KUALA LUMPUR - The Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) annual congress kicked off on Friday (July 15) with calls for unity at both its youth and women's wings assemblies, but two main factions doggedly expounded their opposing directions as they head into the general elections due in a year.
Official results of PKR's fractious party polls in May were confirmed only this month, which saw a number of wins being controversially overturned.
After a three-year hiatus from politics, former PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli was elected deputy president in May, defeating secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, party chief Anwar Ibrahim's favoured candidate.
Three of the four vice-presidencies also went to contenders aligned with Mr Rafizi.
At the heart of the campaign during party polls was a dispute over whether opposition leader Anwar and the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition he chairs should continue to seek broader cooperation with other parties despite ideological differences.
Datuk Seri Anwar's "big tent" strategy aims to prevent Umno from claiming victory at Malaysia's 15th General Election, which many expect to be called in coming months.
Umno leads the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
PKR adviser Wan Azizah Wan Ismail shed tears while officiating the women's wing meeting as she spoke of "enemies from within".
"We are not enemies. We are in the same party. If you want to leave, go ahead. Do not be an enemy from within. Don't destroy what we have built together," said the former deputy premier, who is also Mr Anwar's wife.
By the same token, the party's youth wing extended an olive branch to Datuk Seri Saifuddin with an invitation to officiate its assembly - by convention an honour reserved for the deputy president.
This decision, said outgoing youth chief Akmal Nasir who is aligned to Mr Rafizi, was to "look at the bigger picture... We are fighting traitors and thieves out there".
Yet, in his policy speech, Mr Akmal scoffed at the "big tent discussions that, up to now, revolve around who gets what position, who likes who; becoming friends tomorrow but with conditions attached, yet the day after, it's back to being enemies".
"Sorry to say, this is a waste of time if such considerations bear no fruit. Our stand all this while has been clear and consistent, and in line with the voice of the majority of the grassroots, which is that we don't want to be swept adrift by this talk of big tent politics," said the Johor Bahru MP.
But Datuk Seri Wan Azizah later insisted "there is no need to take the tent down now".
"Big tent or not, there are pros and cons. Rafizi has opinions on this. For me, I'll evaluate the circumstances first," she told reporters.
The Umno-led BN coalition swept more than two-thirds of seats at the Melaka and Johor state polls in November 2021 and March respectively, putting it in the driver's seat to triumph at Malaysia's 15th General Election.
However, its handsome victories came despite not taking an absolute majority of the votes, as PH and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Perikatan Nasional pact took 20 per cent and 24 per cent of the popular vote respectively.
Mr Anwar has admitted "meetings have been going on for some time" with Tan Sri Muhyiddin, although he denied forming a coalition to support the latter's return to premiership.
The bulk of PH and PN supporters are unable to see eye to eye as Mr Muhyiddin took power in 2020 after his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia left the PH administration and took with him a third of PKR's MPs.
The three-day PKR congress resumes over the weekend, with both Mr Rafizi and Mr Anwar slated to wrap up proceedings midday Sunday.