SHAH ALAM, March 19 — Yesterday, PKR held a Special National Congress to address the upcoming six state elections that are scheduled to be called by mid-year with Perikatan Nasional (PN) breathing at Pakatan Harapan's (PH) neck.
The congress also saw its president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim address the party’s staunch supporters for the first time since he became Malaysia’s tenth prime minister, leading a coalition of former political enemies in a fractious 15th general election.
Unlike previous gatherings held by the PH lynchpin party that would see leaders try to get the grassroots fired up, this event was rather a tame affair as the main representatives of the party currently sit in the ruling aisle of the Dewan Rakyat.
Here are the three things Malay Mail learnt from the event:
1. PKR is in transitional period
Despite its many echoes in the indoor stadium here, PKR's trademark chant of “Reformasi” which calls for reform seemed to no longer hold its previous bite now that PKR is part of the government.
The spirit of reform still lives on, but with PKR and PH no longer part of the plucky opposition, reform is no longer a rebellious call but a responsibility now that Anwar himself is leading the government and touting good governance.
After decades of fighting for justice in support of Anwar who was politically persecuted back in 1998’s Reformasi movement days and working to get him to be the prime minister, PKR is now in a more transitional mode.
Compared to the 2018 PH government, this time around PKR and Anwar are in the driver's seat.
As such, the party and discourse among its grassroots would now focus on realising the “Madani” concept outlined by Anwar as his government’s ideal, as hinted by PKR secretary-general Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail during a press conference a few days before the congress.
This was backed by party deputy president Rafizi Ramli, who exhorted PKR to channel all its energy towards serving the most economically vulnerable — with good governance and a just leadership its best bet to trump political rivals such as PN.
2. A slap in the face against ethnoreligious extremists and opportunists
Rafizi’s call for PKR to not fall into its rivals in PN’s trap of increasingly incendiary racial and religious baiting was a welcome tone following weeks of manufactured outrage aimed at inciting some in the Malay-Muslim majority against the government.
In direct response to this, speeches at the PKR congress were mostly filled with criticism towards extremist views and religious opportunists.
In his opening speech, Anwar insisted that the party is the rightful champion of the Malays and those less fortunate, as he accused political rivals of hypocrisy by merely pretending to fight for Bumiputera rights.
Echoing their leader, PKR’s vice-presidents and wing chiefs chided Opposition lawmakers that pandered to extremist views that could dampen the government’s effort to install ethnoreligious harmony.
This was particularly reflected in Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad’s speech, in which he said that PAS is no longer the same Islamist party that it once was under the late spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.
“They talk about clean and stable issues as if they are the ones who are holy, but their politics are in fact full of insults, that is the reality that is happening now. Ladies and gentlemen, we reject hatred, this kind of politics has no place in this country. I call on all our politicians to feel apologetic about our simplicity,” he said.
Anwar also indicated a willingness to use the law against his political rivals who fan ethnic and religious flames, while urging delegates to use facts to battle hate politics and disinformation from rivals.
3. Cutting losses in Kelantan and Terengganu, but not Kedah
In the last decade, PKR and PH have tried to make inroads in the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu, but with little progress. It seems this year they have chosen practicality by accepting their minuscule chances there.
In most of the speeches at the congress, PKR leaders have hinted that they are backing off the fight in both state governments which are held by PN through PAS.
However, Saifuddin expressed his hope for PH to intensify its attempt to retake Kedah, which was previously under PH through former ally-turned-enemies Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. And of course, the coalition is confident of defending its leadership in Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Penang.
Vice-president Chang Lih Kang echoed Saifuddin by saying that it is a realistic aim, but urged for strong opposition voices in both Kelantan and Terengganu state assemblies.
As for its uneasy alliance with former nemesis Barisan Nasional (BN) and Umno? The mood of the grassroots may have settled with this special congress.
This was reflected in two of its state delegates urging the leadership to extend the cooperation among the federal coalition government at the grassroots levels ahead of the state elections. On Friday, Selangor had already recognised BN as part of the state government.
However, the sentiment stopped short of acknowledging any seat negotiations with BN — the sentiment was not broached in any of the debates.