The Weekend That Was: PKR’s Divisive Congress, Amanah’s Calm Convention, Umno’s Spirited General Assembly

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PKR Congress fails to heal rift.

The mere mention of Azmin’s name was enough to rile up the 3,500-odd attendees at the Melaka International Trade Centre, as seen evident during PKR vice-president Tian Chua’s effort to remind the audience of the Gombak MP’s contributions to the party.

Yusof Mat Isa

Anwar’s “god-like patience” came into play as he explained his style of leadership, as well as those who disagreed with it and his take on party dissidents.

He reminded the crowd that the camp that would steer the party was ‘Team Anwar’.

The crowd went along and despite the infighting between party camps, Anwar once again proved himself to be the leader upheld by a majority of PKR members.

But it was a tough run-up to the national congress, not just for Anwar but also the rest of the party’s leadership, including Azmin and his supporters.

PKR’s internal friction did not only tear the party apart, but also heightened a sense of fanaticism among its members over their preferred leaders, which stems from discord between factions.

The fervour of attacks on Azmin on Saturday culminated in his absence from delivering his winding-up speech yesterday.

His ally and PKR vice-president Zuraida Kamaruddin was missing as well, as was party Women’s chief Haniza Mohamed Talha.

Some members “whispered” that perhaps Azmin and his followers were preparing speeches for a “parallel congress” slated to be held during dinner at Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

In another sign of damage, it was the first time a deputy president was absent in protest during the party congress’ closing.

The ones left to take the brunt of his absence were Tian Chua and deputy Women’s chief Sangeetha Jayakumar.

The situation resulted in a tense winding-up session riddled with veiled attacks and jeers at Azmin.

For instance, PKR Youth chief Akmal Nasrullah Mohd Nasir’s call to remove “traitors” from the party received deafening cheers.

Wearing a concerned look, former Batu MP and Reformasi movement veteran Tian Chua, 55, who suffered from a sore throat, sat down with Anwar and party secretary-general Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail.

Following Tian Chua’s plea for delegates to honour Azmin’s contributions before an unsympathetic crowd, Saifuddin took to the rostrum and kept the momentum going by citing examples of the party No. 2’s defiance.

Without having to mention Azmin, Saifuddin mentioned only the names of those who had discussed the premiership succession plan and election manifesto.

“Even Tian Chua knows this. The person, whom I did not mention, had not even once attended a (party) meeting,” Saifuddin said.

Some observers said Azmin should have remained at the congress despite the criticisms hurled at him.

“It was the most divisive congress PKR has ever held. At the very least, he (Azmin) could have stayed and showed that he was receptive to criticisms by responding to them accordingly,” said a delegate.

Later, at a press conference, Anwar, Saifuddin and PKR vice-president Datuk Dr A Xavier Jayakumar avoided questions that could lead to them disparaging Azmin.

Despite suggestions for Azmin and his team to be sacked, Anwar said no party leader had raised this to resolve the party’s woes.

“But we must listen to our delegates.

“They (party members) all have read the newspapers. They have expressed their views (on the matter).”

On reconciliation, Anwar quoted former US president John F Kennedy.

Seth Akmal/TMI

“We should never fear negotiating, and we should never negotiate out of fear.”

Overshadowed but stable Amanah

Meanwhile, Parti Amanah Negara’s 4th National Convention was eclipsed by both the intense drama of PKR’s national congress and chest-thumping of the Umno general assembly.

Despite being the least dominant partner in PH, the Islamist party has made respectable strides in national politics and gained more supporters from states previously dominated by PAS, the party from which it splintered – Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.

Amanah president Mohamad Sabu, also known as Mat Sabu, admitted that it is not easy for members to escape the PAS mentality, given the many years most of them spent in the conservative party.

“The shadow of the past is still present, looming, because like me, I have been trained since 1978 until 2015, so that is nearly 40 years.

Miera Zulyana

“It is not easy to change this narrative. For now, it will seem difficult, but we still have time,” he was quoted as saying.

Some delegates also expressed concern that PAS was able to garner public attention despite remaining an Opposition party, with Kedah delegate Nasir Zakaria calling on party leaders to ramp up efforts to counter Umno that has now included “upholding Islam” as part of its struggles.

Amanah delegates were more than happy to keep the party’s status quo for now, with Mohamad and Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub continuing as the president and deputy despite receiving the seventh- and third-most votes among the 27 committee members, respectively.

All of Amanah’s ministers and deputy ministers were voted into their party’s leadership line-up except for Mohd Anuar Mohd Tahir, with Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad receiving the most votes (786).

FMT

Khalid and Amanah vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar also defended Mohamad’s reinstatement as president, stressing on the latter’s years of experience as an experienced politician who is still capable of leading the party regardless of the number of votes obtained.

In his wind-up speech, Mohamad lauded the party as presently “the most stable” in PH and promised that it will not rock the boat as the coalition continues its task as a maiden government.

With internal rifts and so-called “foot-in-the-mouth disease” plaguing several Cabinet members and threatening the coalition’s reform agenda, Amanah may need to spread some of its “stability” around.

Shaking off GE14 loss, Umno raring to claw back power

The 2019 Umno general assembly may have lacked the fireworks of previous gatherings, but the party is on a much stronger footing than last year, when it lost federal power.

This year, leaders and delegates firmly stated what they want from Umno – for the party to build up its machinery and membership and solidify its pact with PAS.

The BN lynchpin explicitly rejected back-room deals to form a government with PH members and committed itself to winning the 15th general election on its own merits.

The first year after GE14, Umno was still reeling from the shock defeat, but this year, after winning a series of by-elections, the spirit is different.

Firdaus Latif

The upbeat mood was apparent in the way delegates responded to Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s speech.

Last year, members poured scorn on Zahid, saying the party had no clear orientation following its GE14 routing.

This time around, Zahid came back strong and emphasised three pillars: “muafakat nasional” as a new offer to the people, Umno has only one master, and the party will wrest Putrajaya without any negotiations with PH.

Firdaus Latif

These were clearly based on speeches by delegates opposed to any attempt to form a back-door government with PH lawmakers.

In fact, they are confident that the muafakat nasional with PAS is the way for Umno to return to federal power.

Work on such a framework has already started, with Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa saying the party is drafting a muafakat nasional road map for GE15 that spells out how it will work with PAS.

Deputy president Mohamad Hasan has also urged Umno’s Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings to draw up plans to convince both Malays and non-Malays that the party is ready to govern again.