At the centre: Azmin being mobbed by the media at the Parliament lobby in this file picture. The PKR deputy president is expected to touch on the matter of PAS during the upcoming PKR national congress.
DATUK Seri Azmin Ali must be feeling very confident about the survival of the Selangor government. He is in Brussels on a state investment trip and is scheduled to return on Friday.
His state government has been swaying like a coconut tree in a storm, but so far no coconuts have fallen, everything seems intact and he will be back in time for the PKR national congress this weekend.
Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s interview on Al Jazeera TV was supposed to be a sort of prelude to the congress. But it appears to have backfired because of the PKR president’s fuzzy answers on the question of Islamic law in Malaysia.
The feedback on her interview suggests that there is quite little room for a centrist party to move in a political environment that is so divided on fundamental issues. It is what political commentator and PKR-watcher Eddin Khoo calls the “curse of centrism” – it is impossible to please either extreme.
This year’s congress may be a fiery affair. PAS has declared war on PKR and intends to contest against it in the general election. PKR was a sitting duck during the recent PAS muktamar – whacked left, right and centre.
Will PKR delegates take all that sitting down or will they return fire this weekend?
There is a lot of anger and exasperation over PAS. PKR members feel that their party has gone beyond the norm to accommodate PAS, but the Islamist party has not shown any gratitude or friendship. The problematic relationship with PAS is likely to take centre stage because Selangor is central to PKR’s survival and many party members see the state government as the launch pad to federal power.
The PKR leadership is under pressure to act against PAS. Those around Azmin are worried that if nothing is done about PAS, the anger may eventually be directed at the Mentri Besar.
Azmin, who is also the deputy president, will speak at the joint opening of the AMK and Wanita meetings on Friday night and he is expected to touch on the matter.
The congress, said Khoo, should also address those unanswered questions about how Pakatan Harapan is planning to face the general election without the Malay votes that PAS brings with it.
“Party conferences are about stating your stand, sending out signals about the future. Something has to be said about the state of the Opposition front in the context of the general election,” he said.
There will also be the usual rhetoric about corruption, transparency, good governance, 1MDB and, of course, calls to free Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who used to be a prime target, will be spared now that he has crossed over.
Deputy Youth chief Dr Afif Bahardin is preparing to press home the point that Anwar remains PKR’s choice for prime minister, with Dr Wan Azizah holding the post in the interim if Pakatan Harapan wins the general election.
“The issue of leadership will come up. If we are serious about taking over, this is the time to decide. We intend to bring it up and present it to the people,” said Dr Afif, who is also a Penang state exco member.
Khoo is one of those who is not impressed with PKR’s insistence on Anwar for the top post. He has likened the messy idea of a royal pardon to free Anwar and a by-election to install him as prime minister to “theoretical physics” where, statistically, even an elephant can stand on a blade of grass.
He said PKR should get real and settle on someone who is capable and ready to take over and that someone is Azmin.
The congress, said Khoo, also needs to ensure a sense of unity for the party. The party is riven by divisions and this has led to a lack of focus and coordination.
PKR did not convene a congress last year. The excuse was that they had to prepare for the Sarawak election and the subsequent by-elections.
If one of the Barisan Nasional parties failed to hold their annual assembly, Pakatan leaders would have made a huge song and dance about it or even written an epitaph for the party.
Despite the lapse from the last congress, this year’s congress is only a two-day meeting.
The Youth and Wanita wings will convene on Saturday while the main congress will take place on Sunday.
The concern is that the rushed agenda is about going through the motions rather than a serious attempt to address issues that delegates are concerned about as they prepare to face a tough general election.