PKR tries to put internal feuds behind it at congress

Top officials keen to move on from divisive leadership polls, and strike reconciliatory tone

Top officials in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) struck a reconciliatory tone at the opening of its national congress yesterday even as bad blood from divisive leadership polls threatened to boil over.

Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail skipped past a scathing attack on internal foes that was in her prepared policy address - her last as PKR president - telling reporters later that "if you dwell on these things, it doesn't go away, it becomes something that irks you".

"Whatever we have gone through maybe is the price we pay for the change of government. So what if they want to talk about where we live?" she said.

Datuk Seri Wan Azizah, whose husband Anwar Ibrahim will replace her as party president uncontested, was referring to a mocking phrase "Istana Bukit Segambut" used by detractors, who accuse the duo of making party decisions at their home in Bukit Segambut in Kuala Lumpur without consulting other leaders.

She had refused to accuse "some members of losing direction, forgetting the basis of our struggle and slanderous attacks" as outlined in the text of her speech distributed to all 2,000 delegates.

The attempt at reconciliation is important as this weekend's congress is PKR's first annual assembly since it became the mainstay of Malaysia's new government following the May 9 general election. PKR has 50 MPs, making it the largest party in Parliament.

 

A PKR faction led by outgoing vice-president Rafizi Ramli, had campaigned in the party polls on the pretext of defending Datuk Seri Anwar - who is set to take over from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in about two years - from an alleged coup by deputy president Azmin Ali.

 
 
 

Although official results will only be confirmed today, Mr Rafizi's allies are largely expected to be defeated after the nationwide voting, spread across eight weekends, which saw irregularities, charges of fraud and bribery, and even arrests.

Mr Rafizi conceded the deputy presidency late last Friday, hours after his protege Akmal Nasir narrowly won the youth leadership following a controversial recount.

His defeated rival, outgoing deputy youth chief Afif Bahardin, tore up a leaflet featuring Mr Rafizi's allies he alleged was placed in voting booths, saying ominously in his closing speech at Friday's youth assembly that "as thin as this, is the value of our party".

Dr Wan Azizah dismissed the incident, saying "young people have surges of feeling". In her speech, she exhorted her party "not to pay heed to rumours of betrayal".

FULL REVIEW OF POLLS

I admit there were weaknesses and limitations. What I propose, later, once I take over (the presidency), is for a special committee to review the entire electoral process.

DATUK SERI ANWAR IBRAHIM, promising a full review of the party's polls.

Secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution, a close ally of Mr Anwar, thanked "Rafizi and his team at Invoke Malaysia for being the game-changer", referring to the big data analytics outfit that Mr Rafizi controls that targeted marginal seats in the May 9 general election.

"Due to your contributions, we have indeed slain Goliath," he said in his welcoming remarks.

Former deputy premier Anwar also promised a full review of the party's internal polls, in which physical violence and arrests for graft right at the start of the voting in September have dented PKR's reformist credentials.

"I admit there were weaknesses and limitations. What I propose, later, once I take over (the presidency), is for a special committee to review the entire electoral process," he said. He also said PKR would not stand in the way of investigations into any wrongdoing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 18, 2018, with the headline 'PKR tries to put internal feuds behind it at congress'. Print Edition | Subscribe