Chin - "PKR still has problems establishing itself but people will still vote for it because it's part of opposition."
KUALA LUMPUR: As over 2,000 delegates and observers of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) gather in Johor for the party's 8th national congress this weekend, the perception of it being the weakest link in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat pact remains, at least for now.
Although the issue of defections and resignations by several of its elected representatives and the much-publicised party election fiasco last year have somehow simmered down, political analysts opine that the party is still seen as the weakest link in Pakatan.
Thus, it is felt that serious efforts are needed for the party to change or at least improve its image.
"The biggest obstacle is the leadership issue and the perception that it is focusing extensively on Malay issues, despite the party being multi-racial," said political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia.
He said the party was still being hampered by issues, such as the party leadership in Selangor, the internal tussle between deputy president Azmin Ali and Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, the unresolved state party leadership issue in Sabah, and the role of current president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
"The main players in the 2008 general election seem to have had a melt down. Forty-three months after the last general election, the perception about PKR has changed from better to worse. It was totally different then compared to now," he noted.
Therefore, he believes the PKR top leadership will use this congress to show that the party and its leaders are united, as the party gears up for the next general election.
However, the weakest link perception will continue to put the party in a less favourable position when it is negotiating with the other partners in the pact for more seats.
"There is another more important issue and that is, what is next for PKR after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim? Should Anwar be found guilty of the charges he is facing, who will take over? Unless they can come out with a leadership plan, the party will continue to be perceived as weak," said Sivamurugan.
PKR being seen as the weakest link in the pact is not something new, as the leadership has acknowledged the problem for some time.
At last year's congress the then deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali warned party members that the party was the weakest link in the pact, since it was the youngest member, compared to the DAP and Pas.
He explained that three elements were plaguing the party - that PKR was a rainbow party consisting of former members of other political parties who have brought their ideologies to the new party, which had created friction among members; PKR which touted itself as a multi-racial party, had problems with racist members; and that the wealthier members, although small in number, were gaining more power in the party.
In fact, Syed Husin also hit out at PKR parliamentarians and assemblymen for their weak performance.
Another political analyst, Ong Kian Ming from UCSI University, observes that PKR has been unable to remove the perception of it being the weakest link in the pact even though there has been no additional defections from the party.
"The image that the party remains too dependent on Anwar still exists. After the party elections, some leaders, such as Rafizi Ramli (director of strategy), have come out on their own, focusing on some national issues, but this is still not enough.
"The party also lacks good candidates for the next general election, while the emergence of Kita is a direct challenge. Even if Kita is to contest in the next general election and loses badly, the perception about PKR will still stick," he said.
Political analyst James Chin from Sunway Monash University also believes that PKR is still the weakest link due to the fact that its grassroots organisation is not as strong as that of DAP or Pas.
"PKR is only strong in some urban areas. They are still having problems in establishing themselves. However, people will still vote for them, just because they are part of the opposition pact," he said.
He pointed out that the biggest problem in PKR, however, was still the uncertainty about the party leadership if Anwar is sent to jail.
"How are they to select a new leader? Who can hold Pakatan Rakyat together?
"And as for the general election, PKR will have problems negotiating for seats with Pas and DAP, and PKR is most likely to contest in mixed seats, some of which are also vied by DAP and Pas," he said.
Despite this, PKR leaders are still trying hard to reassure their members and supporters, as well as the voters, that they have a succession plan in place but not everyone is convinced.