SHAH ALAM, SELANGOR - Having hammered home the message of unity after fractious leadership polls, Malaysia's ruling party closed its annual assembly on Sunday (Nov 18) by calling on members to ensure its founder Anwar Ibrahim becomes the next premier.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was officially announced as president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) at the congress. The party's Central Election Committee also said Datuk Seri Azmin Ali has retained his position as deputy president, fending off a challenge from Rafizi Ramli in the party polls.
Leaders who won the race for vice-presidents were Mr Anwar's daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar, Cabinet ministers Zuraida Kamaruddin and Xavier Jeyakumar, and former MP Tian Chua.
Mr Anwar, 71, is assuming the PKR presidency just six months after being pardoned from a controversial sodomy conviction. He is to succeed former nemesis Mahathir Mohamad in about two years, as agreed in a Pakatan Harapan (PH) transition plan prior to the coalition's historic and shock May 9 victory.
But doubts have swirled recently over his ascension, with critics saying his return to parliament as Port Dickson Member of Parliament last month was premature and other quarters, especially from Prime Minister Mahathir's party, calling for the 93-year-old to stay in power until the next general election.
"I have observed in WhatsApp discussions and Facebook posts by our own leaders that belittle efforts to ensure Anwar is our eighth Prime Minister," said outgoing vice-president Rafizi when winding up debate at the party's first national congress since Malaysia's first ever change of government.
"They open avenues for outsiders to attack the party and Anwar as the prime ministerial candidate. Stop this immediately," added Mr Rafizi, who narrowly lost the deputy presidency to Mr Azmin by running a campaign that focused on defending the ascension of Mr Anwar to the premiership.
The outgoing youth and women's chiefs, Mr Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and Ms Zuraida Kamaruddin, respectively, also warned that unless PKR closed ranks after the three-month-long party polls which were fraught with irregularities and allegations of cheating, its grip on the premiership could be loosened.
"If the grassroots are not strong and organised, how will we raise Anwar as our eighth PM? We want the ninth, 10th, 11th and onwards to be from Keadilan as well," said incoming vice-president, Ms Zuraida.
PKR is the largest party in Parliament with 50 Members of Parliament. PH holds a simple majority of 127 out of 222 seats available.
During debates by delegates on Saturday, cheers erupted when Mr Azmin walked over to Mr Rafizi and hugged his adversary despite the latter and his faction having accused the deputy president of conspiring against Mr Anwar during the campaign.
Outgoing president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is making way for her husband Anwar, had called on the party not to dwell on past grudges in her opening policy address on Saturday, pointedly skipping paragraphs in the prepared text that attacked "internal foes" for slander.
Tun Mahathir sacked Mr Anwar as deputy premier in a bitter power struggle 20 years ago when the duo were leading Umno, leading the latter to form PKR. Although Dr Mahathir has promised he will step down this time, he has repeatedly stressed that it is up to the public to support Mr Anwar as prime minister.