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Abim factions opposition to Keadilan-PRM merger plan triggers party split

Stiff opposition to the proposed merger with PRM is the main cause for the fissure between Keadilan's Islamic Youth Movement (Abim)-affiliated leaders and other party leaders.

Abim president Ahmad Azam Abdul Rahman said his movement's disagreement with the merger was politicised by other 'factions' in Keadilan to sideline Abim-linked leaders in the recent party elections.

"The results in the elections, where almost all leaders linked to us had been defeated, makes it possible for them to ditch Abim's opposition to the proposed merger," Ahmad Azam told malaysiakini.

In the party's inaugural elections held on Nov 10 and 11, almost all Abim-affiliated candidates for the top posts were defeated by other candidates who were in favour of the merger.

The non-Abim faction consists of a loose grouping of former Umno members and individuals from the NGOs including the Jemaah Islah Malaysia.

According to Ahmad Azam, the animosity between the pro-Abim faction and the rest started when negotiations on the merger between the two parties began early last year.

"Abim members felt that the opposition front (BA) component parties can continue to work together and complement each other in the present set-up."

The opposition pact was formed by Keadilan, PAS, DAP and PRM before the 1999 general elections. However, DAP pulled out of the coalition in September over its dissatisfaction over PAS' stand on the Islamic state.

Untrue claims

Ahmad Azam added that, however, the other 'factions' in the party started politicising Abim's opposition to the merger to gain support for the proposed plan.

"We were said to have the intentions of 'Abimising' Keadilan. Our people in the party were said to be interested in Islamising Keadilan.Words were spread that we saw the rest, especially the PRM members, as being lesser Muslims," he said.

"All these are untrue. In fact, our opposition to the merger was purely on tactical reasons. It is more effective to complement each other within the BA."

He added there will also be problems relating to the party posts if the merger took place.

"Questions of seniority will be an issue. Newcomers to Keadilan (from PRM) will be made leaders. Our members will not be happy about it. We (Abim) were involved in the formation of Keadilan from the beginning, but these people become leaders."

Ahmad Azam also said that Abim was wary of PRM's history as a socialist party.

He added that Keadilan had started with a clean slate and should not let the 'red' history of PRM be a burden.

"This can drag down Keadilan and we don't want to see that happen," he said.

He added that the pro-merger Keadilan leaders had failed to convince party members of the benefits of the merger.

"They are for it just because Anwar Ibrahim is in favour of the merger. Why can't we disagree with what Anwar wants, even if we agree that he had been victimised by the government?"

"In the end, it has become Abim versus the rest. That is the problem and it is unrepairable," said Ahmad Azam.

Maintain control

Meanwhile, party sources told malaysiakini that Abim opposed the merger plans to maintain its influence and control over Keadilan. According to a source, Abim was worried that the entry of PRM might dilute its clout within the party.

"The previous Abim-affiliated leaders in the party had used their positions to consolidate Abim's influence in the party, as well as the number of Abim-backed delegates that attended party meetings," said a highly placed Keadilan leader.

He said that it would take some time before the present leadership would call for an emergency general meeting to revisit the merger issue.

"As we see it, we still have about 42 divisions that are pending approval from the Registrar of Societies. Only after that has been done, can we call for a special meeting to vote on the constitutional aspects of the merger. This may take up to a year," said the source.

The party held a special meeting in June where its delegates agreed in principle to the merger but narrowly failed to obtain the two-third majority needed to amend its constitution for the merger. For its part, PRM delegates had agreed for the merger in their annual congress in July.

Keadilan will need to obtain the support from at least two-thirds of its party delegates before the merger can proceed.