KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 — Once the largest party in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration, PKR’s fortunes dove after the defection of its lawmakers contributed to the collapse of the coalition government in 2020.
Its standing then fell further as it continued losing more lawmakers and party leaders to defection, culminating in the open rejection by voters at four successive state elections — including a complete wipe-out in Melaka last year.
However, the party’s internal poll held in recent few months has indicated a renewed urgency to arrest this decline, beginning with filling the leadership vacuum that was essentially left unaddressed since former deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali led his so-called “cartel” to abandon the party.
One major catalyst was the return of former Pandan MP and party strategist Rafizi Ramli as the new deputy president and who will be introduced as such at the three-day National Congress starting today in Shah Alam.
The congress, which was previously postponed after irregularities briefly left the results of party election in doubt, will also signal whether PKR could still command respect as the lynchpin of PH and whether party president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim remained viable as the coalition’s candidate to be prime minister.
This will depend largely on the party’s ability to move past the controversial internal election, when several candidates seen aligned with Anwar were defeated in a poll that was marred by the attempted hacking of the electronic voting system.
As recently as last week, Rafizi was still urging rivals to accept their defeat and move on for the good of the party, saying urgent preparations must be made for the general election that could be called at any time.
He said PKR could not afford to delay its national congress for the purpose of “entertaining” the grouses of several candidates who lost.
However, Universiti Malaysia Sabah political analyst Lee Kuok Tiung said Rafizi, who has only just resumed active politics, should expect challenges and resistance to his sudden return to the party and rapid rise to its top
Another major reason for this was because Rafizi was backing others in PKR who — like him — were against the “big tent” approach Anwar was espousing to unify the Opposition against Barisan Nasional during the 15th general election.
“Rafizi cannot be selfish with his theory, think about what he thinks is right and try to bring [anyone from] his camp that eliminates those who’re not in line with his thinking,” Lee said.
“On the first impression, Rafizi has actually caused further friction in PKR. As a leader he should think not only of PKR but PH. His theory on this so-called ‘big tent’ is sometimes confusing.”
According to senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research Azmi Hassan, it was vital that PKR move past the acrimony of its internal elections to focus on the agenda of renewal.
This was because PKR would have to serve as the backbone of PH in the contest against BN and possibly Perikatan Nasional at GE15, with Azmi saying how the party conducted itself at the annual congress will be an indicator to both allies and members.
“I think if the leadership can show that they can work together, especially the president and the deputy president. I think the grassroots members will follow suit.
“I think it is very critical that this cooperation [or having] one voice is demonstrated in the upcoming congress so that their allies DAP and Amanah for example realise that PKR with the setup of leadership is much stronger,” he said.
The willingness of the party’s upper echelon to close ranks would be a strong motivator for the grassroots to follow suit, which was important given the hostility of the PKR election, he said.
Aside from showing members and allies that the party was united, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s political analyst Kartini Aboo Talib said PKR must also signal to Malaysians that it has the realistic and effective policy ideas needed to lead the country that was now mired in a cost-of-living crisis.
She said it will be important for PKR to show that it could introduce creative solutions to the Malaysians’ worsening economic problems and live up to its reputation as reformists.
“PKR can move forward to strengthen its reasons as the alternative political party but strategically organise its capacity and capability to reach out to the needy, create positive framing of the image, and manage training and skills to help the people, particularly their constituents.
“Find creative ways to help people in this time of inflation. Turn their everyday-defined issues into an advantage rather than a disadvantage,” she said.
In the race for the deputy president, Rafizi defeated Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail with a 16,668-vote majority.
Two mentris besar — Selangor’s Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari and Negri Sembilan’s Datuk Seri Aminuddin Harun — were also elected as vice presidents along with Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and Tanjung Malim MP Chang Lih Kang.
Including Rafizi, all exept Aminuddin were in their 40s, indicating the rise of “youth” power in the party.
The congress would also see the fight for the central leadership council, which will dictate the party’s movement, preparation and strategy for the incoming GE15.