KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — PKR is set to hold its elections for the 2022-2025 term between May 13 and 18.
The party’s internal polls have always been fractious in the past. Now, there is speculation that those loyal to president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will seek to “purge” remnants of leaders seen as close to former deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.
Alongside several other key leaders, Azmin defected to join Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in 2020, plunging the party into a leadership crisis that pundits saw as a consequence of a power tussle between Azmin and Anwar.
Underpinning the friction, according to political observers, was Anwar’s growing uneasiness with Azmin’s rising influence in the federal government after he was made the economic affairs minister, which allowed him to amplify his popularity within the party at the time.
PKR has some 1.2 million members, according to latest estimates by the party’s chief election coordinator Dr Zaliha Mustafa, with a one-member-one-vote system that would allow each member to directly vote and elect the top six posts in the central leadership, including the president. The polls will take place at their respective divisions starting May.
We look at some of the anticipated key contests:
Azmin was seen as the only genuine contender who could have challenged Anwar and his defection had effectively cleared the latter from the most credible threat to his presidency. As expected, Anwar was the only candidate nominated for the post and has once again retained the presidency.
Azmi Hassan, a senior fellow at the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR), said the contest for the deputy presidency will set the tone for the four vice-presidential polls, and could have a bearing on Anwar’s position in the future.
“As with all parties, the race for the top and second posts often determines the challenges you see for other posts,” Azmi said.
Rafizi Ramli, a former vice president, and secretary-general Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail are the only two nominated for the number two post.
Rafizi was known to be a loyal ally of Anwar’s but a highly placed source in the party said that has changed. The former Pandan MP withdrew from politics right after PKR led Pakatan Harapan (PH) to its maiden general election victory, but announced his return in a bid to “save” PKR following the party’s dismal showing in three state elections.
Rafizi suggested the party had deviated from its reformist path, alienating voters along the way.
“If you look at his recent statements — that he wants to return the party to the people and so on — it can be taken as an attack on Anwar,” the source alleged.
“If you analyse public sentiment now, we can say the public believes it is time Anwar and other old politicians go, and make way for young blood. Rafizi would ride on this and could use the deputy presidency to mount a challenge for the top post in the future.”
Rafizi and Saifuddin are known to enjoy a close relationship, but the source suggested that there could be tension once campaigning begins as Saifuddin could act as Anwar’s proxy to counter Rafizi's challenge.
“Anwar will feel he needs to create a new camp to balance things out, something typical of him,” the source alleged.
There are those who feel the rivalry between the two is far less malicious.
Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, associate director at Vriens & Partners, a public policy, government affairs and political risk consultancy, said on paper both Rafizi and Saifuddin appear to be clear on the issue of leadership — that Anwar is still to lead PKR and PH.
“The difference is that Rafizi will likely advocate for a major shake-up from within — a recalibration of focus,” he told Malay Mail, suggesting that Rafizi as deputy president will mean a concerted push to realign PKR with its Opposition roots, and to prepare it for the 16th general election instead of the upcoming one.
“He's been clear to say that PKR has lost its focus and touch on its role as Opposition, and had spent too much time thinking about being in government,” the analyst added.
“Saifuddin, on the other hand, will likely argue for a continuation of the same formula for PKR, and will unlikely ruffle any major feathers. He will advocate for PKR's focus to still be on assuming federal power in GE15, by means which may include a continued advocacy of the 'big tent' approach.”
If the predictions are true, the contest for the four vice-presidential posts will be an extension of the battle between Rafizi and Saifuddin, and ultimately Anwar. The same source said Rafizi would want to have allies fill up all four positions.
Even though Nurul Izzah is not contesting for one of the posts, she is aligned to Rafizi as together they co-founded the Ayuh Malaysia campaign to convince fence-sitters to vote for PKR.
The daughter of Anwar Ibrahim, she, is said to hold tremendous influence in the party and Rafizi will need her help to get grassroots endorsement for his plan to revamp the party, suggested the source.
“It’s a way to get a royal blessing,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the four vice president posts are being contested by 17 candidates among whom are Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and current PKR Wanita chief Fuziah Salleh.
Nik Nazmi is rumoured to be a close ally of Rafizi’s although he is also known to be a staunch Anwar backer.
Central Leadership Council
If a purge is to happen, the race for central committee posts is where the fray will be most intense since many of the leaders said to be close to Azmin currently sit on the committee, according to political analysts.
The most notable name would be Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari, who Azmin picked to succeed him as Selangor mentri besar. Azmin, having built a strong following by using his position as the state mentri besar, was made a federal minister in 2018 after PH won federal power.
“A 'purge of sorts' may likely happen, but it will likely mean leaders previously aligned to Azmin will possibly be sidelined in the PKR party election,” said Shazwan.
“(But) as Selangor mentri besar, Amirudin may be able to retain a position at the central committee level, or even to retain his position as Selangor PKR chief... I don't foresee any expulsions or major culls within the party.”
Another high-ranking party source appears to support the view, saying the “reconciliation” effort spearheaded by Anwar following the Azmin’s defection has been successful in bringing the party together.
“After the reconciliation, there seemed to be no more of this sentiment calling for a purge,” the source said.
“I think the party has moved on from that episode.”