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Messy party infighting could cost PKR dearly

  • Factions have cemented their hold over PKR for the past two decades largely due to personal rivalries, ideological and policy differences.

By Khoo Ying Hooi

With the nomination day concluded last Sunday for the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) polls, all eyes are on the PKR deputy president post between the incumbent deputy president Azmin Ali and Rafizi Ramli.

This PKR party elections is particularly important for many reasons. PKR is now officially the ruling party that has won the most seats in the previous general election standing at a total of 47 seats out of 113 seats in the Parliament. Moreover, this year is symbolic as it marks the 20th anniversary of its establishment.

The build-up has been intense. What's more, with the changes of Malaysian political landscape, whoever becomes PKR No. 2 has possibility to become Malaysia's top posts. What is at stake in this PKR party elections affects not just the future of the PKR as a political party but also the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition as a whole.

The feud between Azmin and Rafizi are not new. Both politicians' rivalry and past disputes are open secret although many PKR leaders have downplayed the rift in PKR.

Logically, Azmin ought to have the advantage by being the incumbent and a cabinet minister in the new government. But at the same time, we cannot do away with the influence of Rafizi in the PKR whom has founded Invoke that has its supports at grassroots level and also vocal at the same time.

Speculations are surrounding the upcoming PKR party elections. Will this election split the party into two camps as rumored and further on lead to a protracted rivalry? Who will win and how does it going to affect the party's stability? It certainly has its own risks but over the years since its establishment from the Reformasi movement, PKR politics is not always peaceful and predictable.

For instance, prior to the 14th general election, party infighting and alleged factionalism in the PKR in term of its selection of candidates had appeared to be the most problematic among the other four PH component parties. Some political observers believe a clash between Rafizi and Azmin for the No. 2 post would weaken PKR, which more than before, needs to stay united now that it is part of the government.

As reported widely, talk of internal tussle had caused president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to publicly deny several times that the party was split. She also repeatedly denied the existence of any “camps” within the party.

Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil on the nomination day is quoted, as saying that, the expected face-off between teams aligned Rafizi and Azmin is part of the normal democratic process. He is right that competition within parties should definitely be promoted, but there's more to it to explore, and this leads to a topic that we do not normally pay much attention to, that is the intra-party democracy, which refers to the level and methods of including party members in the decision-making and deliberation within the party structure, which is crucial not only for the party itself but also for the country.

Most of us pay more attention on general elections' processes at the country level, and now with the various promises of good governance and accountability from the new government, it is timely for us to also emphasize on the importance of transparency in political parties' electoral processes. The recent Umno party elections is one instance, where in the past stiff competition is not common. Putting all these together, it doesn't matter which political party, but it is a positive sign to have competitions such as this within the party itself.

Only 49.4% of the Sungai Kandis's voters of 50,800 turned out to cast their votes in the recent 4 August by-election. Although PKR gets to retain the seat but its low turnout that has not even reach 50% is a worrying sign as we have just had a general election that has been applauded worldwide of how the Malaysian people united with the belief in their power to vote.

Political parties are central to modern democracy and the selection of their leaders is one of the most crucial decisions for any political party to make. While the performance of a party leader is important, intra-party support and the rules of leadership selection are equally crucial for the survival of the party leaders and the party as a whole. It concentrates on the causes and structures of factions, as well as in relation to the wider political system and the degree of political space they were able to occupy within the party.

Over the past two decades, factions have cemented their hold over the PKR. This has largely been due to various factors, such as the personal rivalries, ideological and party policy differences, generational differences, party strategy and power rivalries within the organisation. Political parties are complex organizations. The question is whether it can survive the challenge of emerging new issues that are facing the country with the improvement of check and balance mechanisms?

(Khoo Ying Hooi is Universiti Malaya Senior Lecturer)



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