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PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (right) with his deputy, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, and party advisory council chairman Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at the Melaka International Trade Centre yesterday. BERNAMA PIC

THE Rock of Gibraltar has represented the pinnacle of British naval strength since the 18th century, a monolithic symbol of a steadfast sentinel watching over all that it needs to uphold and protect.

The Rock reflects the ambitious nature of a leader or an organisation desiring to take charge in the front lines.

Contextually, PKR is no stranger to setting lofty goals; it started 20 years ago to defy what was deemed to be an autocratic government. It struggled on and off the streets to spread its doctrine of justice with blood, sweat and tears.

Today, it holds the most seats at the federal level as part of the ruling coalition. With 50 seats out of the 129 held by Pakatan Harapan, PKR emerges as the coalition’s de facto backbone.

It has come a long way from its original raison d’être, which was to free now party president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from incarceration.

But the new political landscape is not as rosy as on paper. Apart from calls for a transition of power from Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to Anwar, PKR’s unity remains in a state of flux and plagued by a tug-of-war for supremacy.

On Friday, PKR advisory council chairman Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s speech, whose text was given earlier to journalists, was amended upon delivery at the closing of the Youth and women wings’ congresses.

Perhaps the changes were made due to time constraints. Dr Wan Azizah’s on-the-fly adjustments omitted her take on party unity, including a comparison between PKR and the African National Congress (ANC).

The topic on ANC was intended to be a parable of how a hard-fought struggle by a reform party ended in tatters soon after toppling the apartheid government due to clashes between government leaders and, ironically, corruption. It would have been an apt reminder to PKR as it journeys on after winning the national polls last year.

Anwar and his deputy, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, have expressed the desire to see PKR as the linchpin of PH and lead the coalition’s dominion for more than two terms.

Nevertheless, the question on the lips of many is whether PKR can move forward as a solid front while under the burden of intrigues and internal squabbling.

Anwar, in his policy speech to open the party’s 14th National Congress yesterday, went off the cuff to say that those in power should be mindful of their conduct and integrity.

However, he almost exclusively spoke on the country’s “stagnant” economy and only a dab on the brawl between Youth factions on Friday.

Some observers expressed cynicism about the speech.

“Yes, the country’s economy is sluggish. But what has stagnated is the state of affairs in the party,” said a delegate from Sarawak, who declined to be named.

For others, grassroots sentiments play a definitive role in charting the party’s path.

They said from politics to the economy, the leadership must listen to the people on the ground.

Some claimed neglect by the party leadership, as it tended to get sidetracked by internal crises.

Tenggara PKR committee member Kamal Kamaruddin said several party leaders had overlooked the plight of those on the ground.

“Sometimes, I feel like the leadership doesn’t take into account the problems I told them about. If they listen to the grassroots on the problems people face as instructed by the president, who told party members to pay attention to the mood on the ground, this party can continue its reign as part of the ruling party.”

Yesterday’s debate on the president’s policy speech was laced with rivalry, with quite a number of speakers taking jabs at Azmin.

Among others, Yusri Ahon from Pahang brought up an alleged promise by Azmin to shut down the Lynas rare earth plant, and Mohammed Firdaus Johari from Kedah mocked the economic affairs minister as a “menteri pengiring” (escorting minister), apparently for accompanying Dr Mahathir to events.

Some delegates staged a muted walkout in support of Azmin.

PKR auditor Vincent D’Silva offered a diplomatic response to the conundrum. He advised speakers to focus on policy.

“The congress is a platform to share grievances and frustrations, for us to raise issues affecting the people. It is important for delegates to deliberate on the president’s policy speech, instead of getting sidetracked by emotions.

“We want to see PKR move forward in the next 10 years. We want to win the next general election and fulfil our manifesto.

Otherwise, what happened in Tanjung Piai can recur on a larger scale.”

Earlier, several leaders, including Dr Wan Azizah, secretary-general Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail and vice-presidents Tian Chua and Datuk Dr A. Xavier Jayakumar, were presented with an award to commemorate their 20 years of service to the party.

Azmin, who is one of PKR’s co-founders, did not make it to the list of awardees.

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