The Asian Voice

Anwar remains fierce and determined about challenges ahead: The Star columnist

Outgoing People's Justice Party president and Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail with her husband and the party's new president Anwar Ibrahim at the party's 13th National Congress in Shah Alam on Nov 18, 2018.
Outgoing People's Justice Party president and Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail with her husband and the party's new president Anwar Ibrahim at the party's 13th National Congress in Shah Alam on Nov 18, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In the article, the writer says Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim still has the fire in him and is not giving his gameplan away.

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim seemed rather pensive and subdued as he watched Parti Keadilan Rakyat's first national congress as a party in power.

This was supposed to be his big moment on the PKR stage but the new president has had to share the spotlight with his wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and the lingering attention on the Azmin-Rafizi rivalry.

There were heaps of tributes and expressions of gratitude for outgoing president Dr Wan Azizah.

Twenty years is a long time in politics and she was presented with 20 bouquets for each year of her leadership.

The timing is excellent because "Ibu Reformasi", as she is now known, is exiting when her party is at the pinnacle.

Asking the delegates to "take good care of the party", she had quipped: "If you have issues, tell me, I can whisper in the ears of the new president".

As mid-morning approached, it was evident that delegates were waiting to hear what the two great rivals for the deputy president post had to say.

 
 
 
 

The hall started to fill up when Rafizi Ramli began his winding-up speech and it was packed by the time Datuk Seri Azmin Ali stood up to speak.

The two men have very loud and enthusiastic supporters going by the noise level.

They have been like two younger tigers staking their territory as Anwar, the elder tiger, watched.

It is a pity that they do not have the chemistry to work together because both are men of potential.

Like everyone else, the two younger tigers know there can only be one tiger on the hill.

It is an open secret by now that Azmin had earlier entertained the idea of replacing the tiger on the hill by going for the presidency and having Nurul Izzah Anwar as his running mate. But that is now water under the bridge.

Delegates were somewhat appeased by the pair's show of solidarity a day earlier - the hand-holding, the embrace and their pledge to work for the party.

But delegates were also looking for something more from Azmin now that he has won.

They wanted an assurance that the deputy president would be 100 per cent committed to the new president given the aspersions cast about his cosy ties with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Party members knew that the big problem in the past stemmed from Azmin's inability to see eye-to-eye with Dr Wan Azizah and they did not want a repeat.

Azmin had to bring out his oratory skill to assure the crowd that he was ready to move forward after what he called the "longest election in the world".

Quoting President Barack Obama, he said that democracy is a noisy process.

"We have had many elections and fights, but we must always emerge stronger. It is not the victory but the struggle that matters," he said.

Azmin, who is famous for his stoic expressions, also showed that he had a subtle sense of humour.

He said he had to face challenges by first Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, then Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim.

He then paused, looked towards Anwar, another "son of Ibrahim" and smiled as the hall broke out in laughter.

It was a subtle acknowledgement of the rumours swirling out there.

He said he had many times acceded to what Anwar wanted, saying that he withdrew from challenging Dr Syed Husin Ali for the No 2 post on the request of Anwar.

Then, glancing towards Rafizi, he said with a mischievous smile: "If I could have withdrawn from the contest - never mind, this is a democracy."

Again, everyone burst out laughing.

But when he declared that he would work closely with Anwar, he almost brought the roof down. That was what the delegates wanted to know and the hall exploded into deafening cheers of "reformasi".

The roof almost came down again when, later in the afternoon, he was officially declared as the deputy president.

The immense crowd reaction for Azmin was more than just about congratulating him, it was an acknowledgement that it was a hard-fought victory, that it was not a level playing field for him and yet he managed to make it.

Azmin is at his strongest ever but the thing is that the new president is quite unparalleled in terms of his own charisma, ambition and dazzling oratory.

Anwar will be bringing a very different kind of presidency from that of Dr Wan Azizah.

He is a political animal par excellence and the Azmin gang will not be able to run rings around him they way they did to Dr Wan Azizah.

The delegates had a hint of it in his maiden speech that capped off the two-day congress.

He came out strongly on the problematic party election, pledged to get to the bottom of the complaints and defended the integrity of the election committee.

"For three months, the same news about our election. Luckily they hugged yesterday and we have something new in the media," he joked, gesturing to Rafizi and Azmin.

He warned people not to instigate him against Azmin and other leaders.

"I have forgiven those who jailed, insulted and accused me. I am nice and friendly with everyone but don't try to walk over me or I will take you on.

"I am going to be very firm," he said.

Anwar has mellowed over the years but on stage yesterday, it was evident he can still fire up the crowd.

He jabbed the air with his finger, banged the rostrum and arched his famous eyebrows to make a point.

He felt grateful and humbled by his elevation as well as fierce and determined about facing the challenges ahead.

Every step that Anwar has made since being freed - from prison to palace to Port Dickson to Parliament - has been about becoming the next prime minister.

Yet, he did not go anywhere near the subject yesterday except to say that Malaysia is facing economic problems and Dr Mahathir is capable of handling it.

He basically ignored the elephant in the room.

Is that a sign that he is at a loss over the next step to take or does he have a plan that he is not ready to share with his party?

The writer comments regularly on Malaysian political affairs. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.