PETALING JAYA, Sept 3 — The campaign for the main event in PKR’s internal election is reaching fever pitch, with the battlefront between incumbent deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Rafizi Ramli now firmly established.
Although the contest is ostensibly for a position within PKR, the rancour has spread to encompass Pakatan Harapan ally, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
The race is no longer touted as a fight between two PKR leaders vying for power, but has morphed into battle purportedly for the interests of PPBM’s Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Rafizi fired the first salvo by openly questioning Azmin’s remaining loyalty to Anwar, playing on the claim that the economic affairs minister is now more Dr Mahathir’s man than a loyalist of the incoming PKR president.
The tactic has forced schism upon the party that is known for its bruising internal polls, requiring its 800,000 or so members to make a firm choice between a faction claiming to back Anwar and the rival that they claim is aligned with the man he intends to replace.
The rising temperatures in the contest was also made apparent last week when Azmin, who had been reserved in his response to Rafizi’s challenge, came out with his most pointed remarks since the contest began.
Over the weekend, the long-time supporter of Anwar recounted his hardships carrying on the Reformasi struggle since 1998, including taking physical beatings for backing the former deputy prime minister.
He went on to question what the Johnny-come-latelies have delivered for Anwar and the Reformasi movement that they now feel entitled to dispute his loyalty to the latter.
At the opening of the Selangor PKR convention over the weekend, Azmin also rejected Kapar MP Datuk Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid — who initiated the claim of a conspiracy to prevent Anwar from becoming PM — that his re-election would trigger a fresh crisis in PKR.
Abdullah and others aligned to Rafizi have kept up a constant campaign accusing Azmin of various abuses, including forcing his choice for his replacement as Selangor mentri besar on the party.
Azmin also continues to be accused of abusing his position as economic affairs minister now and the Selangor MB previously to reward his supporters and sideline rivals, although these claims have rarely been in detail.
Rafizi has also become more overt in his attacks against Azmin and more emphatic in his claim that the plan for Anwar to succeed Dr Mahathir is now in jeopardy.
This reached a point that Dr Mahathir took time to address the matter on his current official visit to Brunei, during which he said he fully intended to honour the agreement among PH parties for Anwar to replace him at a later date.
“I am confident that he (Anwar) is now more mature and much experienced,” he said.
The juxtaposition makes it clear that Rafizi’s campaign is twofold: He is not contesting for his gain alone but is at the same time carrying Anwar’s ambitions with him.
With the stakes as high as they appear to be, the contest for the PKR deputy presidency has effectively eclipsed two ongoing by-election campaigns in Balakong and Seri Setia.
How devastating such a strategy will be for PKR and PH remains to be seen, but with the pact now the government of the day, the spoils for the winner has never been higher.
But so are the ramifications for the party started to demand justice for Anwar following his 1998 sacking as Dr Mahathir’s deputy.
The choice has become so emotional that PKR, from the very top to the grassroots, is forced to take clear sides in the internal battle.
No matter who wins and who loses in the end, it is increasingly clear that the contest will leave scars in PKR that even time will not heal.