Tian Chua Outlines Plan to Mend PKR, and on the Problem with Calling Anwar “8th PM”

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The PKR vice-president thinks it is overly simplistic and not totally accurate to say the whole party’s problem is between Azmin and Anwar, and he doesn’t think the fight is beyond reconciliation.

PKR has emerged intact from yet another rowdy party congress intact, but only just.

In the thick of it was vice-president Chua Tian Chang.

A frequent mediator between the party’s two warring camps, he was the sole leader from Azmin Ali’s faction on stage, on the last day of the congress after the rest walked out.

Despite praise from party president Anwar Ibrahim for his attendance, Tian Chua, as he is better known, said he was not spared from a hostile reception from the delegates.

Reflecting on the meet in an interview with Malaysiakini this week, Tian Chua admitted that the party was split down the middle.

He also acknowledged that PKR, as a ruling party, had a duty to overcome its internal bickerings. Moving forward, he said the two camps needed to find a way to accept and work with each other.

“Mending the differences means that we (need to) develop a professional working relationship with one another. We don’t have to love each other…

“And it will be also (be about) recognising that the party will have different factions and let’s live with it, you know,” he prescribed when met at his office at the Malaysia Productivity Corporation in Petaling Jaya.

“Any unity must come from the frankness of accommodating differences. Gone are those days, of the old fascistic unity (where) everyone presents a united front to save the country,” he added.

During the congress, delegates had demanded for the “traitors” – a veiled reference to Azmin’s supporters – to be kicked out of the party.

Tian Chua warned against allowing such intolerance towards differences coupled with a blind allegiance to leaders to turn PKR into an iteration of former ruling party Umno.

The Malacca congress had marked a breakdown of the peace accords that were attained between the two camps prior to the meet.

After the walkout, Tian Chua, along with other leaders aligned with Azmin, held a press conference blaming Anwar for violating their ceasefire agreement.

Most members of this faction skipped the last day of the congress and held a separate dinner in Kuala Lumpur.

Asked about concerns over the state of affairs within the party, Tian Chua assured that the infighting was constrained by party “parameters”, which he explained allowed members to air their differences while remaining committed to the reform agenda.

He also denied speculation that Azmin and his allies were planning to leave PKR to start a new party.

“I categorically say that there is no such intention to have a separate party and there is no possibility of it,” he stressed when pressed.

Azmin previously denied this speculation as well.

The relationship between the party’s top two leaders may have seen better days, but Tian Chua said he had hope in Anwar’s ability to hold the party together.

“I don’t think the fight is beyond reconciliation…

Mukhriz Hazim/Malaysiakini

“Azmin cannot operate alone without the party. Similarly, Anwar cannot operate without, not (just) Azmin but there are a lot of senior leaders and a lot of central committee members…

“I believe that he (Anwar) has the ability to unite and I believe he also understands the necessity of a united PKR,” he said.

But how did the rift between Anwar and Azmin start?

PKR began 20 years ago as a response to Anwar’s sacking from his deputy prime ministership and subsequent Sodomy I ordeal. Azmin, who was his aide at the time, stuck by his boss and became one of the founding members of the party.

Wong Kai Hui/Malaysiakini

A PKR founding member himself, Tian Chua analysed that the present split was primarily due to the many challenges to Azmin’s deputy president position over the past nine years.

“To say that the whole party’s problem is between Azmin and Anwar, I think that is overly simplistic and this is not totally accurate.

“It is also not easy to be number two for such a long time. There are always new challenges, there are always people who feel that they are more qualified.

“So, the tension is, to me, more like (due to) the challengers of Azmin, rather than with Anwar,” he said.

In explaining this, Tian Chua pointed to Khalid Ibrahim, Zaid Ibrahim, Mohamad Ezam Mohd Noor and Chandra Muzaffar.

“Right now (it) is the same, it was a very intense competition (for) the seat of deputy president and I personally think we could have avoided it if everyone (was) just be a bit more patient,” he added, referring to last year’s party election.

Rafizi Ramli had unsuccessfully challenged Azmin for the role and was later co-opted as one of the party’s vice-presidents.

Tian Chua pointed to another factor – how Anwar had barely been physically at the helm of PKR despite being synonymous with the party.

Anwar’s long periods of incarceration for Sodomy I and II had created a leadership vacuum, leading to the rise of many strong leaders who only knew the reformasi icon by name.

Tian Chua cited himself as an example.

“(With) many of the leaders, he has no personal interaction with (them), you see.

“Even for me myself, I hardly know Anwar…the day that I knew him, he was already in prison. We communicated through writings. For a brief period, he was leading PKR, but then, again he went in (to jail).

“Maybe he also does not know many of the leaders that have evolved and developed in his absence (and) this partly contributed to some of the tension,” he analysed.

Meanwhile, Tian Chua is concerned about a “mischievous” campaign within the party that is pressuring Anwar Ibrahim to be installed as the next prime minister.

In his view, only Pakatan Harapan leaders get to decide on their leader, not party members or the rakyat.

Furthermore, such talk pits Anwar against the present Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and could be seen as an attempt to pressure the coalition.

Following the recent eventful PKR congress, Tian Chua furrowed his brow when reminded of how delegates had held up placards calling Anwar “the eighth PM”.

Mukhriz Hazim/Malaysiakini

“That is something which we reject, it is mischievous…

“When people think about (who they want as) the eighth PM, this means you cast doubt on Harapan’s decision-making process. (Despite) whatever that has been decided, now you need to put pressure, you need to mobilise…

“When it will happen, how it will happen, that is the Harapan leadership’s decision. You don’t need to wave a placard to decide that,” he said.

Chua gave a non-committal answer when asked if PKR was united over the idea of having its president as the next prime minister.

In a parliamentary democracy like Malaysia, he stressed that voters get to choose a party or coalition but not the prime minister per se.

It is then up to the winning party to decide its leader.

“How we want to arrange our leadership, that is none of the rest of the country’s problem, really…

Mukhriz Hazim/Malaysiakini

“If Anwar is agreed by Harapan, he will take it (the post of PM) when Harapan is ready. It has got nothing to do with the whole public. Then, if Harapan decides that Anwar’s time is up (and) there will be another person, then it will be another person,” Tian Chua said.

Prior to GE14, Harapan had promised to install Mahathir as an “interim” prime minister and said he would hand the role over to Anwar after an undefined “reasonable time frame”.

However, since winning the election, the transition has become the subject of much conjecture.

Mahathir has refused to name a handover date, despite repeatedly vowing to fulfil his promise to step aside for his former political nemesis.

This is complicated by the fact that within the deeply fractured PKR, Anwar’s estranged deputy, Azmin Ali, has been backing Mahathir to serve out a full term as prime minister.

For Tian Chua, a known Azmin ally, such a fixation on political personalities fuels a “dynastic discourse” which distracts people from policy discussions.

It also impedes Harapan from being able to present itself as a “long-term” solution to the country’s woes.

“It is not only (about) a succession between Mahathir and Anwar. The people are also looking into (whether) Harapan has layers of leaders to offer, so that there will be long-term stability”, he said.

Aside from the campaign declaring Anwar as the next PM, the recently concluded party congress was also marked by a high level of hostility between the two warring factions.

This manifested in physical confrontations, walkouts and even a breakaway dinner event.

Despite the president’s call for a ceasefire, many speeches demanded that party “traitors” – understood to refer to Azmin’s followers – be expelled.

Tian Chua observed that a growing number of delegates and grassroots members were professing blind allegiance to leaders.

He warned that PKR could morph into an “Umno 2.0” if this was not nipped in the bud.

“Now, if there is a group of delegates who only think about how to (praise) the leadership and cannot tolerate disagreement, and any form of disagreement is treacherous…

Mukhriz Hazim/Malaysiakini

“The real Umno 2.0 is when you come to a congress (and) you only know how to praise the leaders,” he said.

The veteran reformasi activist said it was up to leaders like him to speak out against such developments to ensure the party stayed true to its commitment to reform. – Malaysiakini