Three things we learnt from: PKR’s first congress, polls as ruling party

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Azmin Ali attend the PKR National Congress 2018 in IDCC Convention Centre, Shah Alam November 18, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Azmin Ali attend the PKR National Congress 2018 in IDCC Convention Centre, Shah Alam November 18, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 — Forget the annual Umno General Assembly. With Pakatan Harapan (PH) in power, PKR’s National Congress seems to be where all the drama and excitement was.

The PKR three-day congress over the weekend signalled the end of a fairly dramatic party election that spanned weeks, impacting the nation in more ways than one.

In the end, the results were mostly as expected: Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was officially named president after he was unopposed, while incumbent Datuk Seri Azmin Ali joined him as the deputy after defeating challenger Rafizi Ramli.

Here are some key takeaways from the PKR event:

Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Rafizi Ramli embrace during the PKR National Congress 2018 at IDCC Shah Alam November 17, 2018. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali
Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Rafizi Ramli embrace during the PKR National Congress 2018 at IDCC Shah Alam November 17, 2018. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

1. Rivalries remain, but public image is prized

The rivalry between Azmin and Rafizi with their own factions was an open secret within the party and even with the public, spilling over to numerous divisions and exacerbated by the controversial Julau election.

While the long-simmering tensions have yet to die off as indicated by the mix of cheers and jeers that greeted the duo when they addressed party delegates yesterday, PKR members were clear that they were tired of the power struggle.

Party delegates instead wanted Team Azmin and Team Rafizi to quit fighting and for the party to at least project an image of being united, if not actually casting their differences aside and moving on.

PKR’s Nurul Izzah Anwar speaks at the 13th PKR National Congress in Shah Alam November 18, 2018. ― Picture by Razak Ghazali
PKR’s Nurul Izzah Anwar speaks at the 13th PKR National Congress in Shah Alam November 18, 2018. ― Picture by Razak Ghazali

But public hugs aside, the scar may have yet to heal. Rafizi cheekily said he could not afford to prolong the election for the sake of Anwar’s image, while Azmin’s winding-up speech was filled with metaphors and snide jabs only party insiders could catch.

Meanwhile, vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is Anwar’s daughter, was on the verge of tears. “I love my party and I want everyone to come together more cohesively,” she reportedly explained.

A PKR member registers at the polling centre for Petra Jaya in Kuching November 10, 2018. — Bernama pic
A PKR member registers at the polling centre for Petra Jaya in Kuching November 10, 2018. — Bernama pic

2. Messy polls and the chance to do better

The PKR polls that stretched over nine weeks nationwide with the first-ever use of electronic voting was tarnished with alleged irregularities and allegations of dirty tactics, such as vote-buying and dubious voters, a scenario which may cast doubt on the integrity and capability of the party.

PKR should remember that the public will unlikely forget the ludicrous Julau polls — from the over 2,000 per cent increase in members to the accusation that the tablets were “hacked” by the app Prey — inviting rebuttals from no less than the developers themselves.

Anwar finally conceded the weaknesses in the party elections, but also blamed those who sought to instigate infighting in an attempt to pit Rafizi and Azmin against each other.

Chua Tian Chang speaks at the 13th PKR National Congress in Shah Alam November 18, 2018. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Chua Tian Chang speaks at the 13th PKR National Congress in Shah Alam November 18, 2018. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

During the national meet, PKR leaders also indirectly expressed caution about opportunists who want to join the winning camp with an eye towards positions, with vice-president Tian Chua even proposing that new party members be allowed to vote only after a year, and contest party positions two years after joining.

PKR will now have until the next internal election to ensure the embarrassing episode does not recur.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim greets PKR members at the party’s Annual Congress in Shah Alam, November 17, 2018. ― Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim greets PKR members at the party’s Annual Congress in Shah Alam, November 17, 2018. ― Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

3. A new chapter for old characters

Anwar, who could be said to be the reason PKR was birthed about 20 years ago, has now officially assumed the position of party president after winning it uncontested on nominations day and is no longer the party’s appointed de facto leader.

Naturally, now he is back in power, he has abolished the de facto leader post that was created for him in 2007.

Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail speaks during the PKR National Congress 2018 in Shah Alam November 18, 2018. ― Picture by Razak Ghazali
Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail speaks during the PKR National Congress 2018 in Shah Alam November 18, 2018. ― Picture by Razak Ghazali

But his wife, former party president, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, will not be forgotten, after party delegates approved her appointment as the first-ever chairman of a new Advisory Council for the party.

Even Rafizi, who lost to Azmin, will likely be appointed to some sort of a top post, with Anwar keen to keep his loyal soldiers in the loop.

But most importantly, the formalities of the PKR polls and the congress serve to solidify Anwar’s legitimacy to eventually claim the promised position of prime minister of Malaysia.

As for the party itself, Rafizi was clear about what would presumably be its short-term mission: Making sure Anwar become the country’s eighth prime minister.