Messy politics may hinder transition

Fist fights, a walkout, scathing debates and calls for the sacking of datuk Seri azmin ali marred the PKr congress and dented the image of the party.

WHAT a stormy weekend it has been for PKR.

The party’s national congress dominated news headlines and although its president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim adopted a rather moderate tone at the end of the four-day gathering, it was crystal clear that PKR is split to the point of no return.

The power struggle between Anwar and his deputy Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, which has been festering since the party elections last year, finally boiled over during the congress.

The truce struck by the two men to project a united front at this important gathering quickly crumbled and by the time the congress wrapped up yesterday afternoon, it seemed like “World War III” – as some called it – had begun in PKR.

And the irony is that all this was happening on the 20th anniversary of the party.

It was the worst possible scenario for Anwar who is just months away from becoming the next prime minister.

He is still on course to take over from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, even though there are doubts that it will be in May after what has happened.

“If you cannot look after your own house or solve the problems in your party, it’s going to affect your credibility. How are you going to solve the nation’s problems?” said political analyst Khaw Veon Szu.

Azmin’s supporters, labelled “the cartel” by his detractors, staged a dramatic walkout on Saturday and most of them did not bother to return the next day.

They said the presidential speech set the tone to attack Azmin following Anwar’s reference to the treachery and betrayal that brought down the Melaka sultanate.

Actually, Anwar’s speech touched on a wide range of topics.

Unfortunately, the mood was so divided that people could only remember the jibes about betrayal.

Azmin, who sat stone-faced through the speech, subsequently became the target of criticism from delegates aligned to Anwar.

But Anwar felt that Azmin’s supporters had disrespected the truce following the fierce clashes between the rival factions at the Youth congress a day earlier which caused great embarrassment to the party.

The timing of fresh sex allegations against Anwar by a former aide also seemed like part of a conspiracy.

In that sense, both sides had reason to feel aggrieved and angry.

Ordinary PKR members, regardless of which side they are on, want to see the party intact.

At the same time, it is apparent by now that many in PKR want Anwar to take disciplinary action against Azmin’s group and even sack them if necessary.

This year’s congress has been such a contrast to the one last year. Back then, the delegates almost brought the roof down when Azmin pledged to work closely with Anwar and the pair held hands on stage.

All that now seems like a faded dream.

Yet, Anwar seems to be shying away from cracking the whip.

He will need to rethink how to play the game after such a traumatic weekend.

“He needs to be seen as firm and decisive, ” said Khaw.

There is probably a good reason for his reluctance to bring down the whip.

Azmin’s group dominates 14 of the 20 elected supreme council seats and he has a total of 15 MPs who are loyal to him despite efforts to lure them away.

The entire Wanita wing as well as the majority of the Youth wing are also with him.

In fact, when the pro-Azmin supreme council members walked out, it left the stage quite empty and desolate.

Azmin’s group also includes four ministers, one deputy minister and a mentri besar.

It is a powerful group that would leave a hole in the party if Anwar axes them.

Moreover, there is no really strong reason for sacking.

For months, delegates have accused Azmin and his vice-president ally Zuraida Kamaruddin of not attending party meetings.

But if the party sacks the duo for that, it will also have to act against two other leaders – Rafizi Ramli and Nurul Izzah Anwar – who have also been skipping meetings.

Meanwhile, Azmin intends to stay put. He feels he belongs to PKR even as he seems to prefer Dr Mahathir to be in charge of the country instead of his own president.

Azmin is a founding member of the party and he has gone through a lot for Anwar, including arrest.

He and his group endured imprisonment, tear gas and harassment in the early years of the party.

Azmin’s group had abandoned the idea of holding a parallel congress at the Renaissance Hotel on the same day as the Melaka congress.

They were advised that such a rebellious act would give Anwar ample grounds to take action.

However, the group hosted a packed dinner at the hotel last night during which Azmin and his allies were able to present their side of the story.

They made it very clear that they are not quitting the party.

Some saw the dinner gathering as a declaration of war.

“Lawan tetap lawan” (fight to the end) was the famous battle cry of the reformasi movement.

The enemy then was Dr Mahathir but now the enemy is within.

Anwar, said a political insider, is known to thrive on chaos but the public sees it differently.

“They are asking what is happening to this party. The longer the crisis is allowed to linger, there will be more doubts about how he will run the country, ” he said.

The coming months are not going to be easy for Anwar because, said a Putrajaya insider, Dr Mahathir plans to go on till about a year before the next general election before handing over to Anwar.

Had the PKR congress proceeded in a smooth and unified fashion, Anwar would have emerged stronger and with more say about the transition date.

But the politics of PKR is at its messiest and this, said Khaw, may slow down the transition process.

The delay will also give the Azmin group more room to organise themselves and mount a challenge.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Star.

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