Whispers of strains between the Pakatan Rakyat partners over seat negotiations have grown louder after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim snubbed the annual party gatherings of DAP and PAS.
AIDES of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have been telling the media not to read too much into their de facto leader's no-show at the DAP national congress last week.
Anwar, they said, had to give the DAP annual gathering a miss because he was in Terengganu for the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat rally the night before the congress.
His political secretary and Pantai Jerejak assemblyman Sim Tze Tzin, said Anwar had rushed to Terengganu from Kuala Lumpur where PKR leaders were having a two-day election pow-wow.
“We don't have a private jet or helicopter to fly around,” said Sim with a little twist in his voice.
Anwar had also skipped the PAS muktamar in Kota Baru last month. He sent his other half and party president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution in his place.
However, the PKR representatives at the DAP congress were Wanita chief Zuraidah Kamaruddin and vice-president Datuk Mansor Othman. The Chinese are very big about “giving face” and, according to some of the DAP delegates, sending the pair did not quite measure up to “giving face”.
As one journalist at the event noted, it would be like Umno sending Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil as its representative to the MCA general assembly. Mansor, on the other hand, has lost a lot of prestige among DAP leaders after his “cocky, arrogant Tokong” remark about the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
But, DAP leaders also did not give face to Zuraidah because Mansor was accorded the honour of sitting on stage instead of her. She was reportedly upset despite her big smile. She left the venue the minute the opening event was over and did not bother to join the guests in the VIP room.
There have been whispers of a strain in relations between the three Pakatan Rakyat parties over the issue of seats. Negotiations over seats have not been smooth and PKR politicians grumble that DAP and PAS have not shown PKR the respect it deserves.
“DAP and PAS have been pressing us. It's not like they are asking to exchange seats, they want our seats because they think we cannot win. It's not on,” said one PKR assemblyman.
There have been complaints that PKR chief negotiator deputy president Azmin Ali has been uncooperative and that he is holding up the negotiations on seats.
“If they are unhappy with Azmin, it means he is doing his job,” said the PKR assemblyman.
Outwardly, the three partners are still very much together but they are no longer all lovey-dovey and kiss-kiss-hug-hug, like in the early days.
“I don't buy the busy excuse. If he does not appear, it means something is going on,” said a one-time strategist of the party.
Anwar, said the former strategist, understands how gestures can speak louder than words. He is a master at sending these sort of signals and he is telling his Pakatan partners: Don't push me around.
Anwar has always been conscious about the image thing that was how he morphed from a scraggy student activist to double-breasted suits and rubbing shoulders with international figures. He is also aware that since being acquitted of the sodomy charges, he has lost that certain aura, that X-factor that put him on a different level from the other Pakatan leaders.
The latest blow was PAS delegates at their party muktamar last month insisting that Datuk Seri Hadi Awang is a more suitable candidate for Prime Minister.
It was their way of saying that Anwar is not worthy of the top job and they do not want him there.
That was a curved ball no one saw coming. Many thought it was a new development while others tried to brush it aside as “calls by a few people”.
But a segment of PAS has never really been comfortable with Anwar. At the first PAS muktamar held in Ipoh after March 2008, the Youth wing had openly objected to Pakatan advocating Anwar as their Prime Minister candidate and insisted that it should be Hadi.
They did not care who had more experience or was more capable nor did it matter that Hadi was a failed Mentri Besar. In their minds, only Hadi could be trusted to implement the party's Islamic agenda that would pave the way to the first Islamic state in South-East Asia.
The atmosphere in Ipoh was so fierce that PAS leaders had to quickly move in to do damage control.
Those sentiments have been kept under control until lately. It is emerging again because PAS members feel that the party has given up too much having to hold their tongue about what Nurul Izzah said during a church forum, playing second fiddle to DAP and having to swallow Karpal Singh's attacks on hudud.
PAS members are concerned that their Islamic agenda will be further undermined if Anwar is in charge.
The hair salon and “khalwat” crackdowns in Kota Baru are basically a sign that the PAS ultras are asserting their conviction about what the party stands for. Non-Muslims see it as an infringement on their fundamental rights but hardcore PAS supporters applaud it as the right and moral thing to do.
Anwar has been deeply embarrassed by the PAS call for Hadi as Prime Minister. He knows the lobby for Hadi is coming from the ultra conservatives in the party.
Some had expected Lim, who is DAP secretary-general, to drum home the Anwar for Prime Minister issue during the DAP congress but his policy speech made no mention of it. Only DAP chairman Karpal did make a passing mention that Anwar would be the “next PM of Malaysia” and that was not picked up by any of the speakers.
Lim was more interested in talking about what he had done in Penang. He also made what some PKR leaders saw as an act of aggression he said that DAP was asking for three more parliamentary and 10 state seats.
Lim did not say where these seats would come from but it was obvious that DAP is eyeing PKR's share of the seats.
The two-PM issue is not the best thing to happen just as all political parties are preparing to enter the final lap. It is a sharp contrast to the overwhelming endorsement that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has received from his component parties at their respective annual assemblies.
“Anwar needs the endorsement from his Pakatan partners. They are talking about taking power, voters want to be sure who is going to be the PM before they give you the mandate,” said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.
PKR publicity chief Dr Mohd Nur Manuty has openly urged the Pakatan council of leaders to reaffirm Anwar as its candidate for Prime Minister. He claimed that the Pakatan leadership council had agreed on Anwar as the Prime Minister candidate right from the start but given what happened at the PAS muktamar, it would appear that the PAS grassroots do not give a hoot to what the council thinks.
But if it is any consolation, there is an ambitious Pakatan Cabinet line-up going around on the Internet squarely placing Anwar as Prime Minister and Hadi, Lim and Baru Bian as his Deputy Prime Ministers.
The so-claimed Cabinet has 24 ministers and 47 deputy ministers. Some dismissed it as a mischievous piece of work while others said it is based on an analysis by an adoring Anwar supporter who writes for a pro-Pakatan news portal.
But Anwar is such a veteran performer. Anyone watching him at his ceramah would have little inkling of what he is going through. He moves all over the stage, joking, singing, laughing and making his audience laugh along.
In Slim River recently, his ceramah team showed video clips of the big crowds at his ceramah in Sabah and Sarawak. He told them this was proof that the two states are with Pakatan.
He joked that people have asked whether he is taking special herbs because they are amazed at his energy and the way he moves from one ceramah to another.
“I eat rice like everyone else. They say I have the energy of someone who is 45. I tell them I am fit because I want to take on Umno and BN,” he told the Slim River crowd.
He has also turned the private jet issue into a joke saying that: “Naik bas, dia orang baling cat. Itu pasal saya naik jet.”
Although Anwar snubbed the PAS muktamar and DAP congress, he had made it a point to attend the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat rallies that are organised to coincide with these party events. It was classic Anwar slap them with one hand and shake their hand with the other.
Insiders said he has been closely watching the PAS dilemma over the hair salons and “khalwat” incidents. Anwar is a smooth talker and some were puzzled that he had not helped out his coalition partner. When he finally commented a few days ago, he said the issue had been poorly handled by the Kelantan government.
Neither did he bother to make excuses for DAP's failure to elect a single Malay into its central executive committee at the recent party election. The beleaguered politician was not gloating over the woes of his partners; let's just say that everyone enjoys a little tit-for-tat now and then.
The consequence of both the PAS muktamar and DAP congress has been more problematic than positive for Pakatan. DAP is struggling under the perception that it is anti-Malay whereas PAS is seen as a religious extremist.
The two parties had attempted to take a step towards the centre after 2008 but old habits die hard and they have ended up taking two steps backwards. They have lost the momentum and the fault lines are showing at the most inopportune time.
One of the videos on a ceramah blog belonging to PKR starts this way: “There's only one name for adventure: Anwar Ibrahim. A race against time for a better Malaysia.”
It has been a rollercoaster political ride the last few years but adventure is the last thing that the average Malaysian is looking for in the general election.
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