The dominant party in Malaysia’s ruling coalition opens its annual convention Thursday after its top two leaders appeared to have patched up a long-running rift between them.
Anwar Ibrahim and the deputy leader of his People’s Justice Party (PKR), Azmin Ali, were photographed talking side by side at the Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur late Wednesday, in the first show of warmth between them since Anwar won the PKR presidency in 2018.
Azmin is close to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who had promised to cede power to Anwar two years into his term in office. Questions have been raised over the handover of the premiership due to the Azmin-Anwar rivalry.
Earlier this week, local reports portrayed the PKR as being saddled with an internal crisis as supporters of the party’s top two leaders were expected to hold separate conventions – one in the southern state of Malacca and another in the nation’s capital – starting Thursday.
On Wednesday, Azmin was all smiles when he told reporters that he would meet with Anwar.
“We will talk about the party’s standing and congress preparation, which will start tomorrow [and go] until Sunday,” said Azmin, 55, the minister of Economic Affairs. “We will also discuss several important matters and I want to state that I will attend the congress this week.”
Anwar was also seen smiling after his two-hour meeting with Azmin – who had served as his private secretary back in 1995.
“Good meeting. Good congress,” the lawmaker and party president said, almost shouting and without stopping to answer questions from waiting journalists, as he boarded his car.
A day earlier, Anwar told a PKR meeting in Perak that he was open to criticism but his patience was limited.
“[I] believe everyone has a right to air their views,” he said, according to Bernama, the state news service.
“However, I can’t (accept) when there are those who view the party (PKR) as divided, weak … as it is my responsibility to build its strength,” Anwar added in his speech in which he also reiterated his support for Prime Minister Mahathir.
After Anwar met with Azmin on Wednesday night, the tone on social media from supporters of both factions appeared to have changed from antagonistic towards each other to reconciliatory.
A plan to launch a parallel convention at the Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur was well underway until about 2 p.m. Wednesday when it was halted suddenly, a source in Azmin’s faction told BenarNews.
“Azmin wants to meet the leaders in parliament after several of them did not want to commit for the alternate congress,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. “We were told to stop the work in Kuala Lumpur and wait for the leader’s decision.”
Analysts told BenarNews that the meeting between Anwar and Azmin was significant because the internal partisan bickering had also jeopardized the image of the ruling Pakatan Harapan alliance. The party founded by Anwar, 72, holds the largest number of seats in parliament.
“People would say, ‘How are you going to manage the country when your party is in a mess?’ It reflects the government and this is not good for [Pakatan],” Ahmad Marthada Mohamed, dean of international relations studies at the Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), told BenarNews.
“Pakatan Harapan could not find a solid foundation among all party components because two big names in the party … are not on good terms,” he said.
According to Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a University Malaya professor, the meeting between the two party leaders indicated that they were working toward a clearer direction.
“Future leaders in Pakatan Harapan will face tougher problems if PKR leaders continue to fight,” he told BenarNews. “People will get fed up if you fight for power.”
PKR, a multiracial political party formed in 2003, holds 50 out of the 129 parliamentary seats controlled by the ruling bloc.
For Anwar, who has been the face of Malaysia’s reform movement during the past 20 years, mending fences with other PKR leaders would bring him closer to the premiership that has been promised by Mahathir, his former foe who heads a different party, analysts said. The duo mended their differences and became political allies when Mahathir turned against the coalition he once headed.
Anwar was pardoned and released from a five-year prison term for sodomy after Pakatan Harapan secured a stunning victory in the May 2018 general election and ended the longtime rule of the Barisan Nasional alliance.
Anwar won the PKR post in an uncontested election in August last year, replacing his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the deputy prime minister, as the party’s president.
When he made his unusual promise to Anwar in the months leading up to the election, Mahathir, now 94, said he would hand off the premiership to his former rival after two years in power. He was sworn in as prime minister within days of the polls.
But questions on when Mahathir would step down intensified in recent weeks.
After their meeting late last month, Anwar told reporters that he had agreed with Mahathir that they would focus on preparing for the November 2020 APEC summit in Kuala Lumpur, suggesting a potentially longer timetable for the transition.
Anwar told Mahathir that the prime minister should hand over the leadership “within a reasonable period.”
“I told him that the power transition has to be done in peace and proper manner within a reasonable period and also with mutual understanding,” Anwar told reporters at the time, describing what he said was a 30-minute meeting with Mahathir.