Hundreds of delegates allied to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy president Azmin Ali staged a boycott of the party congress yesterday afternoon to protest against what they said were attacks on them in speeches made by those loyal to president Anwar Ibrahim.
They left the event hall at the start of the afternoon session, and gathered outside chanting "leave, go home". More than half of the chairs set out for the annual meeting - for which nearly 2,000 delegates were registered - stood empty.
Datuk Seri Azmin, claiming 21 other central leadership councillors stood with him, told a press conference after the walkout that these verbal attacks violated the truce agreed by PKR leaders on Wednesday ahead of the four-day congress that began on Thursday.
According to him, the president's policy address "clearly paved the way for debaters to launch personal attacks" because it referred to the historical story of a traitor in Melaka known as "Si Kitol".
Datuk Seri Anwar did not refer to Mr Azmin in his speech. He denied that the "Si Kitol" reference was aimed at his deputy. "If he feels it was, that's his problem, not mine... It's just Malay history," Mr Anwar told reporters.
The Sunday Times understands Mr Azmin's patience wore thin after a speech by Kedah representative Firdaus Johari - son of pro-Anwar MP Johari Abdul - referred to the Economic Affairs Minister as an "escorting minister".
This is a reference to how Mr Azmin is often appointed to accompany Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad or Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, to events at home and abroad.
"The debates by a lopsided line-up of speakers did not represent the voice of the grassroots but only served to uphold the dreams of one side and attack the other side. This shows the failure of the president to fulfil his promise that debaters abide by parameters," Mr Azmin said.
He said his faction decided "it is not reasonable" to remain in the congress "to listen to provocative speeches" that "will cause tension and division".
PKR, the largest party in Malaysia's ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, has been dogged by weeks of rising hostilities between rival factions led by Mr Anwar and Mr Azmin, but a truce was declared on Wednesday between the two leaders ahead of the party congress.
By Friday, cracks had appeared in the peace deal, with skirmishes breaking out among delegates at the Youth meeting. Mr Azmin said he had honoured his side of the bargain with a "boring" speech on Thursday night that did not attack anyone, when opening the Youth and Women's wings' meetings.
Yet, the minister said yesterday, leaders in his camp had to face accusations from "new members asking us to leave because we are traitors". "These traitors are the ones who built the party," he told reporters.
In a news conference after his speech yesterday, Mr Anwar said he would take a harder stance against factionalism within the party. Referring to the violence on Friday, he said: "I should have said enough is enough. This is the effect of factionalism - hatred for each other."
As of last night, Mr Azmin's supporters plan to skip PKR's meeting on Sunday, where several vice-presidents in the group and Mr Azmin himself are scheduled to respond to the debate on the president's speech.
They will instead be in Kuala Lumpur, where Mr Azmin is supposedly briefing PKR members on the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 economic road map spearheaded by his ministry.