KUALA LUMPUR - The ongoing internal elections for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) have been marred by scenes of heated arguments between members, missing ballot papers in some branches and chairs thrown about in anger at several voting centres due to intense jostling for positions for the major Malaysian opposition party.
There have been claims by some members that deputy president Azmin Ali used his men to cheat by tampering with ballot papers in a branch election and that Selangor Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim allegedly paid money to some voters. Both men have denied the accusations.
Voting at 27 of its 198 branches nationwide was postponed, including 10 in Selangor state over the weekend. "We will hold new elections at an appropriate time. Not necessarily next week or next month," PKR's election director Johari Abdul Ghani told a news conference yesterday.
How smoothly PKR, led by opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim, runs its triennial elections is closely watched as it and two other large Malaysian opposition parties are members of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance. PR hopes to form the federal government in the next general election in 2018.
PKR's last internal elections in 2010 also recorded similar scenes of angry members and claims of missing ballot papers or stuffed ballot boxes in some branches.
If PKR could not even hold its own elections involving 500,000 members properly, some analysts asked, how is it going to run the government?
Still, analysts do understand that the surge in the number of candidates had led to more allegations of wrongdoings.
"But it also shows that factionalism is more obvious now and it will not help the party in terms of perception," said political analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who heads the think-tank Ideas.
Datuk Johari, PKR's election director, has received 331 complaints and objections about irregularities in the elections that started two weeks ago.
The polls are being held over several weeks to cover Malaysia's 13 states and the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
Mr Johari blamed "outsiders" for the scuffles in several Selangor branches over the weekend.
"They came into the voting station and without a word, started throwing chairs and overturning tables," he said.
Party president Wan Azizah Ismail retained her seat uncontested, with controversy over her husband, PKR chief Anwar, first proposing to stand against her and later pulling out.
But it is the post of the deputy president that has attracted the most heat and controversy.
The incumbent, Selangor chieftain Azmin Ali, is being challenged by two strong contenders, amid whispers that Mr Anwar wants Mr Azmin out. The contenders are party secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution, whom Mr Anwar is backing, and maverick politician Abdul Khalid, the Selangor chief minister.
There is also a 10-way fight for the three elected posts of vice-president.
Polls are also being held for other top party bearers, branch chiefs and their committee members.
Despite the controversies, Mr Johari yesterday called the elections a success, saying the huge number of candidates had been tough to manage.
"In 2004, just looking for candidates was difficult… now we have more than 10,000," he said. "But definitely there is a lot of room for improvement."
This article was published on May 13 in The Straits Times.
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