MELAKA: It was an arduous day for PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
He had the unenviable task of pacifying delegates who were incensed with PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s walkout during the party’s national congress on Saturday.
The mere mention of Azmin’s name was enough to rile up the 3,500-odd attendees at the Melaka International Trade Centre, as seen during PKR vice-president Tian Chua’s effort to remind the audience of the Gombak parliamentarian’s contributions to the party.
Anwar’s oft-said kesabaran tahap dewa (god-like patience) came into play as he explained his style of leadership, as well as about those who disagreed with it and his take on party dissidents.
He reminded the crowd that the camp that would steer the party was “Team Anwar”.
The crowd went along and despite the infighting between party camps, Anwar once again proved himself to be the leader upheld by a majority of PKR members.
But it was a tough run-up to the national congress, not just for Anwar but also the rest of the party’s leadership, including Azmin and his supporters.
PKR’s internal friction did not only tear the party apart, but also heightened a sense of fanaticism among its members over their preferred leaders, which stems from discord between factions.
The fervour of attacks on Azmin on Saturday culminated in his absence from delivering his winding-up speech yesterday.
His ally and PKR vice-president Zuraida Kamaruddin was missing as well, as was party Women’s chief Haniza Mohamed Talha.
Some members “whispered” that perhaps Azmin and his followers were preparing speeches for a “parallel congress” slated to be held during dinner at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
In another sign of damage, it was the first time a deputy president was absent in protest during the party congress’ closing.
The ones left to take the brunt of his absence were Tian Chua and deputy Women’s chief Sangeetha Jayakumar.
The situation resulted in a tense winding-up session riddled with veiled attacks and jeers at Azmin.
For instance, PKR Youth chief Akmal Nasrullah Mohd Nasir’s call to remove “traitors” from the party received deafening cheers.
Wearing a concerned look, former Batu member of parliament and Reformasi movement veteran Tian Chua, 55, who suffered from a sore throat, sat down with Anwar and party secretary-general Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail.
Tian Chua waved his hands fervently to convey a point to both men, moments before his speech.
Following Tian Chua’s plea for delegates to honour Azmin’s contributions before an unsympathetic crowd, Saifuddin took to the rostrum and kept the momentum going by citing examples of the party No. 2’s defiance.
He explained the party’s decision to sack Bera PKR division chief Zakaria Abdul Hamid from the party central leadership committee.
Without having to mention Azmin, Saifuddin mentioned only the names of those who had discussed the premiership succession plan and election manifesto.
“Even Tian Chua knows this. The person, whom I did not mention, had not even once attended a (party) meeting,” Saifuddin said.
Some observers said Azmin should have remained at the congress despite the criticisms hurled at him.
“It was the most divisive congress PKR has ever held. At the very least, he (Azmin) could have stayed and showed that he was receptive to criticisms by responding to them accordingly,” said a delegate.
Later, at a press conference, Anwar, Saifuddin and PKR vice-president Datuk Dr A. Xavier Jayakumar avoided questions that could lead to them disparaging Azmin.
Despite suggestions for Azmin and his team to be sacked, Anwar said no party leader had raised this to resolve the party’s woes.
“But we must listen to our delegates.
“They (party members) all have read the newspapers. They have expressed their views (on the matter).”
At the end of the congress, despite Anwar’s clout to rally the crowd behind him, the feeling of solidarity was not palpable, unlike in previous congresses.
The rousing call for reform led by Anwar did echo through the halls of the Melaka International Trade Centre, but the mood was pale in comparison with a usual full roster of supporters.
Clearly, the war is not over between Azmin and the party’s leadership. The congress, which was supposed to be a uniting platform, has created a schism, which might lead to a dire effect in Pakatan Harapan’s run in the next national polls.