‘PKR more than just Anwar’s party’

In an exclusive interview, PKR leader Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad explains how PKR’s purpose is beyond becoming a platform for Anwar Ibrahim to become prime minister.

Anisah Shukry, FMT

A party formed by Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail in the aftermath of husband Anwar Ibrahim’s 1998 fall from grace, PKR has had an uphill battle convincing voters that it’s more than a vehicle of Anwar’s vengeance towards BN.

Within 14 years of its inception, the party suffered through two disappointing elections, saw its “patron” freed from prison, and eventually, with the help of party allies PAS and DAP, dealt a near-fatal blow to Barisan Nasional in the 2013 elections.

Despite its immense growth, critics have accused it as being a “family party” – claims not helped by the fact that its president is Wan Azizah, its de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, and daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar is a vice-president.

But one of the party’s youngest members and rising stars, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, who was only 16 when Anwar was imprisoned, insists he was attracted to the party not because of the Anwar factor, but because of reformasi.

Reformasi was the rallying call of Anwar and his supporters after he was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998. It sparked several demonstrations against the BN government, before eventually dying down after he was arrested and jailed.

“I joined because I saw reformasi’s potential for something that can capture the imagination of Malaysians for new politics that go beyond race and religion – about democracy, rule of law, transparency and all that,” Nik Nazmi told FMT in an exclusive interview.

The young leader became active in PKR in 2001, while only 19-years-old, before becoming an official member in 2005. He eventually contested — and won — the Seri Setia state assembly seat in 2008, despite being the youngest candidate contesting in the elections. He retained his position in the recent May 5 polls.

“It’s unfair to say that we are Anwar Ibrahim’s party. Some people said in 1999 we were established for Anwar’s release. But we still carried on (even after he was freed). If it was just going to be about Anwar’s release then we would have closed shop.”

He said this was why he believed many leaders had since left the party – because they were under the illusion that the party centred on Anwar’s release from prison.

“But people like me, the reformasi generation, we got into the party because we believed that the party is about securing justice for all Malaysians,” said Nik Nazmi, who has risen from the ranks to become the Selangor State Assembly Deputy Speaker.

Nik Nazmi was not apologetic over the fact that PKR’s top positions was filled by Anwar’s family, nor that Anwar was given the position of de facto leader.

The former PKR communications director reminded the public that Anwar was only made de facto leader after they learned he was not allowed to run for the party’s presidency.

“We were under threat of being de-registered because he (Anwar Ibrahim)…had just been released from prison. A five year gap was needed, and the party elections was held before the five years were up,” he explained.

“So the only way for him to lead the party was as de facto leader.”

Nik Nazmi pointed out that Wan Azizah had won the party presidency “fair and square” since 1999 and her role in the party must be acknowledged. Similarly, Nurul Izzah garnered the highest number of votes when she contested the vice-president position.

“So I believe that if you ask anyone, many will say that Wan Azizah and Nurul Izzah have proven that they are politicians with their own strengths, appeal and merit,” he said.