #MalaysiaBaru.

That’s for a different day.

For now, Malaysia should thank her, and always remember her legacy to the democratisation of Malaysia.

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