November 13, 2010
Terence Netto reports: Johor PKR marred by Azmin-Zaid Rivalry
By now the damaging effects of the contest for deputy president of PKR have become fairly evident but in the Johor chapter, this has impacted with a perversity that exposes the gap between party aspiration and reality.
Though the contest has now been rendered moot by Zaid Ibrahims withdrawal, its lingering ill-effects persist. And in Johor they combine to weaken a party that would ordinarily be expected to struggle against opponents who have history and sentiment in their favour.
Johor, the birthplace of UMNO, is a BN bastion that yielded little to the political tsunami which swept the peninsula in March 2008.
In that poll, UMNO-BNs strength stanched the opposition-favouring tide elsewhere, leaving PKR fruitless, and only conceding one parliamentary and two state seats to the DAP, and one state ward to PAS.
The fact that PKR were left barren made it all the more pressing this party with pretensions to take over Putrajaya in cahoots with DAP and PAS, does better at the next general election, which is expected much sooner than its due date in 2013. Some say it would be held as early as April.
It cant be that a PKR-led opposition coalition sweeps or edges into power depending on whom you talk to with not one parliamentary or state picking from Johor.
That would be an outcome of particular chagrin to a party confident of its nationwide appeal on account of the popularity of its fight for justice for all Malaysians.
After dithering for some time on who should lead the state PKR chapter, Chua Jui Meng, the former MCA vice-president and cabinet minister, was finally named as liaison chief.
PKR central did not see fit that because Johor is an UMNO bastion, a Malay leader should be appointed to head the state chapter and Chua, in deference to his standing as an MCA heavyweight of yore, would be better positioned as overall advisor.
No, PKR thought it fit to test the notion that a Chinese leader could lead the electoral battle in an UMNO bastion, a salutary play against type that can and should be expected of a party out to unscramble the racial stereotyping that is UMNO-BNs entrenched legacy.
But what began as an endeavour in contravening racial typecasting was soon contaminated by other cataracts politics is prey to.
Chua Jui Meng would be wont to support Zaid Ibrahim in the latters battle to be party No 2. Both are lawyers who in their past incarnations in BN components tended to break free of the sectarianism native to their original parties.
Their winding-up in PKR is the logical culmination of their liberal inclinations, constrained within their race-based parties of origin but given free vent once they joined the new kid on the political block.
It was Chuas liberalism that saw him muster the candor to tell Anwar Ibrahim that the restive forces for change in Sabah regarded Dr Jeffery Kitingan as their leader, a fact that Anwar and his lieutenant, Azmin Ali, are loath to acknowledge.
Zaid was already on to the fact in October last year when a crisis broke out in Sabah in which Jeffery was not named by PKR central as leader; instead someone more amenable to Azmin was preferred.
Chuas assessment of the situation on the ground factored critically in a compromise worked out in December which saw Jeffery appointed overall strategist for Sabah and Sarawak.
Again it was Chuas persuasion that moved Anwar to back away from a move a few months a! go to su spend 12 divisional leaders in the Sabah chapter, the threat of suspension having been mysteriously revived after the compromise of last December had intimated action would not be taken against the erring 12 for having made a move to register Parti Cinta Sabah.
This is a convoluted story, best understood as a proxy battle waged between pro-Jeffery and anti-Jeffery forces, the latter aligned to Azmin and the former inclined to back Zaid because his liberalism favoured the smoldering discontent of the Kadazan-Dusun-Murut community. Chua was not far behind Zaid in sympathy to this cause.
But once he was named liaison chief for Johor, Chuas course began to be influenced by the side he chose to back in the battle for the PKR No 2 post.
PKR secretary left out
He called Saiman Marjuki on the phone and, according to the Johor PKR secretary, told him that Anwar wanted the state to throw its support behind Azmin. I dont know if he had the permission of Datuk Seri Anwar to say what he said to me but I felt he was improperly using his position to campaign for Azmin, said Saiman, who elected to back Zaid, in an interview with Malaysiakini in Kluang yesterday.
Saiman, chief of the Sembrong division, is regarded in Johor PKR as a consensus seeker acceptable to all factions. He was left out of the line-up that Jui Meng announced after his purported attempt to influence the vote for Azmin had failed to move the chapters secretary.
Saiman went public with his criticism of Chua that faulted the liaison chief for not being consultative and for behaving, of all things, like a BN warlord. Of course, the mainstream media lapped up the criticism, as they would any ructions in Pakatan parties.
Saiman also claimed that 18 of the 24 properly constituted PKR divisions in Johor did not favour Chuas non-consultative style.
Last Thursday, Chua countered Saimans claims by telling an assembly of state divisional le! aders in Pulai, in the presence of Anwar, Azmin and other national leaders of PKR, that he had the support of all 24 divisions and that his line-up, minus Saiman, was widely endorsed.
To underscore the point, he said the news that five members of the Sembrong division had left the party, presumably out of sympathy for the left-out Saiman, who was absent at the meeting, was offset by 121 new members from the same division.
At the meeting in Pulai, Anwar praised Chua for declining to fight for a position in the national hierarchy of the party. He made it sound that Chua was more interested in party positions that mattered for PKRs overall advancement like the betterment of its standing in Johor than in merely personal advancement.
Anwar made Chuas choice not to stand sound principled when it could have been due to realistic acknowledgement of his chances vis--vis another power baron in PKR, Tian Chua, who would want to keep him out of the national hierarchy.
The decision to allow a contest for deputy president to proceed has had damaging effects on the party that will linger till the next general election.
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