Leery about Anwar's intent to contest for PKR chief

Opinion  |  Terence Netto
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | It's a measure of the drop in the standing of Anwar Ibrahim in PKR that his announcement yesterday he would contest the president's post was treated with deep scepticism by detractors within the party.

PKR's polls are scheduled for end August to early September. The closing date for nominations is July 29.

These days, remarks about the loftiness of Anwar's stock in PKR emerge only from outright courtiers, such as secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, who recently described the party's de facto leader as someone of “incomparable” standing in PKR.

Saifuddin's fawning is as amateurish as an autograph hunter's.

Others in the party, of more sober mien, maintain a politic silence about Anwar's plans, while others regard his statement of intent to contest as credible only if his wife is publicly unequivocal about standing aside for her husband.

Already, word has emanated from another flunkey that Wan Azizah ought to be made party chairperson.

Presumably, this will enable her to maintain her post as deputy prime minister in the ruling Pakatan Harapan federal government, while Anwar gets around to contesting for a parliamentary seat which, in addition to being PKR president, would bring him closer to being prime minister of the ruling coalition.

After all, what was make-believe (ketua umum or party supremo) with respect to her husband's position in the party all these years can be made to be so for the wife.

Bad, albeit exigent, practices – such as the one that in 2007 saw Anwar conferred the title of de facto leader because he, at that time, was still under a five-year ban from holding positions in political parties – are set to be perpetuated in PKR should Wan Azizah be made party chairperson.

The party has had, of necessity in exigent circumstances, one "ketua umum" (de facto leader); it does not need as party chairperson, a label with no constitutional validity, for someone who only last year in an interview with Al Jazeera said she regarded herself as a “seat warmer.”

But the danger is seat warmers can, over time, become convinced that forms of going through the motions is actually the real thing.

Anwar's detractors have grown so leery of his word that unless his wife unequivocally declares her withdrawal, they believe that her husband's announcement of intent to contest is a gambit to forestall a challenge for the position by the current deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali.

Azmin will not contest the presidency should Anwar be the sole candidate for the post.

This is not from excessive deference to the de facto leader of PKR, as it is acceptance of realpolitik.

Fallen as Anwar's current stock may be in the party, a challenge by Azmin would be construed by the party faithful as an attempt at impudent supercession, given what the supremo has had to endure of Umno's victimisation over the past two decades.

Abilities seen lacking

Within PKR there is residual respect for Anwar for what he has had to go through under Umno's heel; but there is scant regard for his ability to manage factions, tap, cultivate and promote talent, lay down administrative structures, and formulate and see to it that policy is executed.

More than ever before, he is regarded as a tub-thumping opportunist rather than a principled exponent of a populist egalitarianism which was essentially the Keadilan (which from 2002, became PKR) vision at its inception.

While it was Anwar's Umno-inflicted travails that led to the formation in April 1999 of Parti Keadilan Nasional, PKR's precusor, the recent machinations of the “PKR trinity”, composed of husband (Anwar), wife (Azizah), and daughter (Nurul Izzah), are not something many longstanding members of the party are willing to endure much longer.

These PKR diehards were sickened by the trinity's manoeuvres in the immediate prelude to GE14 on May 9.

These focused on cutting down on the list of nominees that Azmin recommended as candidates for GE14.

In the main, the list of nominees favoured by vice-president Rafizi Ramli was preferred.

Matters were exacerbated in the polls' aftermath by more parochialism by the trinity that baulked selection from the Azmin-recommended slate of nominees for posts in the federal and state governments after Pakatan Harapan's victory in GE14.

Balm for this infliction would be an Azmin challenge for the presidency should Azizah want to remain party chief.

That is why critics of the PKR trinity, which virtually rules the roost in the party, feel that the announcement by Anwar of intent to contest ought to be regarded in the same way that Anwar treated a stance he announced in not dissimilar circumstances in 1993.

From the start of that year, it was obvious then-Umno vice-president Anwar was eyeing to contest deputy president Ghafar Baba in the party polls scheduled for December that year.

This intention flew in the face of incumbent president Dr Mahathir Mohamad's evident distaste for it.

Mahathir even went up to the extent of saying in June that his vote would be for Ghafar should there be a contest for the deputy presidency. Anwar then announced he was not going to contest.

By August, however, the scenario changed radically.

A massive gathering of party barons at the Umno headquarters in Putra World Trade Centre put on a show of support for Anwar for deputy president.

Mahathir relented and at the next Umno supreme council meeting, when asked who he would support should there be a contest for the deputy president's post, said he would be neutral, which was tantamount to a retraction of his June endorsement of Ghafar.

After that, the bandwagon for Anwar for deputy president became unstoppable. Ghafar withdrew, rendering the contest a coronation.

There will be a coronation of the PKR trinity should Anwar contest the presidency in the party's polls; should Azizah not hold to being what she is and always was, a seat warmer; and should Azmin be challenged and defeated for the deputy presidency by an Anwar proxy, which is what the change to electronic voting is aimed at achieving.

PKR is in danger of becoming what Turkey's AKP has become, which in the latter’s case is a vehicle for the ambitions of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, one of the bigger frauds to have emerged in that country's long history of its quest for modernity.

The necessary vetting of Anwar for the PKR presidency can begin by his being asked what he now thinks of his good friend Erdoğan.


TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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