Who is Azmin Ali? The story of Mahathir’s adopted son, turned Anwar loyalist, and now Minister

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Azmin Ali is definitely no stranger to political drama. In the year of 2018 when we originally wrote this article, all this happened in a short three months.

Shortly after GE14, Azmin was given the new portfolio of Minister of Economic Affairs, with arguably more power than Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng. So yea, in between, it’s been quite quiet for the last coupla months since GE14, but you know la what happened recently to bring him back into the limelight with a bang. We reckon sex scandals get enough coverage elsewhere, so let’s move our lens from a darkened hotel room firmly into the past, to look into Azmin Ali’s history starting from the very beginning.

This was when we found out that…


… Azmin Ali was actually born in Singapore!

According to his website, Azmin was born in Singapore in 1964 as the fourth child of six siblings. His father, Haji Ali Omar, was part of the British army before serving in the Malaysian army, and four years after Azmin was born, he moved his family to Hulu Kelang, Gombak (where Azmin is currently the elected rep for). In KL, Azmin attended Gurney Road School during his primary school years and then later Setapak High School for his secondary years.

In the 80s, he left for the US to study at the University of Minnesota, graduating with a degree in Math and Economics before continuing at the university with his Masters in Education. We tried to look up records of him during his time there and found him mentioned in a 1983 report about foreign students.

Wahhh... University of Minnesota even got surau in the 80s. Image from the University of Minnesota.

Wahhh… University of Minnesota even got surau in the 80s. Image from the University of Minnesota.

With a bachelor and masters degree under his belt, he moved back to Malaysia and immediately terjun-ed into politics. But how he got his start came as a bit of a surprise to us when we found out.


Azmin actually started politics as Mahathir’s anak angkat

Seriously, how many of you knew that? Image from TV14.

Seriously, how many of you knew that? Image from TV14.

It’s pretty accurate to call Azmin a career politician, because his first job EVER was at the age of 23 when he became Anwar Ibrahim’s Special Officer while Anwar was the Minister of Education. As a matter of fact, he was actually handpicked for the job by none other than… Dr Mahathir.

According to Azmin, he and Dr Mahathir met while he was still a university student and the Prime Minister would visit the US on official state business. During summers, he organized forums for Mahathir to speak to students, with one dialogue in particular having almost two thousand attendees. Basically, you could say that Azmin Ali was the Syed Saddiq of the 80s.

Like throwing retro glasses and an 80s filter on Saddiq. Image from MMO.

Like Saddiq, but with retro glasses and an 80s filter. Image from MMO.

Over the duration of time that Azmin and Mahathir knew each other, Azmin says they became close enough that when he married his wife in 1988, the Prime Minister attended the wedding as the guest of honor to give his blessing.

Even the date was decided by him (Mahathir). It was originally meant to be held on the 8th of August, but since that date coincided with another wedding, we held it on the 7th instead.” – Azmin, in an interview with The Malaysian Insider.

Image from Tranungkite.

Don Mahathir? Image from Tranungkite.

From the time that he was the personal secretary to Anwar Ibrahim when he was the Minister of Education, then later the Minister of Finance and finally, Deputy Prime Minister before you-know-what happened, Azmin Ali remained close to Mahathir. So much so that when Anwar was sacked by Mahathir and arrested by authorities, Azmin described choosing whether to remain loyal to Mahathir or Anwar one of the most difficult choices he ever had to make.

“This fight was between the number one and number two of the country. Not between branch heads or any ordinary minister. So for me to choose, it was not an easy thing.” – Azmin

But he did decide, and sticking by Anwar’s side, Azmin became one of the founders of Parti Keadilan Rakyat during the Reformasi movement that followed Anwar’s arrest. After his choice was made, he remained loyal, and cut off all contact with Mahathir for 17 years until they finally met again for the first time in 2015 with Anwar’s permission.

Bet they wish they could go back to the good ol days.

Bet they wish they could go back to the good ol days tho.

However, things were actually a whole lot messier for Azmin during this episode. Not only had his close mentor been arrested and sentenced to prison for six years; even his own wife was accused of having an affair with Anwar in addition to the other allegations of sexual misconduct against the former Deputy PM. But to add onto EVERYTHING that was going on, the key prosecution witness in Anwar’s trial and the person accusing Azmin’s wife of having an affair was… his own sister.


His own siblings seem to have been among his biggest enemies!

Before Anwar’s sacking and arrest, a letter had been sent to Dr Mahathir detailing the various allegations against the Deputy PM. The letter was written by Azmin’s sister, Ummi Hafilda Ali, who said she discussed the matter with her siblings who allegedly helped her spy on Azmin’s wife before confronting Azmin.

In the confrontation, Ummi Hafilda claims that Azmin threatened to lodge a police report against her and their siblings if they did not change the letter. However, Azmin responded by revealing in court that Ummi confessed to him that the letter was written by the then Minister of Domestic Trade, Datuk Seri Megat Junid Megat Ayob, for which, Ummi was promised money and projects. Meanwhile, ANOTHER witness claimed that Ummi told him she sent the letter because she hated Anwar and her brother for not giving her any business projects and that once Anwar was toppled, she would receive a RM10 million advertising project at KLIA.

YOUR CAPTION HERE. Photo taken from malaysianindian1.blogspot.my

Ummi (right) flipping the bird at Norazman Abdullah (left), Anwar’s defence witness, who claimed she confessed to getting paid for writing the letter. Photo taken from Malaysian Indian Blogspot.

Consequently, Ummi Hafilda was disowned by her father in a letter stripping her of her inheritance for her alleged involvement in the conspiracy against Anwar. Of course, Ummi denies the counter allegations against her and stands by the letter she wrote, while also claiming that Azmin bribed their father to disown her. Their relationship remains rocky to this day, with Azmin skipping her wedding in 2013 (although it was attended by Jibby) and Ummi publicly challenging him by offering to contest in his Gombak seat in the last GE.

PAS used to be in BN in the 70s?! Why did they split up in the first place?!

The feud between Azmin and his sister even put a dent in his relationship with his mother for several years, although they eventually made up in 2013. It’s sad, because before all this happened, the Ali family were apparently happy enough that they were actually featured in a music video for Jamal Abdillah’s song, Salam Aidilfitri. But too bad for them, this hasn’t been the only incident that’s torn them apart.

As we mentioned, in December, his brother and former TV host celebrity Azwan Ali pledged to help UMNO topple Azmin from his Selangor MB position in the next GE! Azwan mentioned a five-year grudge as the reason for wanting to expose his brother, after revealing that he had been blacklisted by TV stations and had lost many jobs because of his public support for Azmin in the last GE.

“What kind of brother are you, even though you won, I sold my dignity as an artist. RTM blacklisted me because I stood behind Azmin Ali before this.” – Azwan Ali, as quoted by FMT.

This is some next level siblings rivalry. Image from TV14.

This is some next level sibling rivalry. Image from TV14.

Azmin has told reporters that he would pray hard for Azwan, and that despite everything, he still loves his brother and hopes that Azwan will still care for him and their other siblings. All things considered, Azmin Ali seems to have made his fair share of friends and enemies over the course of his political career. But as far as politicians go, Azmin is impressive in his own right, having gone from being Anwar’s sidekick to now being seen as the most likely person to replace Anwar in PKR.


Azmin may now be the biggest threat to both Mahathir and Anwar

After Anwar’s conviction in 1999, Azmin ran for and was elected state assemblyman for Hulu Kelang. However, because he testified on behalf of Anwar’s defence, he was charged and convicted of lying in court and so, was barred from running in the 2004 election. Of course, that didn’t stop him and in 2008 he made his comeback by simultaneously winning TWO SEATS: The first, his Gombak parliamentary seat and the second, his Bukit Antarabangsa state seat, both of which he still holds today.

But despite taking the fall for Anwar, Azmin didn’t seem to be on good terms with him anymore. Having kept a low profile over the years that he was dealing with his court cases and regaining his seats in the federal and state assembly, there was a faction within PKR that emerging that favored him as Deputy President of the party. Since then, Azmin has run and won the position TWICE, first beating rivals such as Zaid Ibrahim in 2010, who was seen as a hero for leaving BN to join PKR, and then others such as Saifuddin Nasution in 2014, who Anwar’s family actually preferred over him.

But for Azmin, being Deputy President was only a stepping stone into what would be his biggest role yet.

Go read our other article about the PKR fight.

No, not as heavyweight champion. Image from our article about Zaid Ibrahim.

Having been a critic of the previous Selangor MB Khalid Ibrahim, Azmin never really got along with him. Fortunately for Azmin (or unfortunately, depending who you ask), there was trouble brewing under the surface of PKR’s leadership in early 2014 and plans to replace Khalid as the MB resulted in a whole convoluted scheme that became known as the Kajang Move. Basically, the idea was to replace Khalid with Anwar, but instead, Anwar got convicted and was sent to prison again, and PKR’s backup plan to make Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah the MB got rejected by the Sultan.

Among the reasons the Kajang Move failed was because it was not agreed to by PAS, who were still part of the opposition at the time. For one, PAS didn’t actually think that Khalid Ibrahim was doing a bad job and didn’t see why he needed to be replaced. For another, after Khalid was sacked and they needed a replacement, PAS didn’t agree to naming Wan Azizah the next Selangor MB due to reasons they decided to keep secret. But as we know today, guess who they DID agree to?

Started from the bottom now he's here. Image from The Star.

Started from the bottom now he here. Image from The Star.

Now that Azmin is the Menteri Besar of Malaysia’s most economically and politically significant state, he has a lot of clout not just within PKR and Pakatan, but also within Malaysia’s political arena more generally. Although he’s been coy about taking on a bigger role (*cough* PM *cough*), many see Azmin as Anwar’s natural successor and the biggest threat to Mahathir’s PM candidacy. However, in PKR itself, Azmin has many enemies, with MPs such as Rafizi Ramli, Nurul Izzah, and Saifuddin Nasution being said to support Mahathir in order to stop his rise.

The main reason for this split within PKR is thought to be the conflict between Azmin’s torn loyalty to PAS and to the opposition. Because both his federal and state seats are in PAS strongholds, PAS has reminded Azmin that he only won those seats and is now Selangor’s MB because of them. And now that they’ve left the opposition, it seems like they’ll want those seats back unless Azmin can plays his cards right.

So on the one hand, he has to deal with PAS threatening to kick him out of the seats that he’s been in since he became an elected politician. And on the other, he has to deal with his loyalties to PKR and Pakatan who AREN’T friends with PAS nemore.

*Bom bom bom bom*. GIF from YouTube.

*Bom bom bom bom*. GIF from YouTube.

Still, as MB, Azmin Ali has been credited with making Selangor among the best performing states in Malaysia. Since he took over, Selangor has grown as the leading contributor to Malaysia’s GDP, with many of his government’s initiatives in multiple industries being pointed out as the cause. Simultaneously, its debt was almost halved from RM27.1 million in 2015 down to RM14.7 million in 2016 (but still behind Penang), which is after he came into office, and in contrast to Pahang and Kedah’s debt, which stands at over RM1 billion each.

Right now it seems that most people are happy with him as MB despite a few areas of concern about his administration so far, and his approval ratings have gone from 58% in 2016 to 62% in 2017. Last month, a poster of a Pakatan Harapan Cabinet featuring him as Prime Minister even went viral, indicating there IS support for him there. To be fair, the survey was done by Institut Darul Ehsan which is a think tank owned by the Selangor state government, and the poster was made by PKR flers, so maybe have to take with a pinch handful of salt la.

But for now, whether Azmin will actually be able to withstand his rivals in PAS, Pakatan, and not to mention BN is one question that still remains to be seen.

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