KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 ― The younger, more “pragmatic” leaders in Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will now get their day in the sun as they are pushed to the fore to fill the vacuum that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will leave as he serves his five-year jail sentence for sodomy, analysts said.
The observers said PR may not split so easily as some have suggested, just because Anwar, who is often seen as the pact’s single uniting factor, will no longer be around to put out fires.
“There is a whole new generation of young leaders to take over the helm of PR, and quite a lot of them are rather pragmatic, eyeing power in Putrajaya as ultimate goals and thus unlikely to splinter among themselves,” Professor Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, told Malay Mail Online.
The analyst also agreed with the view that the appeal of the 67-year-old opposition leader has diminished in recent years since the massive Reformasi movement almost two decades ago in the 90s, and said voters are now more focused on policies, rather than personalities.
“His charismatic appeal has largely waned, and it is a more mature electorate looking for substantive change, not attraction of personality,” he added, referring to Anwar.
Oh said one of the young leaders in PR with potential is PKR deputy president and newly-minted Selangor Mentri Besar Azmin Ali, who is 50 years old.
“Acceptable by both DAP and PAS, got resources as mentri besar,” said the political analyst.
The Federal Court sentenced Anwar yesterday to five years’ jail after upholding the 2014 Court of Appeal ruling that had reversed the PR de facto leader’s acquittal of sodomising former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.
Anwar stands to lose his Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat as the law bars anyone fined over RM2,000 or imprisoned more than one year from serving as a lawmaker.
Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said PR might split up due to the ongoing spat between the DAP and PAS over hudud and local council elections, but also noted that Anwar’s imprisonment could give the opposition pact a chance to strengthen itself.
“Anwar is the uniting figure for Pakatan but if they can turn their focus into something more sustainable, they can turn this to policies and ideas,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Wan Saiful also said Anwar’s imprisonment ― which will see the former deputy prime minister still behind bars in the next general election, due by 2018 ― will allow young leaders in PR to rise.
The local political analyst cited Azmin, PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli, as well as DAP leaders Dr Ong Kian Ming and Liew Chin Tong, as examples of capable young leaders in the opposition pact that was formalised just seven years ago after the 2008 general election.
University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute director James Chin said, however, that tensions between the secular DAP and the Islamist party PAS would likely intensify with Anwar gone.
“The breakdown will be when PAS tries to pass hudud,” Chin told Malay Mail Online.
The DAP has staunchly opposed PAS’ plans to implement the Islamic penal code in Kelantan and has repeatedly demanded that the party shelve its plans, with its leaders even warning of an imminent break-up of the PR alliance if the Islamist party refuses to back down.
Kelantan Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah said Sunday that Kelantan will proceed with tabling the amendments to its hudud enactment on March 16, even if the PR leadership council has yet to view the draft law by then.
Chin, however, disagreed that Anwar’s imprisonment would enable young PR leaders to become more prominent, saying with his influence, the leader would stay as the pact’s political symbol “forever”.
“Anwar is such a huge political icon that as long as he lives, inside or outside prison, he will influence PKR politics, no matter who the young leaders are.
“Look at Dr Mahathir. He has retired for more than 12 years and yet he is a big factor in Umno,” said the political analyst, referring to former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
In his final public speech on Sunday, hours before yesterday’s verdict, however, Anwar had conceded that PR’s future lies with young leaders.
“Sometimes, the older leadership is dragged by issues that are old and outdated…It is important that we give way to the young leadership in PR, because they are more forward-looking,” Anwar had said.