Dark clouds over PKR congress

Tan Sri Khalid (above)

Malaysia's opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) goes into its annual congress beginning today under a cloud of uncertainty as it continues to struggle with a seven-month leadership crisis in Selangor state and the fallout from yet another fractious internal elections.

Having lost control of Malaysia's richest state over the past fortnight following a struggle to oust its chief minister, questions are being raised over PKR's de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim's handling of the saga and whether a move to elevate his wife as the new Selangor chief minister would be a wise move for the opposition leader.

PKR is already at loggerheads with ally Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) over whether Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail should succeed renegade Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim in Selangor. The party has also failed to convince the public that the change was necessary in the first place, according to an independent pollster.

PKR hopes the three-day national congress, to be held in Selangor and attended by 3,000 delegates, will help the party close ranks.

"There will definitely be a rallying behind our president (Dr Wan Azizah) and trying to find ways to strengthen and unite Pakatan," said newly elected youth chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad.

Malaysia's three biggest opposition parties - PKR, PAS and the Democratic Action Party - govern Selangor under the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) banner.

"The party is in a mess. My suspicion is there won't be a lot of substance to improve PKR and Pakatan but a public relations exercise," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who heads think-tank Ideas.

PKR's internal elections, held every three years, were marred by repeated reports of irregularities, delaying official results for four months. That it occurred during the party's stuttering attempts to oust Tan Sri Khalid exacerbated the perception that Datuk Seri Anwar's party was in shambles.

What began in January as an attempt to make Mr Anwar the Menteri Besar of Selangor has taken several strategic missteps along the way.

His sodomy conviction in March blocked him from contesting a by-election in Kajang, and ally PAS then refused to endorse his wife as the replacement chief minister.

The tripartite PR has now agreed on Dr Wan Azizah's candidacy, but PKR's influential Selangor chief Azmin Ali - who successfully defended his deputy presidency - is still a dark horse for the Selangor chief ministership.

"Anwar is still a political superstar but he is shining less brightly due to a reduction in his ability to deliver," Mr Wan Saiful told The Straits Times.

According to Mr Ibrahim Suffian, chief of opinion researchers Merdeka Centre, a recent survey shows PKR has taken the biggest hit out of the PR parties in the Selangor impasse.

PKR has now launched an online campaign insisting that with the majority of Selangor lawmakers backing Dr Wan Azizah, she has the "people's mandate" to govern, a move analysts believe will come off looking presumptuous.

"This reflects an uncertainty and insecurity," Mr Ibrahim told The Straits Times, adding that the public would prefer to know what improvements will be made in the state after the leadership change.

The congress will start today with the meeting of its youth wing, to be addressed by Mr Azmin, who is expected to focus his speech on proposals to develop Selangor, but without attacking Mr Khalid.

Tomorrow, PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution will open the main congress at an indoor stadium, with a keynote address by party president Wan Azizah.


This article was first published on August 22, 2014.
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