The way forward for PKR

By Stephanie Sta Maria

PETALING JAYA: PAS has just wrapped up a successful congress, while DAP recently basked in the afterglow of its Sibu by-election victory. PKR, on the other hand, is still fighting off attacks from former party colleagues and is considered to be the weakest link in the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

The party elections in December, therefore, could well be a golden but final opportunity for PKR to pull itself together before the next general election. To gain an overview of the party's possible route forward, FMT spoke to one of its more vocal members, Zaid Ibrahim.

As PKR's central leadership council member, Zaid has consistently voiced his recommendations on rebuilding the party to the leadership. For this interview, however, he made it clear that he was not speaking on behalf of the party but only on the basis of his observations in the past one year.

“There are weaknesses in the PKR's system that could drag Pakatan down,” he said. “One of them is Anwar Ibrahim's title of PKR de facto leader.”

“He should be the party president in order to set in motion the transformation that we are talking about. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (PKR's current president) is a wonderful lady but she is not a politician in the true sense.”

Zaid explained that with Anwar as president, the party will be prompted to make the necessay changes, especially on what kind of leadership he wants and the issues that should take priority. According to him, the former is of great importance and should be PKR's focus for the future.

“PKR has to clearly decide what kind of leaders it wants, then pick the people who fit that mould and structure the organisation along those lines,” he said. “There is currently a lack of strong party leaders at the ground level. The quality of an organisation depends very much on this.”

“PKR needs to identify good people who possess the spirit of reformasi and who still believe in democracy and the ideals of a better government. These are the party's core principles.”

Deep, meaningful roots

The Pakatan secretariat coordinator pointed out that a struggle has to have deep, meaningful roots and cannot be sustained solely by a set of intangible beliefs or historical circumstances.

“There must be hope that things are moving forward. If you want to revive that spirit, then you must have credible people at the state level to build the network that is crucial in an organisation. And this process has to begin now before the struggle becomes diluted. It's not that difficult, we just have to kick-start it.”

Zaid also highlighted the advantages of practising democracy within the party, particularly when it involved the selection of candidates and suggested that the selection be made by the grassroots instead of the central leadership.

“PKR is a grassroots reformation party, so we have to be driven by the people. Our constitution currently dictates that the state chiefs are selected by the party's top people, which is very much in Umno style.”

“If the state chiefs are handpicked by the grassroots, then there is a sense of check and balance and accountability. When you are responsible for making a decision, you tend to make sure that decision works better and you don't blame others for its failure. PKR is still very top down in its process and I think that has to change.”

Zaid added that his yardstick for success is the day a group of party supporters take the initiative to mobilise themselves to get things done.

While he acknowledged the need for a charismatic, hardworking leader to helm the party, he also said meshing that with grassroots strength and better quality members would take PKR much further.

“Anwar still holds the fort in PKR but we cannot depend on him alone. PKR in itself has to be strong if we want the other two parties to respect us and work with us. We have to complement Anwar's strength with organisational strength.”

'No room for decorum'

When asked about public uncertainty following the series of resignations within the party, Zaid brushed it off with a reminder that the country's new political landscape has left no room for decorum or etiquette.

“It's all about brute and buying power,” he said. “But having said that, if we have a more committed set of leaders, this would not happen so easily. PAS has done very well. It's probably trained and prepared to expect this sort of attack, whereas PKR isn't.”

“As long as there are incentives, there will be defections. This has exposed our vulnerability and a need for commitment to getting the right people. We need people with a track record of service and who have shown dedication. We cannot field candidates just because the media takes a shine to them.”

“Many people in politics are in the news for the wrong reasons and we think they're popular when they are actually not. Take Ibrahim Ali. We must choose people who are consistent with our struggle and who believe in it.”

Zaid noted that the party's fragility made it all the more important for the party elections to be managed well in terms of empowering the chosen leaders, taking tough actions against “state-level warlords” and being realistic about its political ambitions.

“Some state warlords have greatly troubled the party in the past two years but they cannot be dislodged without help from the top. So the top leadership must put its foot down and endorse a more positive member.”

“We also need to be more realistic about our political ambitions by matching what we have with what we want. PKR wants to rule the country but do we have what it takes to do that? If we don't, then we may as well be realistic so we don't lose everything.”

“If we do, then we must put the appropriate people in place and give them power to carry out their duties. For example, Chua Jui Meng is a very senior politician and should be the leader in Johor. It's a no-brainer. And if he becomes the leader, he must be given complete authority to save Johor. This is what I mean by 'managing it well'.”

In a parting remark on the Pakatan coalition, Zaid said that it worked as a political party but not yet as a government.

“The three parties are getting closer but maintaining a distance in how they run their respective governments. Pakatan should be more cohesive in putting forth streamlined policies that are identical with those of our state governments. Only then can we gain more momentum and strength in moving forward.”

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