Given the groundswell of discontent in the country against Muhyiddin Yassin, one would have thought that the opposition leader would have universal support to replace the unpopular outgoing prime minister. However, this does not appear to be so.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad brought Anwar Ibrahim into Umno, and he bypassed many others to become the deputy prime minister before his sacking in 1998 on charges of sodomy and abuse of power.
PKR was then formed as an avenue for reform. The prospect of a multiracial party was very appealing, and the cry of Reformasi captivated many. The party is the success that it is today due to many members who made great sacrifices for the party. However, Anwar’s style of leadership has deeply divided the party.
When the opposition led by Anwar won Selangor in 2008, Anwar arbitrarily chose a corporate figure from outside the party rank and file, Khalid Ibrahim, to be the menteri besar, causing much discontent within PKR. This was the beginning of deep divisions within the party which continued for many years. This developed and caused PKR to be divided into serious factions, which were an open secret.
However, despite the serious dissatisfaction with his arbitrary leadership, in 2013 Anwar unbelievably, yet again, without prior consultation with his elected party leadership, made Khalid the MB for a second term in 2018. The long-suffering PKR members tried to maintain an appearance of unity despite this second shocking decision, but within a matter of months, it was untenable. It was clear that Khalid had to be replaced. The solution was the Kajang Move.
The original plan was that Anwar would contest in the state seat of Kajang, which would enable him to be the replacement for Khalid as menteri besar. However, the plan fell apart when it became clear that there were many obstacles, and his wife was then chosen as the candidate.
But despite her winning, it appeared unacceptable for her to be the replacement as the menteri besar. The party then faced yet another serious crisis caused by the same arbitrary style of leadership. His poor decisions, made without prior consultation with the party leadership, caused hardship to the party, and members suffered the consequences of these poor decisions.
Without credit to Anwar, thankfully, a solution was found to this embarrassing impasse when Mohamed Azmin Ali was appointed as menteri besar after protracted negotiation.
In the run-up to the general election of 2013, many members sacrificed tremendously from the grassroots to put up credible candidates for the general election. However, in the weeks before nomination day, Anwar replaced many of these potential candidates with his personal choices, which he parachuted in. These eleventh-hour flip-flops caused turmoil. It was believed that many seats could have been won had there not been these last-minute changes of candidates due to his direct personal intervention.
When it came to the GE of 2018, many hoped that history would not repeat itself. Strict guidelines were put in place to ensure that these last-minute flip-flops would not happen again. However, despite these guidelines, in 2018 the worst-case scenario occurred whereby potential candidates working hard on the ground for years were again replaced at the last minute against the same guidelines. It was clear that Anwar did not practise what he preached.
Another clear instance of Anwar’s poor judgment and controversial arbitrary leadership was the internal party elections in 2019. The previous party elections in 2014 were already acknowledged as chaotic and had attracted much adverse publicity for the party. Anwar then vowed that the elections in 2019 would be smooth, transparent and above board. PKR then implemented the one-man, one-vote method through digital voting, the first party to do so.
Many members expressed doubts about the practicality of this digital voting and believed that the party was not ready for this. What unfolded was a worst case scenario. Inevitably, many instances of chaos ensued. Numerous complaints were lodged with the party election committee throughout the protracted voting, which lasted between four and six months.
When there was clear evidence lodged with the party election committee against certain candidates, little action was taken, leading many to claim again that Anwar did not practise what he preached. It appeared that this was so because these alleged wrongdoers came from a certain favoured faction leading many to claim that, yet again, double standards were being practised.
Then, yet another shock befell the party.
In the division of Julau in Sarawak, there was a sudden massive surge of 13,000 members who were registered to vote apparently after the deadline had passed.
Their eligibility to vote was seriously questioned. This appeared to be outrageous! Yet again, no requisite action was taken and the deputy prime minister, Anwar’s wife, suddenly appeared in Julau which was a rural area in Sarawak – apparently to campaign, which was against the party guidelines.
This led to yet another groundswell of uneasiness about Anwar’s leadership, which appeared to be familiarly arbitrary and nepotistic.
Over and above the party elections that were riddled with one controversy after another over a period of four to six months, in the middle of the election when members were battling with many unresolved issues nationwide, Anwar then announced a shock decision. He had decided to become an MP so as to make himself eligible for premiership. The seat of Port Dickson was chosen. Many questioned why not his wife or daughter’s seat.
Members were then required to go to Port Dickson to assist in his campaign despite the ongoing controversial party elections. Many questioned why he could not have waited another month or two after waiting for so long for this move when the party elections would have been over.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, as opposition leader, he should have provided strong leadership to assist the nation in this unprecedented national crisis. In the Sabah state election, Pakatan leaders went all-out campaigning for Shafie Apdal. However, instead of assisting his fellow Pakatan opposition colleague, on the eve of the much-awaited Sabah polling day, he made the stunning “I have the numbers” claim which has plagued him until today.
This was reminiscent of a similar episode known widely as the 916 in 2008. The stock market crashed that day, and the next day Shafie lost the election by a narrow margin. To this day, the shocking statement by Anwar of having a strong and convincing majority has never been substantiated. This monumental error of his displayed a dangerous side of him. In hindsight, PH should have, from that incident onwards, looked for a replacement for him so as to avert the crisis we face today as it was already apparent that for many months, Muhyiddin was very shaky.
Anwar’s leadership in PKR has been beleaguered with one crisis after another, which has practically left the party fractured. Opposition against his leadership grew. To address this in and around April 2020, he sacked hundreds of members without due process, whom he considered to be against his leadership although they had broken no rules.
Can we entrust the nation at such a critical juncture to such a leader who has consistently displayed poor judgment? Despite the odds being in his favour, he has not been able to unite the MPs behind him to deliver the clear, convincing majority that he claimed he possessed months ago. If Anwar is a gentleman, he should be magnanimous and concede by now that he does not have the numbers to be the prime minister despite so many chances given to him.
At this juncture, PH should now look beyond Anwar and aggressively pursue an alternative which appears to be Shafie Apdal.
Tan Poh Lai, daughter of late parliamentary opposition leader Dr Tan Chee Khoon, is a former Wanita PKR vice-chief.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.