DATUK Seri Anwar Ibrahim had sensed the shift in public opinion about his party midway through the PKR polls.
But last weekend, as polling in Sarawak got underway, the critical voices had grown into a cacophony, largely because of the controversy over the Julau division and its overnight membership spike.
Anwar could no longer ignore the court of public opinion about his party.
The comments section of a popular pro-Pakatan Harapan news portal was on fire with cynical, negative and angry reactions about what was going on in PKR.
The overwhelming criticism levelled at PKR’s first family was quite unprecedented.
Public opinion had also swung against PKR wonder boy Rafizi Ramli.
As one PKR politician put it: “Rafizi used to be up there in the sky, but he fell to earth.”
The messy party polls and mudslinging had given the party a black eye, so to speak.
And the fishy goings-on in Julau seemed to epitomise all that had gone wrong in the election.
Election committee chairman Datuk Rashid Din did the right thing in not allowing a re-election otherwise all hell would have broken loose.
The election results for Julau were suspended following complaints from the Rafizi camp about election tampering. Rightly or wrongly, the perception out there was that the proposed re-election was to enable a win for Rafizi.
Julau, whose membership ballooned overnight from 603 to about 13,000, has become a metaphor for election manipulation.
Moreover, Larry Sng, the man behind the membership spike, had been depicted by his opponents as part of the “towkay politics” permeating the party in Sarawak.
The state PKR Wanita chief Nurhanim Mokhsen had said, days before the Julau polls: “A vote for Rafizi is a vote for Larry Sng. We all know who he (Larry) is, he has been in so many parties. If he wins, our party will be destroyed.”
Larry who joined PKR after GE14, comes from a well-known tycoon family in Sarawak. The family owns a private jet, which has been used to fly PKR leaders.
Larry’s family, including his father, uncle and brother had also contested for control of a total of four divisions.
Only Larry won in Julau but he lost the war of public opinion.
Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and his team – labelled “the cartel” by the Rafizi camp - have won big and now dominate the party’s national line-up.
It is no secret that Azmin was not only fighting Rafizi, he was also up against Istana Segambut, as the Anwar family is known.
Istana Segambat was rooting for Rafizi whom they viewed as a loyalist.
In that sense, it was quite amazing that Azmin and his team managed to make it.
It only means one thing: Azmin has finally come into his own. He not only won against the odds, he kept his cool and soldiered on to carry his team across the finishing line.
But if the brains behind the PKR national congress this weekend have their way, the party gathering will not be about the winning or losing teams.
It will be about the grand return of Anwar to national politics – as their party president, as the new MP for Port Dickson and, of course, as the prime minister-in-waiting.
“Anwar will be the focus. This is his time after spending so many years in prison. We have been waiting so long for this moment,” said Kota Anggerik assemblyman Najwan Halimi, who was Anwar’s former aide.
Najwan said the party would also be waiting to see how Anwar intends to balance the winners and the losers so that the winner does not take all.
“He will be dealing with a team of rivals and he needs to get the best out of everybody,” said Najwan.
KRA strategy chief Amir Fareed Rahim said the integrity of the party’s election process has to be restored and allegations of polls manipulation must be addressed instead of being swept under the carpet.
“If Anwar is to cement his status as the PM-in-waiting, he needs to quickly unite and pacify the warring factions.
“If he can’t pull together his own party, it will be difficult to convince the key stakeholders and general public of a seamless transition when Mahathir (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) decides to step down,” said Amir.
Election expert and Unisel vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Redzuan Othman has advised the vanquished to accept the loss as part of the democratic process.
He also has advice for the winners: “Don’t become big-headed and arrogant.”
The atmosphere at the national congress will be tense and sensitive.
There has not been enough time for a proper cooling down period. In fact, the votes for a few divisions are still in question.
Feelings are still raw after two months of intense rivalry. Both the winning and losing teams are still angry and resentful over the hurtful and nasty things said during the campaign.
Will the rival teams maintain their decorum or will they allow their dislike for each other to boil over at the congress?
Will Azmin and Rafizi put on their best plastic smiles when they meet?
How will Anwar reconcile with Azmin, given that the latter had contemplated going for the presidency?
Everyone will also be watching their outgoing president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail who, in the last few days, let her mask drop about who she was supporting for deputy president.
It will be a fascinating gathering.
But post-election hangover aside, the public will be watching for signals and direction from the future prime minister.
His presidential address has to impress and inspire as he strives to convince Malaysians to continue supporting his party and him.