Saifuddin on why he's backing Rafizi for PKR deputy presidency


Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail is among PKR’s prime movers since the party’s inception in 1999. Through thick and thin, he has been described as “loyal soldier in the party’s struggles.

Now a Cabinet minister in charge of domestic trade and consumer affairs, Saifuddin, who is also PKR secretary-general, has decided not run for any post in the upcoming party polls.

He talked with NSTP journalist MOHD ISKANDAR IBRAHIM on the party’s election process and his preferred deputy president candidate. Q: Come November, PKR will for the first time employ the use of an e-voting system in its polls. What are the preparations being made this time around? A: There are three main items being looked into when it comes to preparing for this upcoming party polls.

Firstly, we are updating the membership registry as the number has risen substantially from 560,000 since the party’s inception in 1999 to 840,000 after May 9. We saw huge jumps in the numbers, like in Negri Sembilan where party membership increased from 17,000 to 21,000 as of June 26. Suffice to say, in only a month and a half, the increase in new membership rate has exceeded than all of those recorded during the 20 years PKR has been around.

Secondly, concerning the development of the new voting system. Building and refining the system is paramount. Party members nationwide are being informed about the system in order to prepare them for a new voting method.

Thirdly, monitoring the participation of candidates and party members in the polls to ensure their discipline and the rules are adhered to in order to uphold PKR’s unity and role as the biggest ruling party (from PH).

Rafizi Ramli

Q: We are seeing 12 candidates vie for four vice-president posts. Does this signify a power struggle in PKR especially after PH won a huge victory in the general election? A: The ones who know better about PKR’s culture and approach are the party members and leaders. More members running for posts shows the appeal of having positions in the party, and their fervour in placing themselves strategically in the party. With such positions, members believe they can contribute more to the party. The vice-presidency is an important role in the party, where four contenders will be elected to the seats, apart from three appointments made for the same post.

These are important positions with huge responsibilities as they will hold ranks in PH as well.

For example, Permatang Pauh member parliament Nurul Izzah Anwar who was also the party vice-president was also appointed as the party’s election director. Other vice-presidents were given roles to galvanise civil societies. For example, Hang Tuah Jaya MP Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin was tasked with looking into Felda matters.

Such spirit in the competition for vice-presidency is a healthy development. I would be more worried if there were not enough people running for the four posts. Q: You are not running for any posts this time around. Are you comfortable with being in a functionary position, or do you want to continue serving as the secretary-general?

Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali. Pic by NSTP/SAIRIEN NAFIS

A: Yes, I will not be contesting in the upcoming polls. My appointment as party secretary-general is under the purview of party president. For 20 years, I have never discussed my position. For the record, I was the party deputy youth chief and later was made the youth chief after the incumbent youth chief Datuk Ezam Mohd Nor was jailed. I was also one of the vice-presidents from 2000 to 2004, a central leadership council member and the first strategic director in 2007. I’ve held most of the strategic positions in the party. I am a soldier who is loyal to the party’s struggle and leadership. I am not obsessed with positions. Q: There are two camps vying for top positions in the party involving incumbent deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and his contender for the same position, Rafizi Ramli. Will this not affect the party’s image as having a united front? A: Political parties are dynamic in nature and that is why we had been ab

le to witness their development through numerous challenges. I was there when PKR was first formed as a pro-tem committee made of those from different backgrounds - we had activists and prominent figures among us. Variety gave us strength.

At that time, PKR moved as an opposition party and was devoid of power struggles. We were motivated to topple Umno and Barisan Nasional. What united us was the ouster of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the government until he was jailed. We had gone through many changes and during our party polls, there were of course (clashes) - in 2009 during the party congress in Kemaman, Terengganu, Senator Dr Muhammad Nor Manuty was running against former PKR treasurer Abdul Rahman Othman. The latter won.

Every time during party polls, people will come out to say that there are camps. However back then, PKR was an opposition party hence there were no talks of “rewards”. That is why PKR has gone through healthy development because people knew that the positions did not come with rewards or benefits.

Now, talks of camps have resurfaced because of the contenders are very popular figures. Being a deputy president places you next to the (incoming) president, who is Anwar.

Both personalities (Azmin and Rafizi) have their respective track records and they are both very important figures in the party.

I see this as an opportunity for party members to pick the better leader, who will be someone who is loyal and well-prepared to assist Anwar and the party. Q: Who is your pick? Azmin or Rafizi? A: Azmin has a track record in leading Selangor (as menteri besar). Rafizi meanwhile comes with unconventional ideas to boost the party’s chances at polls. For example, in 2008 and 2013, the then opposition pact would always be defeated in 20 to 25 parliamentary seats. Rafizi asked me why don’t we focus on 30 to 40 marginal seats with the use of big data. So the party gave Rafizi space to explore the matter because he said if the methodology is confined to party schemes, his ideas will stumble given bureaucracies within the party organisation.

I brought him to meet Anwar in jail at that time. Rafizi presented his ideas and Anwar found them to be reasonable. Rafizi executed his ideas and invested his own money, RM700,000, for it to work. He gathered young professionals.

Alhamdulillah, though we did not win all (marginal seats), but we got through most of them. It is proven that Rafizi was spot on with regards to the use of big data.

In this context, in all of the 20 years I had worked for the party, Rafizi’s ideas led to our victory.

In this contest, Rafizi is offering his ideas for the party, while Azmin is offering his track record as the Selangor Menteri Besar. Rafizi doles out fresh ideas that clearly led to PH’s victory. I like to be clear in this; I have long been friends with Azmin, and I have long known Rafizi as well.

I see that the party needs talent, fresh ideas, creativity and unflinching commitment. I am hoping for Rafizi to win the contest. Q: One of the vice-president candidates, Dr Xavier Jayakumar, had said that the use of Anwar’s name to rake in support during party polls campaigning has to lead to an unhealthy culture in the party. A: I think that in this campaign, if a candidate uses name, positions, money, in the end, it is all about getting support from party members.

But there is something I would like to state here - do not underestimate the intelligence of party members. Otherwise, that’s suicide. On matters relating to utilising government positions (for the campaign), Anwar has repeatedly said do not let him find out that such things are taking place.

Anwar said PKR is a reformist party, which has the opportunity to do away with cultures that led to Umno’s downfall. If you use resources from your positions to win votes from members, the victory will not be based on contributions to the party.

I am not saying that Dr Xavier is wrong, but campaign methods can vary and the guidelines have already been outlined by the party election committee. The first thing outlined in the campaign gui

deline was given by Anwar - do not abuse your positions. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd