PKR congress – ‘not a wake but a war room’

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The high hopes of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition that it would take control of Parliament in the 13th general election have not borne fruit, but leaders of PKR, which is the second largest of the three-member coalition with 30 seats, are very much in the fighting mood as the party heads for its 9th congress tomorrow.

PKR leaders who spoke to fz.com were very much intent on harnessing the groundswell of support that gave the coalition a majority of the popular vote for the first time in Malaysia’s history to drive the party forward as a force in national politics.

PKR vice president Tian Chua said that just because the delegates will be dressed in black for the two-day congress, it does not mean it will take on the mood of a wake.

"Why should we mourn? For us, black means war. We won the popular vote and the election had so much of fraud. This will be partly a celebration of our victory in making inroads as a truly national party, as well as being a party that can still mobilise the people," said Tian, who was returned as the Batu MP in the national polls on May 5.

PKR brands itself as a truly multi-racial party, whereas other parties that make that claim draw their support predominantly from single racial groups. DAP and Gerakan have mostly Chinese support, whereas PAS is virtually Malay-based, being an Islamic party.

No doubt the PKR congress will be watched closely not only by PKR members, but also by the 52% of voters who chose Pakatan Rakyat in the general election. Besides these, Barisan Nasional, especially Umno, will be keen to see how the party responds to the outcome of GE13.

Observers say that this congress will reveal whether PKR has drawn positive energy from the public support it has gained to propel it forward or if the party will choose to moan over its missed opportunity to form the government.

Either way, the post mortem on the party’s performance in GE13 and that of Pakatan on the whole, will definitely take centre stage.

PKR deputy president Prof Dr Syed Husin Ali too said that the congress will be in protest of what happened in GE 13 and definitely not a wake.

"I suppose the mood will be more of what is the next step forward for the party and the congress, although in actual fact is less than a day long, will give the opportunity for the party to gain input from its members on what is the best way forward," said Syed Husin, who is also part of PKR's political bureau.

Tian says that this congress will also see an acknowledgement by the top leaders of the party that it is a convergence of the “streets and seats”.

“We will reaffirm with the masses that we are not just parliamentarians who sit in coats and ties in the parliament making legislation but also a party that is for the mobilisation of the people.

“We are no more a party that only has the support from the urban middle class but also from the indigenous and remote areas like Sabah and Sarawak. We have made inroads into the rural Malay heartland and I believe that this congress will set the tone for the future of the party,” said Tian.

While Tian is very sure PKR will be applauding itself that it has managed to generate support among the rural Malays, Syed Husin on the other hand believes that the issue of why PKR did not manage to win the rural Malay votes will be discussed heatedly.

“There will also be attempts to bring up the issue of rebellion within the party,” said Syed Husin, referring to some of the PKR rebels not willing to refrain from contesting despite calls from the top party leaders, causing a split vote for the opposition parties in certain constituencies.

On nomination day, PKR candidates found that they would be facing candidates from PAS in seven seats - three in Terengganu - Bukit Besi, Kota Putra dan Seberang Takir, and one each in Perak (Jelapang), Selangor (Kota Damansara), Johor (Panti) and Sabah (Labuan).

However, this was soon sorted out by the party leaders to ensure that PAS and PKR did not face each other.

Then, there was the issue of a PKR candidate facing a Parti Sosialis Malaysia candidate in Semenyih.

In all the seats where the opposition stood in multi-cornered contests, BN won as the votes for the opposition were split. The EC had ruled that although the candidates had withdrawn, their names would remain on the ballot paper.

This issue shows that the Pakatan parties have more work to do on electoral cooperation and building the coalition’s cohesiveness.

The issue had been raised even at the last PKR congress that was held in Johor Bahru, during the Ma'al Hijrah celebrations in 2011.

De facto party leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his closing speech then had talked of the need for a "hijrah" of the party in line with the concept that was adopted by the Prophet Muhammad.

(The term "hijrah" refers to the event when Prophet Muhammad made the journey to migrate from the Meccan hostility to begin a new life for the Muslims in the city of Medina. The event also marked the beginning of the Muslim calendar.)

Anwar and other leaders had consistently spoken of the need to ensure that the party stays on the right course, undertaking the migration from old politics with a reformed mindset. They also spoke of the need to stand up as leaders who are clean in body and mind, knowledgeable and who work for the people.

Although it seemed that the party is still very much upset after the loss in GE13, many young supporters in PKR are hoping that there will be more concrete plans for the party that would open the gates of a new Malaysia.

Tian and Syed Husin were echoing what PKR members are saying on the ground. Comments show that the members are looking for the party leaders to give direction to the people’s aspirations.

To retain their loyalty, PKR must set the milestones first as it is seen as the lead partner of Pakatan - no matter that Pakatan leaders keep saying there is no big brother in the opposition coalition.

Having been deprived of the chance to form the Federal government must be a lesson well learnt, and many among the grassroots are also waiting to see if PKR will lead the call for a strong shadow cabinet as a true government in waiting.

Another party leader said that it is important to show the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, especially Umno, that PKR and Pakatan are not backing down despite losing the GE13.

"We must get up and roar again. The congress must show that we will not back down and we may have been bruised but we are not on our knees. I hope the leaders will set out the exact path for us to follow to form the next Federal Government in GE14 and not just give rah-rah speeches," said the party leader who does not want to be named.

All said, all eyes and ears will be on the congress, especially the ears and eyes of those who are intent on finding out the Achilles heel of PKR and Pakatan.