PKR power struggle comes to a head

Deep fissures within PKR have been exposed as Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim (left) refuses to go before the next general election, while both Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Mr Azmin Ali (left) want a shot at running the Selangor government.

AFTER months of behind-the-scenes sniping and manoeuvring, the power struggle for the plum post of Selangor Menteri Besar (MB) is coming to a head this week as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leaders gather to pick a successor to Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim.

Top on the agenda as PKR began its supreme council meeting yesterday is who will be the best candidate to take over the job of running the government of Malaysia's richest state from Mr Khalid.

The matter is pressing as Mr Khalid is facing increasing criticism from within his own party as well as Selangor voters over the poor handling of various issues.

These include state-wide water cuts early this year that affected thousands of households and businesses, as well as the failure by state officials to return Malay-language bibles confiscated from a Christian organisation.

The trouble for PKR, which runs the state, is two-fold. First, Mr Khalid is refusing to go before the next general election due by 2018, despite heavy hints from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that "we cannot say that everyone will stay in their position forever".

Second, and potentially more damaging in its impact, the move to remove Mr Khalid has exposed deep fissures within the party.

Mr Anwar wants his wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and PKR president, to be the next Selangor MB, according to a report in The Star.

But he is facing stiff opposition from supporters of PKR deputy president Azmin Ali, who wants a shot at the post.

So contentious is the issue that PKR's elected representatives from all over Malaysia were invited to the meeting yesterday to discuss Mr Khalid's replacement, even though they have no voting rights on the 20-member supreme council.

Even so, party members said the final decision will not come from the supreme council, but the PKR's political bureau, a group of more than 20 people, which PKR's de facto leader Mr Anwar heads.

The political bureau is powerful because it is the de facto decision-maker of the party's policies and direction. But members could not say if the political bureau had a deadline to decide Mr Khalid's replacement.

Dr Faisal Hazis, political analyst at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, said Mr Azmin's supporters are adamant he deserves the position because of his years of loyalty and seniority.

Mr Azmin is a founding member of PKR, having quit Umno in 1998 during the tumultuous period when Mr Anwar was sacked as Deputy Prime Minister in the Umno-led government.

Mr Azmin also strengthened his position by retaining his position as deputy chief in recent party elections.

But naysayers say Mr Azmin, who has a history of friction with Dr Wan Azizah and Mr Khalid, lacks the ability to unite party members.

"Party unity is most crucial for PKR's survival for the next general election," Dr Faisal told The Straits Times.

"And Dr Wan Azizah is the only person that represents Mr Anwar the best and so, can hold the party together."

Unseemly fights within the PKR not only threaten the party's unity and damage its image but could also threaten its hold on the state government of Selangor - its showcase state.

Professor Shaharuddin Badaruddin of Universiti Teknologi Mara said failure to resolve its internal differences could lead to the PKR losing control of Selangor state government in the next general election.

He noted that the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition, of which the PKR is a member, lost control of the state of Kedah in the 2013 general election over similar problems of internal feuds and poor administration.

The choice of the next Selangor MB is further complicated by the fact that its coalition partners - the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Islam (PAS) - will want to have a say.

Conservative members of PAS are wary of having a woman head the state while DAP leaders have reservations about Mr Azmin.

The endorsed candidate also needs the approval of the Selangor state ruler.

Whether PKR endorses Dr Wan Azizah or Mr Azmin, it is unlikely that PKR will submit only one name to the palace, as it will be seen as presenting the Sultan with a disrespectful ultimatum, Prof Shaharuddin said.

"The last thing the party wants is adding on complexities to an already delicate situation." he said.

This article was first published on July 22, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.