'Grassroots free to choose leaders'

Rohaniza Idris, Syed Umar Ariff

Chua Tian Chang, or Tian Chua, is a household name in PKR as he is among the earliest members since its inception 20 years ago. He is defending his position as the party’s vice-president for the third term. Speaking to NSTP journalists ahead of the party polls next week, he shares why he supports Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and why Rafizi Ramli needs more tact in his campaigning Question: There are 12 candidates vying for four vice-president posts. Is this a good sign for the party in terms of unity? Answer: This is normal. In a democracy, there will always be a contest. The party election is open to all members. This is one of PKR’s strengths, in which we provide the opportunity for party members to pick their preferred leadership other than running for the posts themselves. Q: Does it mean that there is a power struggle in PKR? A: That is something unavoidable and the best way to resolve this is through democracy. We cannot stop candidates from competing with each other.

This is good to strengthen institutions in the party and, if done properly, we will be able to contest in a familial spirit. Q: Deputy president candidate Rafizi Ramli says he is running to ensure that president-elect Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim can become the country’s prime minister. A: The party election revolves around the need to have the best leadership to push the party forward, and ensure that PKR will no longer be on the sidelines, or an opposition party, or a mosquito party.

The mandate received by PKR today (after the general election) shows that the party is well-received by the common folk.

Back then, there were those who claimed that PKR was fighting for Anwar’s freedom and had nothing else on its agenda concerning the people’s welfare and economic development.

But, now, people no longer believe that PKR’s struggle is limited to Anwar. Anwar has a clear vision on the formation of a multicultural party, which, back then was said to go against the convention of national politics. Now, Anwar’s ideas are well-received by the people.

The question on whether the prime minister’s appointment (or candidacy) is dependent on PKR’s election results is nonsensical as the decision lies with the Pakatan Harapan top leadership.

Even if the prime minister candidate is picked by all PKR members and the party central leadership, the candidacy can only be realised by PH’s consensus.

I do not see the contest between Rafizi Ramli and Datuk Seri Azmin Ali as something that will ensure the appointment of the next prime minister. Q: What are the chances of defending your post? A: I have been around for more than 20 years. If my services are not needed any more, then I will accept the grassroots’ decision. I have no personal interest in defending my post. I don’t look for Anwar to get positions in the government or government-linked companies.

I only have an interest in the values of justice. I will remain with PKR and if I am given a chance to serve the party, I will do so. I will not feel hurt if members decide to pick someone else. Q: Do you think that those with cabinet positions have better chances of winning the party polls? A: It is important for party members to extend their support to those tasked with such responsibilities (in the cabinet). Those in the cabinet are frontliners as they had been given huge responsibilities, and that the people are evaluating their performance.

It is important for the grassroots to support them to ensure that the idealism on reform is successful. This is not something new. When PKR first led the Selangor administration, the party consolidated and gave its utmost support. Q: Some still say that PKR is dependent on Anwar’s clout. A: We want people to view PKR as a party which stands out in terms of progressive ideas.

Anwar is a figure who reflects the ethos of the country’s new landscape, forwarding progressive, practical and inclusive ideas in developing the nation. Anwar needs a stable and experienced team to translate such ideas into reality. Q: Another vice-president candidate, Dr Xavier Jayakumar, said there is an unhealthy campaign culture ahead of the party polls. A: It is the responsibility of experienced and senior leaders to guide party members to conduct campaigns in a healthy manner.

That is why I do not want to be dragged into a war of words, despite the slander and personal attacks against me.

It is something that I do not wish to respond to. Party members are mature and intelligent enough to evaluate whether such an approach can be accepted at the grassroots level. I am confident that those who adopt non-aggressive campaigns will win. Q: Rafizi has openly declared his team in the election. Do you think it is right for him to do so? A: This is a contest within a family, where all party members have their own visions within the same struggle. It is not the same as the general election, where the clash of ideologies on the country’s direction takes place.

There is no need to announce a team to run against another team. This will cause some members to think that they do not have a place in the party. I prefer Azmin’s approach, in which he did not announce his team.

Let the grassroots decide who will be the deputy president, vice-presidents and party central leadership council members.

We are willing to work with whoever elected by them. If we say that this team will replace the other team, then it is obvious that an unhealthy contest is taking place.

There is no need to create a chai or political menu. We should have it ala carte and it is up to the members to find the right combination.

We are an inclusive party made up of people with various backgrounds — activists, religious, left-wing, right-wing, seculars. The ethnicity of our members even includes those from Sabah and Sarawak.

No one can determine who should be our members. As leaders, we should accept the fact that the grassroots have freedom in making decisions. Q: What is your advice to Rafizi? A: I would advise him not to be too aggressive in his campaign. There is a place for him in the party. I do not think that the party leadership will remove him should he lose the polls. Q: Who are you rooting for? Rafizi or Azmin? A: I pick Azmin because he is an experienced leader and most suitable to hold the deputy presidency. I am not saying that Rafizi’s team is devoid of experienced candidates. We have Datuk Johari Abdul and Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail. It is better for us to keep the veteran leaders, so they can continue to work and contribute to the party.

As someone with a position, I see that Azmin has carried out his role effectively. I am confident that Azmin can assist Anwar in leading the party.

Azmin is a matured leader who can strengthen Anwar’s position as president and prime minister.

Azmin has vast resources through federal, state and grassroots networks.

We do not have many choices (in terms of deputy president candidates) and I want members to vote for Azmin, and that any effort to topple Azmin is akin to the ouster of Anwar from Umno. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd