Malaysian Analysts: Feud between Leaders Mars PKR Convention

Lex Radz and Ali Nufael
2019.12.09
Kuala Lumpur
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191209-MY-pkr-620.jpg PKR president Anwar Ibrahim (center), and his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (to his right), join party leaders as they sing during the convention’s closing ceremony in Malacca, Malaysia, Dec. 7, 2019.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

An open dispute between the top two leaders of the People’s Justice Party (PKR) over power and influence could work to the advantage of other parties in the ruling coalition, political observers said.

The rift between PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and deputy leader Azmin Ali revealed itself starkly during the party’s annual convention that concluded Sunday, although the two men had appeared to patch over their differences on the eve of the gathering.

After Azmin and his supporters staged a mass walkout from the convention floor after lunch on Saturday, Anwar and his supporters pushed their call for the party chief to succeed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad next year.

Mahathir and Anwar agreed to the succession plan when the PKR-led Pakatan Harapan coalition took power following a major electoral upset in May 2018. The party founded by Anwar, 72, holds 50 of the 129 parliamentary seats controlled by the ruling bloc while DAP holds 42.

“It is clear that this competition is not about ideas or principles but power and influence, not just in the party but on the national level about who will be the prime minister,” Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a University Malaya professor, told BenarNews. “Even a blind man can see that they are fighting.

“There are two options – either Azmin quits the party or toes the line. There is no need to prolong this as there are many more issues to deal with,” he said.

Ahmad Murtadha Mohamed, a professor at Universiti Utara Malaysia, said the disagreement was not helping the coalition as other members were staying out of the fray.

“Azmin clearly rejected Anwar because he wants Mahathir to complete his term,” he told BenarNews. “Because of this, Anwar and Azmin fight.

“It is different with coalition members Amanah [the National Trust Party] and DAP [Democratic Action Party] who agree there will be a transition,” he said.

Ahmad Murtadha said a lack of reconciliation could strengthen DAP, a party made up largely of members of the ethnic Chinese minority.

“DAP is the second biggest party after PKR. It looks like the party has the upper hand,” he said while pointing out that its leadership did not expect to be able to name Mahathir’s successor because of its minority-party status.

On Saturday, after Azmin and his supporters left the convention, Anwar delivered a speech referring to an unnamed traitor. That caused more people to leave the hall.

About 100 delegates and dozens of other observers from the Azmin camp walked out, chanting “Balik! Balik!” (go home) before complaining that the speeches were antagonizing Azmin, who later accused Anwar of having broken their agreement to refrain from negatives comments.

Anwar said he could not help it if his deputy was upset over the speech.

“If he felt offended by it, that is not my problem. It is a historical fact,” he told reporters.

PKR deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali speaks during the Shared Prosperity Vision dinner in Kuala Lumpur, Dec.8, 2019. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]
PKR deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali speaks during the Shared Prosperity Vision dinner in Kuala Lumpur, Dec.8, 2019. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

On Sunday, Azmin hosted what he called the Shared Prosperity Vision briefing dinner at Renaissance Hotel, the 1999 birthplace of the party, then known as the National Justice Party.

Hundreds flocked to see Azmin and leading supporters lambast Anwar’s faction.

“On April 4, 1999, I was present in this hall as one of those who was called upon to establish Parti Keadilan Nasional at that time,” Azmin, 55, told the crowd. “Yet 20 years later, I am called a traitor, while those who call me a traitor were not even in the hall at that time.”

Mahathir said the convention would not hurt the coalition’s ability to lead Malaysia.

“It is normal that there would be disagreements in any leadership, but I am confident that it will not affect [Pakatan Harapan] as the government,” he told state news agency Bernama on Monday.

“Even the opposition has a lot of problems but since they are not the government, the people do not really care. But when we are the government, sometimes there is bound to be a little bit of a misunderstanding, that is normal.”

In addition, he said he did not want to interfere with Azmin and Anwar.

“That is PKR’s internal problem,” he said.

Other parties meet

Coalition member Amanah, which held its party election over the weekend in Shah Alam, maintained its leadership. Mohamad Sabu retained his post as party president despite finishing seventh among 27 elected members of its national leadership committee.

Meanwhile, the opposition anchor party, the United Malays National Organization, which also held its annual convention over the weekend, noted its close relationship with the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) when it amended its constitution to uphold Islam as part of the party’s purpose.

The provision originally stipulated, “UMNO is a political party that fights to uphold the national aspirations of the Malays and to uphold the dignity and stature of race, religion, and country,” but has been amended to read “… to uphold the dignity and stature of Islam, race, and country.”

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