IT was the Hari Raya open house at the Prime Minister’s Department but the centre of attention was Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.
The wefie culture does not seem to distinguish between fame and infamy and everyone wanted wefies with him.
The Economic Affairs Minister had been walking on quicksand for most of last week, but he seems to have found safer ground from the sex video allegations after powerful endorsements from the Prime Minister.
“Certainly, he has found temporary relief with Mahathir’s support,” said a PKR division chief.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has provided him what an analyst called “a shield” from those calling for Azmin to resign from the Cabinet.
It is yet another reminder of the powers of incumbency of the Prime Minister, something that those behind the complot to bring down Azmin may have underestimated.
But the PKR deputy president is far from being in the clear.
Investigations are still going on and besides, such allegations never really go away.
A reminder of that came during the above Hari Raya do when Azmin found himself seated directly across from Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Hamid Bador.
The tall and burly Hamid has such a sweet smile but it would be a mistake for anyone to assume he is a sweetheart.
Given his established Special Branch background, Hamid knows things that ordinary folk do not and that can be a powerful thing. He also knows that everyone is closely watching how he handles this ultra sensitive case.
The reason why the sex video issue seems to have quietened down is that the police have put a tight lid on their investigation. There have been no leaks at all from the police.
But there has been chatter that the police have briefed the top leadership on the video, with one political camp in PKR claiming that the video has been sent for forensic verification and that it is authentic, while the other camp claims that the video has been verified as a deepfake.
There was also speculation that the authorities had taken CCTV recordings from the Sandakan hotel where the alleged sex act took place.
The Prime Minister has not only shown his disapproval of the smear campaign against his minister, he has also declared that he does not believe it.
But that should not stop the police from carrying out an independent investigation.
It is quite possible that Azmin himself has been surprised that his image among ordinary people has not been greatly affected by the scandal.
The crowds are still surging forward, clamouring for wefies wherever he goes.
It could mean one of two things – the majority of people do not believe the video or they are fed up with this sort of gutter politics in the New Malaysia that they voted for.
The same thing was used against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the fact that he is now prime minister-in-waiting suggests that such tactics have limited impact on the public.
So much has been thrown at PKR leaders over the years that they have learnt to be resilient.
Azmin has shown immense composure and purpose in defending himself despite what must be great stress and anxiety about his political future.
At the height of the issue, he was granted an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong that made for some rather compelling optics.
Besides, it is not the first time he has been smeared. Power attracts admirers as well as enemies and the proverbial target on his back became like a tattoo the higher he rose.
Another person who has stayed composed and focused is Anwar whose boys have been fending off insinuations that they are behind the video.
Anwar has said and done everything right since the video erupted.
The PKR president has restrained party members from overreacting to the issue while he himself stayed connected to Dr Mahathir.
He called on the Prime Minister shortly before the latter left for the Bloomberg Asean Business Summit in Bangkok and posted a picture of them shaking hands on Facebook.
These four-eyed meetings are aimed at keeping the communication lines open, thus eliminating suspicion about what the other is up to.
Dr Mahathir makes himself available no matter how busy he is.
But despite so many meetings, Anwar seems unable to pin Dr Mahathir down to what he wants most – a definite date for the handover of power.
Dr Mahathir had begun to feel rather comfortable with Anwar after the March meeting of Parliament, plagued by speculation of a potential no-confidence vote, passed without incident.
In Dr Mahathir’s eyes, it proved Anwar’s sincerity to be patient for his turn at the top job.
A Bersatu insider had this to say: “Unless struck by lightning, he (Anwar) will be the PM. See how regularly he’s visiting the PM and posting it on Facebook. Who do we have if not him?”
But the terrible strike against Azmin has once against raised the elder man’s suspicions especially if he sees it as an indirect strike against him.
The Anwar team has no problems with the two-year agreement and they are agreeable to Dr Mahathir continuing until November 2020 if need be.
All they want is a definite date for the handover.
But that is unlikely to happen if the Bloomberg interview with Dr Mahathir in Bangkok is anything to go by.
Dr Mahathir said it loud and clear that he would hand over power to Anwar but he simply refused to state when that would happen.
In short, the succession is still intact, but the big man will not be pressured into committing to a date until he is ready. Nor will he be pushed on the sex video issue.
- Joceline Tan was an associate editor of The Star and continues to contribute political analyses. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Sunday Star.