When strong characters in Anwar and Rafizi collides, there stands Tengku Zafrul

TO say that there is no friction or feeling of unease between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his newly minted Economic Affairs Minister Rafizi Ramli is definitely an understatement to say the least.

But what is certain nevertheless is that the PKR president can expect – for once – party loyalty from his current deputy after his epic struggle of having to cope with Rafizi’s power-crazy predecessor who eventually not only ditched the party but betrayed the entire Pakatan Harapan (PH) struggle via the infamous Sheraton Move defection.

Bluntly, there has been clashes of opinion between Anwar and Rafizi – as in the decision to replace Sungai Buloh incumbent MP Sivarasa Rasiah with former MIC treasurer Ramanan Ramakrishnan on health grounds – but at least at the end of the day, the Pandan MP would toe the party hierarchy by respecting Anwar as the man who would call the final shot.

Probably, the Tambun MP-elect has to accept the youthful/energetic nature of Rafizi given the age gap of three decades separating them – Anwar is 75 while Rafizi is 45 – and vice-versa, for Rafizi to live up to Anwar’s fatherly nature as the patriarch of both PKR and PH.

Complementing each other

But strong characters aside, there is mutual respect between Anwar and Rafizi with the former placing trust in his PKR lieutenant to complement him in his unity government Cabinet line-up.

“Economics and finance are practically inseparable, especially when it comes to national policies,” opined think tank EMIR Research head of science and technology Ameen Kamal. “Thus, the current set-up ensures – or rather – requires Anwar and Rafizi to keep tabs on each other.”

“If the personal and professional dynamic goes well, it would be a huge boon for the administration – and consequently – for Malaysia,” argued Ameen. “Rafizi should be considered as economics minister and/or perhaps deputy finance minister to ensure economic directions are always aligned with the finance ministry and vice-versa.”

Rafizi is well-acquainted with finance, and this is the perfect training ground for him to have a deeper understanding and exposure to economics and finance at the national level, and therefore, a strategically-sound position for someone seen as a potential successor to Anwar.

Nevertheless, risks abound given both individuals are viewed as strong characters and furthermore leaders of the same political party. The potential for great synergy carries within it the potential for chaos which is reminiscent of the relationship between Anwar and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“Similarly, any friction between Anwar and Rafizi could have repercussions beyond the Cabinet – and even beyond the current timeframe,” cautioned Ameen. “They should be aware that their relationship will be the target of many with ill intent towards the current Government.”

Tengku Zafrul in the picture

Whether it is a sheer coincidence or a game of balancing act orchestrated by Anwar, it is interesting to see Rafizi in a “profit-centre competition” with minister by default Senator Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz to see who can bring the biggest economic benefit to Malaysia.

“Competition is good, so long it is healthy and so long as profit-centres don’t start to dictate cost-centres and other departments. That is, the hierarchy of command starts to be blurred,” asserted Ameen, pointing to Tengku Zafrul’s position as the Industry Trade and Industry Minister.

Zooming in on Tengku Zafrul, Ameen suggested that Anwar must have seen “something in him or values his experience – but if not – then it is likely the case of Anwar accepting something or someone against his own wishes because he has no other way when weighing the pros and cons or upon analysing cost-benefits.”

“Tengku Zafrul isn’t only well-linked among Malay elites, but also among royalties. Cables don’t get much thicker than that, and keep in mind that this is a government endorsed by the royal institution,” justified Ameen.

“Either way, beyond politics, perhaps there is wisdom in Anwar’s appointment of Tengku Zafrul as trades minister. Firstly, assuming that Tengku Zafrul isn’t Anwar’s default preference, then it is strategic to keep him close, rather than on the other side of the table.”

Secondly, in the interest of favourable trade arrangements, market access and bringing in foreign direct investments, there is a potential advantage in putting the face of a former banker and former finance minister as a national representative in an increasingly globalised world that is seen by many to be run by elites in politics, financial institutions, corporations, and the banking sector.

“If Anwar has no choice but to give Tengku Zafrul a position (but not the finance position), then MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) is probably the only one that makes the most sense to Anwar,” added Ameen. – Dec 8, 2022

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