PKR eyes mixed seats in the south

PKR’s national congress in Johor at the end of the month will signal its intention to make the Umno fortress a frontline state.

While DAP has declared that he is Pakatan’s candidate for Prime Minister, PAS has been silent, and that speaks volumes. The thing is that not many people are prepared to vote for a party whose leader has all these personal problems and who may be facing jail.

Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Anwar Ibrahim has had a terrible year. The sodomy trial continues to take up his time, his party is struggling to stay relevant and there was the sex video controversy that whipped up such a storm earlier this year.

But anyone watching the latest video of him in the PKR election website would never suspect that he has had such a big load on his shoulders.

The centrepiece of the website, still a work in progress, is a video depicting Anwar as a man of the people in line with the party’s election theme of Demi Rakyat (for the people). It is quite different from the usual propaganda associated with political parties; this one has a contemporary and unfussy feel to it. Even the message comes across in a simple way, that PKR is a party that exists for the people.

Man to watch: Azmin is said to have secured the backing of his party’s de facto leader to be Mentri Besar of Selangor if Pakatan holds on to the state. The PKR deputy president is seen here at a Selangor event with his rival Khalid (right) and Selangor Speaker Datuk Teng Chang Khim.

A huge part of the video shows Anwar riding the LRT train and strolling along the platform area wearing sunglasses. He is also depicted drinking teh-O in a mamak shop, leading the prayers in a surau as well as conducting a meeting.

He looks good in the aviator-style sunglasses but they also give him the figure of a visually impaired man who is wondering which train to take. When he gets on the train, he makes his way down the aisle wearing a broad smile and shakes hands with the passengers. But from their reaction, it is clear that many of them are unsure who he is.

But the man is a natural actor. He could have been a big star in the Malay movie scene if he was not such a political animal.

Anwar has been critical of almost everything about his arch rival Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, but he seems to be taking a leaf from the Prime Minister’s going-down-to-the-people approach. And why not? A PKR survey has indicated that Malaysians view Najib in a better light than Anwar.

Rafizi: Beating the war drums at the AGM.

Anwar is talking about a Malaysian Spring, claiming that Pakatan Rakyat is going to form the federal government after the upcoming general election. This despite the fact that he has declared the sodomy trial as a “foregone conclusion”, meaning that he expects to be convicted and jailed.

“Anwar is trying to push the party into election mode, to build up the momentum,” said political insider and UCSI don Dr Ong Kian Ming.

The PKR de facto leader is rallying the troops in preparation for the party’s national congress at the end of the month and, more important, in the run-up to the general election.

The congress will be in Johor this year. It is a signal that PKR intends to make Johor its frontline state.

“The mood is about going into the election – election preparation, policies, young voters. We will be beating the war drums,” said strategy chief Rafizi Ramli, the brain behind many of the ideas popping up in the party.

They know that Johor is Umno’s fortress and that the Malay majority seats, especially those with Felda content, are no-go areas. Surveys in Johor have shown that Barisan Nasional enjoys 85% support in the Felda areas, 75% among Malays and 60% among Indians.

Pakatan leaders are aware they have gone as far as they can in states like Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Kelantan.

Saifuddin: PKR is training its guns on Johor.

Strategically speaking, said Rafizi, PKR have to slug it out elsewhere if they want to add on to their parliamentary count. Besides, the non-Malay-majority parliamentary seats in Johor are quite similar to that in the Klang Valley in terms of demography and economics. They are also easily accessible, unlike those in Sabah and Sarawak.

“Johor will be the battle ground. The focus will be on the mixed seats,” he said.

The perception is that PKR is going to be the big loser among the Pakatan parties in this election but PKR aims to rattle the ruling party in Johor when they convene at the Pulai Springs Resort where the congress will be held. The last congress in Petaling Jaya had capped a nightmarish party polls that saw dirty laundry being aired and which deeply embarrassed the party.

All that is behind them now and, according to secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution, speakers will focus on issues relating to the young, cost of living, scandals and corruption, and plight of the working class.

“We have told speakers not to spend time praising party leaders. There will be a report card on the preparation for the election and seat negotiation. We will set targets on seats to win and analyse what lies ahead,” said Saifuddin.

The man to watch in the party is deputy president Azmin Ali.

He was the big winner in the stormy party election last year. He showed everyone that he is there not only because of Anwar but also due to grassroots support. There were allegations of fraud and vote rigging on his part but party leaders seem to have reconciled with the fact that he is here to stay.

Air of disappointment

Faekah: “Most powerful lady” in Selangor.

Azmin is known for his planning and organising skills. However, some are disappointed that he has clung to his style of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. They had expected him to take political positions, comment on issues and take on the other side. After all, his blog graphics show him waving like a champion with a picture of the Prime Minister’s office behind him.

He has not done much to show what he is about. There have been no major projects nor has he articulated big issues. He has not really raised the game.

He was a much-watched debater in Parliament until Anwar returned as Permatang Pauh MP. After that, it seemed like the lieutenant did not want to steal the limelight from the boss. Some call it apple polishing, others think he is merely giving Anwar “face”.

But, said a close aide: “Azmin is a careful man, he does not make rash decisions. He knows it’s a marathon and he wants to bide his time, unlike Mat Sabu (PAS deputy president) who was everywhere after winning and got badly burnt.”

Many have noted that Anwar is starting to treat him as an equal. He listens to Azmin rather than just instruct him to do this and that.

Azmin’s priority is the general election. Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is the PKR president but Azmin and Anwar will likely have the main say over candidates and seats.

“Everybody will be kissing his hand soon,” said a cynical observer.

The fight is on between Azmin, who is the party’s Selangor chief, and Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim. Azmin wants the MB’s post and, according to sources, Anwar has finally given the nod. Khalid, some suggest, may only contest a parliamentary seat.

Anwar and Khalid are still cordial and they talk but, as some joke, they are talking different languages.

Some think the on-going criticism of Khalid’s political secretary Faekah Husin is part of the campaign to undermine Khalid. They blame her for keeping a distance between the party and the MB. Faekah, a lawyer, is only about 1.5m (5 feet) tall but she is dubbed the “most powerful lady” in Selangor because she has the ears of the MB and Dr Wan Azizah who was her former boss.

Recently, a senior party leader was so upset that Faekah spoke about Selangor’s minimum wage policy before the MB announced it that he sent out a message via Twitter to Khalid asking him to control his aide. Unfortunately, something went wrong and it went out as a tweet and became public knowledge.

But Faekah has brushed off the allegations of being powerful. She insisted that if even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had problems controlling Khalid, no one can tell the MB what to do.

“He works very hard and he makes us work even harder. I never had pimples on my face until I joined his office,” she said.

The tussle over the MB’s post is a sideshow compared to bigger issues facing the party.

“PKR is actually on the defensive this time. It is the weak link in Pakatan,” said Dr Ong.

The party, he said, is struggling to find good quality Malay candidates. Malay seats, especially the rural ones, are more difficult to fill than non-Malay seats. Apart from the usual qualifications, rural Malays want a candidate who is an anak kampung and religious credentials are important.

At a luncheon talk in Singapore earlier this year, Anwar declared that the difference between PKR and other political parties was that it gave opportunities for young people to be candidates.

Many of the party’s main events have been organised by its younger leaders. But not everyone is sure whether Anwar will be willing to put his foot down on candidates and go with young, qualified faces or stick with the traditional but older loyalists.

The party had gone from zero to hero in the last election. But its image has sunk somewhat because of its reputation for “frogs” leaving the party and also because of Anwar’s personal problems. His flip-flop on the hudud issue also damaged the party.

Anwar is a bit of an oxymoron in PKR. He is the X-factor in the party; at the same time, he is also the one dragging it down. The threat of a new sex video filmed in Bangkok hangs over the party like another sword of Damocles.

While DAP has declared that he is Pakatan’s candidate for Prime Minister, PAS has been silent, and that speaks volumes. The thing is that not many people are prepared to vote for a party whose leader has all these personal problems and who may be facing jail.

At a dinner talk attended by Chinese community figures in Subang last week, a businessman asked Anwar: “You managed to put PAS and DAP together but you can only do that if you are here. What if you are not around?”

Despite the emergence of young, energetic leaders, PKR is still very much Anwar-centric. And despite the issues surrounding him, the party has never discussed a scenario without Anwar.

“If Anwar has to go to jail, Azmin will be the one leading,” said a PKR assemblyman.

Given that, Azmin is the one to watch in more ways than one. The trouble is that not everyone in the party thinks he is quite ready for the role.

The coming general election will test the party and the leadership of Azmin.