The case for Azmin Ali

He has been called “arrogant”, his leadership “weak and embarrassing”, his actions “pathetic”. At worst, he is the least popular and most vilified; at best, he is mediocre

Mention the name “Azmin Ali”, and you would hear scoffs and disgusts. 

How could a man invite so many horrible comments? I found it incredulous. That is why I am taking up the impossible task in this article to make a case for the man no one likes. 

I will dissect all the arguments I could think of that could build the case for Azmin. 

Some of his supporters occasionally start with his academic credentials. They would put “Oxford University” in the mix to hint at his brilliance. Azmin did spend two months at Oxford University on an executive training programme in 1997. But this is by no means an academic degree. 

I will not go down this desperate path of justifying arguments. That would have been a false start. 

Selangor Menteri Besar, 2014 – 2018

Azmin supporters would agree with me. The best place to start in making our case is Selangor. Many still believe that Azmin’s tenure as a one-term Selangor Menteri Besar is still his highest achievement to date. 

Let us start with the big numbers. When Azmin came in as Selangor MB, the state reserves stood at RM3.26 billion; he was able to increase this to RM3.95 billion in less than one year. 

Also, in the same year of 2016, the Auditor-General’s Report showed that Selangor owes the federal government only RM14.67 million. This stands in contrast to the hundreds and millions other states owe. Selangor was also the largest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth, at 22.6%. 

But here is where we meet our first stumbling block.

One of the key rebuttals is that reserves and contribution to national GDP could hardly be considered an achievement attributable to its chief executive. Instead, we should thank the Selangor people, businesses, and its rich resources. As long as no one steals, the reserves and GDP should go up on its own. 

A Menteri Besar’s main job is to decide on how to spend the money that the people contributed to the state. That is why the most crucial analysis is on the policies that Azmin has introduced. 

Rather than going through tonnes of data and policy papers, we shall use a simple two-part test to assess Azmin’s track record. 

The first is the “top of mind” test. This is to ask if there are specific policies you could think of when we recall Azmin’stime as MB. This is free from moral values. For instance, when we mention Mahathir, you think of Twin Towers, KL Tower, Putrajaya; when we mention Badawi, you think of Islam Hadhari; when we mention Najib, you think of BR1M. 

Here is where you will struggle to think of any policies introduced by Azmin during his time as MB. The so-called glorious Selangor achievements start to close in. 

I will give you a hint. Azmin supporters always talk about the free water initiative (20 cubic metres) as his most popular policy. The only problem, however, was that was not his idea; it was started by his predecessor Khalid Ibrahim. 

If that is the case, then let us look at other policies. Another popular initiative was the free bus shuttle initiative where Azmin prepared 100 buses to roam the entire Selangor. He also introduced free Wi-Fi to Selangor residents, besides crafting out the Smart Selangor blueprint. 

This brings us to the second test: Bottoms-up test. We need to ask the question of whether Selangor residents have seen a substantial difference in their lives during Azmin’sadministration. 

Azmin’s policy initiatives have been complained as either non-existent (does not trickle down) or poorly implemented (Bus shuttle always never arriving on time or Wi-Fi not working most of the time). 

Take the few and forgettable policies against the backdrop of the wealth present in the state further highlight the mediocrity of his administration. There is almost nothing at the top of mind, and little tangible effect from the bottoms-up to be considered an achievement. 

But let us continue trying.  

Senior ministership: Minister of Economic Affairs, 2018 – 2020; Minister of International Trade and Industry, 2020

If Selangor MB is not good enough, then senior ministership at the national level certainly can. As the first-ever Minister of Economic Affairs, Azmin had a powerful set of portfolio – even more powerful than the Finance Minister. Azmin’sministry oversees 32 agencies, including state economic development corporations in all states.  

With the enormous power comes enormous responsibility. One of the main tasks was to deal with the FELDA issue. It was in PH’s 100-day promise, it was in the PH’s manifesto, it was the “top of mind” and “bottoms-up” issue for PH and Azmin.  

However, resolving the FELDA settlers’ debt issue was the promise with the least progress. When other promises have been delivered either fully or partially within the 100 days, Azmin’s department took much longer. 

The much-awaited FELDA White Paper also took almost one year to see the light of Parliament. The snail’s pace progress on this issue meant that Azmin had to take it with him to the new ministry of MITI – he listed “FELDA White Paper” as one of his achievements as MITI. 

When Azmin took over as senior minister of MITI, he was struggling to list down even 10 of his achievements. In a written reply to Kluang MP Wong Shu Qi, he said his achievements included “Becoming Miti’s icon among the media”. 

Besides that, he also borrowed many achievements that were not his, including approved investments, foreign and direct domestic investments. This was symptomatic of his style even as economic affairs minister, according to former MITI deputy minister Ong Kian Ming. Kian Ming even called him the “worst trade minister”. 

In this case, there is not even enough “top of mind” or “bottoms-up” policies to be tested. 

We need to move on to the next section urgently before this article crumbles. 

Leadership: PKR Deputy President, Senior Minister, Selangor Menteri Besar

Many supporters talk about Azmin in elusive terms. They say Azmin has leadership qualities because he was the deputy president of his party, besides assuming the Selangor MB and senior ministers post in the country. 

But leadership does not flow from positions alone, especially for positions that do not come with legitimacy. This is important because you can only bring up his positions as an example of leadership if it implies he has the command and support of a large group of people – a lack of legitimacy defeats that. 

Azmin became Selangor MB through a contested process (his party did not submit his name; it was “selection” rather than “appointment”); his name was also rumoured not to be submitted by his party to be economic affairs minister; and he took the senior minister of MITI post by an illegitimate coup d’etat. 

When he left his old party, PKR, he was only able to take 10 MPs with him. Under Azmin, they were left without a home and only to settle in Bersatu eventually. 

This indicates that he does not have the command of the masses, despite the numerous high positions he holds mainly through elite charades. 

A leader is also one who has led a war. He was the last man to join the PH frontline battling Najib in 2018 (he was busy negotiating to join forces with PAS till the final hour), he could not form a party of his own despite numerous back-and-forths, his speeches are filled with play-safe generalities without specifics. 

His style is “selalu tak ke depan, sentiasa di belakang”. 

Clearly, this argument does not work. We must once again move on to another one. You know what – forget it.


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