NEWS ANALYSIS

Tensions in PKR add to opposition woes

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali taking his oath as the new Selangor Menteri Besar in September last year. Mr Azmin and his party leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail are locked in an internal party conflict.
PKR deputy president Azmin Ali taking his oath as the new Selangor Menteri Besar in September last year. Mr Azmin and his party leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail are locked in an internal party conflict.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Leadership conflicts, internal splits, Anwar's jailing contribute to instability

THE collapse of Malaysia's opposition is slowly exposing the fault lines in the leadership of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), whose loyalties remain divided between the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

The old tensions between PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and deputy Azmin Ali, who is Selangor Menteri Besar, are also resurfacing, party leaders and analysts say.

The infighting is worsened by the jailing of PKR's de-facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, who acted as the bridge between DAP and PAS, and was able to unite his party.

While the tensions between the camps of Datuk Seri Wan Azizah, Anwar's wife, and Mr Azmin Ali are played out at low decibels, it is the last thing the opposition needs. This is because its ally PAS is also riven by an internal split, while the DAP faces questions on whether it could hang on to Malay voters without being in partnership with PAS in the three-party Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance.

The leadership tussle is between the pro-DAP and pro-PAS faction, as well as the Dr Wan Azizah and Mr Azmin camps, a PKR leader told The Straits Times.

Just witness the recent confusion coming from PKR chiefs about the status of PR.

Days following Dr Wan Azizah's announcement that PR could no longer "function formally", contradictory statements began to appear.

Her deputy Mr Azmin denied PR no longer existed and claimed Dr Wan Azizah's statement was misinterpreted. This view was supported by PKR Youth deputy chief Afif Bahardin, Mr Azmin's ally.

But PKR Youth chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, who is from the president's camp, has defended her position.

"The existence of two clear camps in PKR is an open secret," said Mr Praba Ganesan, chief executive at independent political watchdog Kuasa. "It was more defined during the latter years of Anwar's incarceration and cooled off substantially on the surface when Anwar was in charge since 2004. It is now accentuated with the absence of Anwar."

PKR needs to get its act together because it is in a precarious position as the lead party that rules Selangor.

PKR needs the support of DAP or PAS to ensure that the Selangor government does not collapse.

The Selangor state assembly has 56 seats. Both the DAP and PAS have 15 lawmakers, while PKR has only 13.

Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin needs a minimum of 29 state assemblymen, including himself, to form a state government.

Political analyst Azizuddin Mohd Sani said PKR is caught between a rock and a hard place, but believes a partnership with DAP would be more beneficial to the party. "I think PKR will benefit most if they work together with DAP especially in getting the support from the non-Malays, especially the Chinese community. PAS is weak after the 2013 general election and even weaker after its recent party congress."

Still, said Dr Azizuddin, PKR needs PAS to stabilise the Selangor government.

Analysts say Dr Wan Azizah and Mr Azmin would need to keep a lid on their differences, though they know that real power has shifted to the Selangor Menteri Besar. "Azmin is a pragmatist and sees holding on to the position as a base to build his administrative credentials. The presidency of PKR would be moot since the Menteri Besar of Selangor is the real power in the party, with its soul in the state," said Mr Ganesan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'Tensions in PKR add to opposition woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe