KUALA LUMPUR • Tensions have spiked again in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) between the camp backing its president, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and that of his rival, deputy president Azmin Ali.
This time, they involve the party's youth wing.
The fight in PKR is being closely watched as the party has 50 MPs, the biggest block of lawmakers in Malaysia's 222-seat Parliament, and its stability is important as one of the four parties in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
The latest flare-up follows bouts of tension between the two camps, the last major one over the June release of a video purportedly showing Datuk Seri Azmin in bed with a man. The clips were widely believed to have been released by Mr Anwar's camp.
The current issue involves Mr Azmin's invitation by PKR's youth wing to officiate at its annual congress on Dec 6. The Economic Affairs Minister replied that he would attend.
But PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail - an ally of Mr Anwar - unexpectedly withdrew the invitation this week. This was an unusual move, as the youth wing had in the past been allowed to invite whomever it wanted.
PKR Youth chief Akmal Nasir then said Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Mr Anwar's wife and former PKR president, had been invited to replace Mr Azmin.
On Wednesday, a statement signed by 21 of the 25 PKR Youth central leaders elected in the last party elections condemned Datuk Seri Saifuddin for triggering a "leadership crisis" with the move.
It said: "The statement by Saifuddin on Nov 12 cancelling the invitation to Azmin as the one to officiate PKR Youth National Congress mirrors how PKR is now in a leadership crisis...
"Saifuddin is sending the wrong message to the members, unless the secretary-general wants divisions and rebellion brewing in the party."
The youth wing's vice-chief Syed Badli Shah Syed Osman said yesterday that Mr Azmin sat on the invitation for one month.
"The unanimous decision to invite Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (to officiate at the congress) was made at this meeting attended by 30 council members," Mr Syed Badli said in a statement, to counter the allegations that most of the youth leaders support Mr Azmin.
Said Mr Azmin yesterday: "I know for a fact that (youth chief) Akmal is a weak person. Twenty-one of 25 of PKR Youth's elected leaders - more than two-thirds of the exco members - challenged the leadership of PKR Youth and the secretary-general and president.
"I will call for a political bureau meeting real soon."
The tensions between Mr Anwar and Mr Azmin have existed for years as both men are keen to lead PKR. With PKR now part of the ruling coalition, both men have ambitions to become Malaysia's next prime minister after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Mr Anwar's followers are pushing him to quickly take over from Dr Mahathir, with political chatter that the Premier might pick Mr Azmin to replace him.
Dr Mahathir has said that he would step down and pass the baton to Mr Anwar, but has indicated several times that this would be beyond two years after PH won the election in May last year.