Commentary Politics

Only the most naive will believe PKR has no factions

Mahathir and the two contenders.

Mahathir and the two contenders.

Written by Aziz Hassan

August 28, 2019.

Recollections & Reflections – A commentary by Aziz Hassan

IT was born in the aftermath of the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from Umno and the federal Cabinet and anchored during its infancy by the youthful reformasi or reform movement that regarded Anwar’s case as one of pure mistreatment. Also prominent was the role of Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah who is now an MP and a vice-president of PKR, the party her father now leads after succeeding his wife Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

While sentiments in support of the party and Anwar in particular were strong, PKR struggled to impose its footprints in the first two general elections, which was something to be expected from a new kid on the block but it was to do much better in its third attempt, in 2008, winning 31 seats in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat. Five years later PKR had one less but last year, when the opposition finally became the government, PKR won 47, the best among the four in the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Over the years there was hardly any news about problems or infighting although for many years since its formation PKR was led by Wan Azizah, who had no known political involvement at any level before that.

Solidly behind Anwar was Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, his most trusted aide when he was in the government. The vitriolic attacks against Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad those days often came from Azmin.

Those in the Keadilan/PKR inner circle used to talk about how close Azmin was to Anwar to the extent that no one would dare talk negatively about the former to the latter, no matter how insignificant it would seem. They did wonder why this was so.

One video was all that was needed

But it has taken only one video – and one of a pornographic kind – to change all that and the dirt came out in the open a few months ago. Not much was said in public though, no open mud-slinging, but since then Azmin and his staunch supporters have been absent from all party meetings and one major event attended by most divisional leaders.

Suddenly this rival group had other matters to attend to. Those with Azmin include vice-presidents Zuraida Kamaruddin and Ali Biju and Selangor Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari.

There’s no indication that disciplinary action will be taken against the dissenters and the best official line from the party is simply to advise Azmin and gang to attend. That no hardline decision has been made despite the absenteeism showing no signs of abating naturally leads to questions, one of which is “Is PKR afraid of a break-up?”

Its disciplinary board says any decision against the Azmin faction is in the hands of secretary-general Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution while it was also suggested that it was up to the disciplinary board to find out if there’s any wrongdoing and recommend the action to be taken. Under normal circumstances and with every political party in Malaysia, this is simply a matter to be decided by the supreme council.

Anwar’s best attempt has been to state that PKR is without factions but it is a tale no one believes in.

The police appear to take forever to conclude investigations into the video of two men engaging in a homosexual act and in which Azmin was openly alleged to be one of the two but until there is closure on this one, there will always be a certain kind of limbo in PKR. Denying it doesn’t help.

What PKR is going through is proof that Anwar’s grip on the party is nothing like what it was even until a few years ago. Back then he appeared untouchable and you chose to step out of line at your own peril.

The bigger picture is that if Mahathir does pass on the baton to him as prime minister, Anwar will still need to secure majority support from MPs before the nomination reaches the Agong and if he is not going to get a 100 per cent from his own PKR, it is likely that it’s not going to be smooth sailing for him to get past that stage in Parliament, never mind the fact that not everyone is convinced Mahathir will honour his word.

Mahathir has been staying clear of the controversy surrounding Anwar and Azmin, certainly publicly, but many of his statements and remarks since the video allegation appeared suggest that he is for Azmin. In the meantime Anwar can’t afford to show any dissent against Mahathir because his first step towards being PM rests entirely with Mahathir.

And when was the last time Anwar told all of us about his almost weekly informal meetings with Mahathir?

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.