PKR deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali, who is defending his position in the upcoming party elections, says alliances or “‘cartels” will not determine the party’s future.
Instead, the 15-year party veteran called for inclusivity and unity to strengthen PKR, saying it was paramount in facing challenges from Barisan Nasional (BN) and Umno and to emerge stronger in the next general election.
“An alliance or cartel will not determine PKR’s future. It is the members who will decide.
“Now that we are having direct elections (to choose all party leaders), I encourage them to come out to vote for who should lead the party, especially at this difficult time when there are so many charges against (party de facto leader) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
“There are so many challenges before us. Penang and Selangor are both under siege by BN. We need a strong leadership to face BN and to prepare for the 14th general election,” he said at a party meeting at Yayasan Aman in Penanti, Penang, yesterday.
Azmin is looking at a tough fight to retain the No. 2 post that he won in 2010, contesting against top guns Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim and PKR secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, and a third contender, Hulu Selangor party branch member Datuk K. Ramachandran.
It is an open secret that Azmin and Khalid do not see eye to eye.
With Saifuddin teaming up with vice-presidential hopefuls Nurul Izzah Anwar and party strategist Rafizi Ramli in an alliance, indications are that they are all out to remove Azmin from his seat.
Azmin said he did not see the challenge as an attempt to kick him out but regarded the nominations of his colleagues as a show of good intention to offer their services and new ideas.
He said it was a healthy process in a democracy, and not a personal clash between any personalities.
“If you talk about reform and democracy, then certainly this is the best time to show our commitment and conviction to the cause. I welcome my colleagues’ participation in the party elections.
“Each of us has our own strengths and ideas that can be shared and used to complement one another. I do not see that they are against me.”
Asked if he was being shunned in his campaigning, he said he had never declared who were his running mates.
“I have never declared that this is my VP (vice-president), this is my supreme council. I am open. Do not blame me.
“I did not come here to declare that you (the members) must support or accept my VP or line-up, unlike the alliance. They have declared it openly. I have not. I believe in the wisdom of the members,” he said.
“Like Sim… he was there and now he is here. I have no problems,” said Azmin, referring to Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin, who was present at the gathering with another Penang PKR leader, Machang Bubuk assemblyman Lee Khai Loon.
The local leaders had also been seen with the other group.
On whether he had become unpopular among the upper echelon of the party because of his outspokenness on various issues, he said he has been criticised for 15 years since joining PKR and his conscience was clear.
The Gombak MP and Bukit Antarabangsa assemblyman said he could not keep quiet when there were matters that had an impact on the people, like the water deal signed between the Selangor government and Putrajaya.
Earlier this week, Azmin had proposed that a select committee be formed to monitor the ongoing negotiations between Selangor and Putrajaya on the takeover of water assets.
He said the Pakatan Rakyat government in Selangor had promised the people transparency, accountability and good governance and he could not accept that the water deal had been classified as confidential.
“I told Khalid that we passed the Freedom of Information Act but the government is now subjecting the water deal under the Official Secrets Act… it is a big conflict. I could not keep quiet.
“On this, yes, I criticised Khalid but I did it in the interest of the rakyat, who have every right to know what is in the deal,” he said.
“I cannot be quiet because we are talking about reform. It is against my conscience. When Umno does something wrong, we slam them but when PKR does something wrong, we keep quiet. This is not right.”
Azmin said some PR leaders have found him tough to deal with when it came to negotiating seat allocations, but said although he would fight hard to keep seats for PKR, he never went against consensus.
“If I wanted to be popular, I would have said things like ‘So you want the seat. Here, take it.’ I have to take a position and I have to pay the price.
“Anwar is the chief, so he has to play his role. He is the good cop. I am the bad cop.”
On speculation in blogs that he would rejoin Umno if he lost in the party elections, he said all sorts of talk would surface during the elections but he was confident that his track record would speak for itself.
The Anwar loyalist joined PKR in 1999 as one of the pioneering members. He was vice-president for three terms beginning 2001.
“When Reformasi took place, many of my colleagues were overseas. Anwar had told them to stay away because he did not want to have them victimised by the system. But I stayed put… I told him I needed to be here to defend the truth.
“It cannot be erased from history and record that I was detained on September 16, 1998, just four days before Anwar was picked up. They wanted me, Anwar’s longest-serving officer, to say certain things and fabricate evidence against him. I did not do that.
“Why would I go to BN and Umno now?” he said, adding that he would continue to serve PKR even if he was not re-elected.
On why he was not contesting for presidency and whether it was because both Anwar and incumbent president, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, were in the running, Azmin said he was comfortable working with either one of them.
He said PKR still needed Anwar and there was no reason for him to challenge him or his wife, Dr Wan Azizah.
“Anwar is a symbol in PKR and we need him to lead the party. I think I was the first to convince him to go for party president.
“BN will not allow him an easy way to take the party presidency… if anything prevents Anwar from leading PKR, Azizah also has the capability to lead the party,” he said, but added that there would come a time when the party had to move beyond Anwar.
Azmin said PKR was not an Anwar-centric party and it must be sensible to allow opportunity and space for its second generation of leaders to take over the helm.
He said that was the biggest challenge for PKR now, so it must ensure that there were initiatives and programmes to identify new talent in the party and recruit young professionals as members.
The younger leaders, he said, must continue to have the chance to participate in the policy-making process at all levels.
PKR is holding direct elections to choose leaders at all levels, including the top posts. The elections begin on April 25 and end on May 11. – April 12, 2014.