KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 ― Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s possible conviction for sodomy next week may very well be the ultimate acid test for Pakatan Rakyat (PR) as it struggles to keep it together amid renewed bickering between DAP and PAS over key policy issues.
The PKR de facto head has been going on the stump in a series of farewell ceramahs and events, doing his best to reassure supporters and voters that the seven-year-old federal opposition coalition will survive even if he is jailed come February 10.
But the question still remains as to whether PR has collectively agreed on who should lead the coalition which has been led by the charismatic one-time deputy prime minister since his return to active politics in 2008 when he won the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat.
Most PR leaders polled by Malay Mail Online have indicated that there has been no consensus on the matter, and that in Anwar’s absence PR would just continue working against the common enemy ― Barisan Nasional (BN) ― and only address the crucial issue of leadership if and when it becomes absolutely necessary.
Difficult to fill Anwar’s shoes
PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli believes it will be tough for PKR, PAS and DAP to immediately agree on any politician within the pact to replace Anwar, saying that PR’s focus should instead be less “figure centric” if the Opposition Leader is sent to prison.
“It is not easy for us to actually talk about finding a replacement for Anwar, hardly anyone can fill his job.
“If Anwar is put behind bars, the modus operandi for the three parties will actually change… to be less figure-centric and more of separate teams managing separate issues,” Rafizi told Malay Mail Online.
The Pandan MP pointed out that in the past, PR only had a clear leader after 2006 and prior to that opposition parties co-operated when it came to tackling “common issues.”
“I think some figures may want to exert influence but whether or not they can command the way Anwar does remains to be seen,” Rafizi said.
DAP national organising secretary Anthony Loke said PR has no choice but to wait for the federal court verdict before deciding on its next course of action.
“Nobody knows (who shall lead). In politics we cannot plan ahead.
“But it (Anwar going to prison) will create more complications in the selection of the next opposition leader,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Others like DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang brushed aside the question completely, saying that he was confident that Anwar would be acquitted.
“Why should we decide? We are confident he will be acquitted. We’ll deal with it when it comes,” the Gelang Patah MP said.
Anwar can still lead PR from prison
Some PR leaders argued that Anwar could still play his role as an effective Opposition Leader even if he is jailed like Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Why can’t he lead from prison? His opinion will still count even from prison.
“The issue on who leads Pakatan is not an issue, in fact he (Anwar) is in a stronger position to lead if he is in prison as he can devote his full time to PR,” PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang said.
The Batu MP said that there was no immediate urgency to discuss the matter as the next general election was still a few years away.
“No immediate need to talk about general elections, we don’t even know whether (Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) is still going to remain as prime minister then,” Chua added.
Possible candidates, but PR must not be seen as anti-Malay
Some PR leaders have, however, indicated that there have been internal discussions within the three parties as to who they would want to replace Anwar, but no formal deliberations have been made on the matter.
The problem, according to them, is the inability of the PR presidential council to even sit down in a room together due to the constant bickering between the secular party DAP and Islamist party PAS over the former’s push to restore local council elections and the latter’s renewed attempt to push for hudud law in Kelantan.
“Yes, there have been internal discussions, informally about who can lead Pakatan if Anwar is not here.
“But whether or not this will be decided, I don’t know. It will be raised at the meeting this Sunday,” a high-ranking PR leader who did not wish to be named said to Malay Mail Online.
PAS MP Khalid Samad said that the obvious candidate from PKR would be Selangor mentri besar Azmin Ali while DAP would most certainly propose Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng given their seniority and political track record.
“If people object to Azmin because he is already the mentri besar then there would also be objections to Lim Guan Eng because he is already the chief minister.
“The candidate PAS will put forward would obviously be Hadi,” Khalid said, referring to PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.
The most agreeable candidate, Khalid added, might boil down to either PKR deputy president Azmin or PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
“We won’t want (PR) to to be seen as a non-Malay led coalition (because) we know it is going to be capitalised on.
“Even with Anwar as the Opposition Leader, Umno is giving the impression that it is a non-Malay kind of opposition,” the Shah Alam MP said.
The Federal Court has set February 10 to deliver its decision on whether to uphold an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal to overturn Anwar’s acquittal of a charge of sodomising his then-aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan six years ago.
The appellate court also slapped a five-year jail sentence on the opposition leader, who had previously spent six years behind bars before he was acquitted in 2004 of sodomising his wife’s driver, Azizan Abu Bakar.