28 May, 2007

Anwar Ibrahim has big hurdles to overcome

Barred from public office and beset by party grumbles, Malaysia's former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim has big hurdles to overcome if he is to return to the political frontline.

Anwar's unexpected decision over the weekend to withdraw his candidacy for the presidency of the opposition Keadilan party has left both himself and the movement in a difficult spot, analysts say.

For now the party will continue to be led formally by his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, after another contender also pulled out of the leadership race at its weekend national congress.

But in the longer term it puts a big question mark over Anwar's attempt to return to Malaysian politics.

Keadilan has been banking on Anwar's star quality to gain support for the party, whose profile has declined since its creation in the wake of his 1998 sacking from government.

Anwar said his decision not to run for the leadership of Keadilan, or the People's Justice Party, was because of fears its registration could have been cancelled.

"My problem is that the party comes first. 'Anwar' should not be the reason to sacrifice the position of the party," he told the 2,000 delegates.

However he said he would remain as the party's de facto leader behind the scenes, arguing he could still be effective without an official post....more from Malaysiakini here, CNA here.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat's (Keadilan) biennial congress this year turned out to be a huge disappointment for many -- for its adviser, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who had hoped to be elected president, and for the delegates, who had wanted the party to show that it is prepared for the next general election.

The focus of the three-day congress, which began on Friday, was clearly on Anwar, who is very much in control of the party set up in 1999 after he was removed as deputy prime minister.

On Saturday, when everyone expected Anwar to officially take over the helm from his wife, Datin Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, he dropped a bombshell that he would withdraw from the three-cornered race against Wan Azizah and former deputy president Abdul Rahman Othman, better known as ARO.

On the sidelines earlier, Anwar had told reporters he would not be cowed by the registrar of societies (ROS) into withdrawing from the contest. Under the Societies Act, Anwar is barred from active politics for five years until April next year because of his conviction for corruption. The registrar rejected his application for an exemption on Friday.

After a break, an hour following his announcement, when some 1,500 delegates were ready to cast their ballots, Anwar asked to explain his position to the party.

"I am ready to face any risks (by accepting the presidency) despite there being a threat (from the registrar) that I will be jailed for three years or fined RM10,000 should I defy the decision by the ROS," he said to a round of 'reformasi' from the delegates.

No one expected what followed. "But now there is a problem. There is an implication and threat to the party. At the individual level, I am really to sacrifice, but for the party, I have to think (about my decision) carefully," Anwar said.

"I urge you all to support Wan Azizah. Choose her if you support my leadership. This was the most difficult decision in my life."

Throughout his speech, not once did he use the word "withdrawal".

Anwar's decision was said to have been made at the supreme council meeting at midnight before the election.

"Wan Azizah told the supreme council members she did not want her husband to take the risk of being put in jail again," one party insider said.

But not all were pleased with Anwar's decision, including information chief Tian Chua, who was absent from the meeting to attend a funeral in Malacca.

Visibly upset, Chua was overheard asking Anwar "How can you do this?" after the announcement was made.

While Anwar listened to his supporters debate whether he should defy the ROS, delegates who were dismayed at his decision walked out.

"Wayang! Wayang! Siapa nak tengok wayang boleh masuk sekarang. Free! (Show! Show! Whoever wants to watch the show can enter now! Free!)," one delegate declared before walking out of the hall with about five others.

A last-minute withdrawal by ARO from the presidency contest also raised eyebrows. Just three days earlier, he had challenged Anwar's legitimacy to contest because of the latter's conviction.

"The general election is very near now. I could see that the delegates supported Anwar's decision to withdraw and Wan Azizah as president, so I responded accordingly," he said when met after announcing his decision.

In her winding up speech yesterday, Wan Azizah tried to ease the tension. "I was a reluctant and novice politician, and I had to get advice from Anwar. But I have been party president for eight years now. Cacing sudah jadi naga (the worm has become a dragon)," she said to laughter from the hall.

At a press conference later, Anwar was asked why he had insisted on contesting the presidency despite knowing the ROS would likely turn him down.

"I thought the ROS would grant me permission," he said.

Asked how he was going to consolidate the party with the unhappiness over his decision to withdraw, Anwar said: "I can't risk the position of my party. There are many unscrupulous people waiting to tarnish the image of the party."

Those who had waited to see how the party would move forward to prepare for the next general election were also disappointed.

"The quality of debate for policies was poor and there was no intensive discussion on the strategy for the next general election. (The delegates) were not interested in the debate but in the party elections and positions as well as in whether Anwar is to be president," a political observer said.

There are doubts about the party's ability to face the formidable Barisan Nasional machinery in the next general election.

Events at the congress were disrupted and delayed daily as a result of poor coordination. The youth wing election on Friday was delayed several hours due to an allegedly missing voter list.

"I am not confident that they will be very organised in the next general election. They weren't even organised in their own congress," a political analyst said.

Meanwhile, Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin is unfazed by a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) delegate's threat to throw rotten eggs or tomatoes at him to prevent him from speaking at public events.

“My responsibility is to destroy the opposition. If they want to welcome me with an eggplant or rotten egg and tomatoes ... let them do it. I am not afraid,” he told reporters.

He was commenting on the call made by PKR Federal Territory delegate Othman Karim during the debate on the president’s address at the party’s annual congress here yesterday.

Othman said Khairy was a destroyer and a “murderer” of opposition parties.

“Attack him. Arm ourselves with rotten eggs or tomatoes when he comes around and throw them at him. His voice must not be heard,” said Othman.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sdra Anwar is a great leader.He should be given a chance to lead PKR.

May 28, 2007 8:20 PM  

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