Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has admitted that PKR’s hastiness in fielding candidates during Election 2008 resulted in the party choosing leaders who were still caught up with “the Umno mindset.”
Anwar said that back in 2008, the party was ill-prepared as they could not get enough people to contest for various seats and this was the reason why “mistakes” were made, resulting in the party taking in whoever it could find.
“When it comes to elections, at the time we were ill-prepared, you had to make do with whatever you had,” he told The Malaysian Insider in an interview this week.
Anwar said that during the March 2008 general elections which saw ruling federal coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) lose its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament, PKR had trouble recruiting people to contest because it was considered a new party.
He said that prospective candidates declined offers to join PKR because they “were not sure they were going to win”, leading to Anwar having to approach more seasoned politicians from Umno to join PKR.
“It’s true. I accept that, the reason being because it’s a new party, people do not want to take the risk. All smart guys and professionals and intellectuals like you who give critical assessments (of PKR).
“At the time nobody wanted to participate in the elections and become our candidate. It’s a new party, you are not sure you are going to win.
“And I had to spend a lot of time persuading some people whom I considered (at the time) to have good potential,” said Anwar.
The PKR de facto leader claimed that some of PKR’s members who have since either left or who have been sacked from the party joined only because they thought they would be able to secure some “financial renumerations” or rewards later on.
“I cannot absolve (myself) from responsibilities... at the time there were potential candidates but they were not willing to contest, so we had to catch those that we felt could survive. During the early stages, we saw hope, we were strong, we could “bertahan” but September 16 came.
“At the time maybe some of them thought they could finally get a place in the Federal Government.
“When they did not get it they felt disappointed. And then came the issue of contracts like in Penang, corruption like in the case of Perak, over claims in Kedah,” quipped Anwar, in reference to the slew of reasons given by former party members who have since defected.
PKR has suffered from a string of defections — in under two years, ten of its lawmakers have left the party, citing dissatisfaction with the way in which PKR was run and its goals and ideals.
The five MPs who have exited PKR are Datuk Seri Zahrain Hashim (Bayan Baru), Tan Tee Beng (Nibong Tebal), Zulkifli Noordin (Kulim-Bandar Baharu), Wee Choo Keong (Wangsa Maju) and Mohsin Fadzli Samsuri (Bagan Serai).
Besides the five, PKR also lost five state assemblymen — two from Kedah, two from Perak and one from Selangor.
Apart from Zulkifli, who was sacked from PKR for crossing swords with the party leadership, the four MPs had left citing their dissatisfaction with the party leadership and Pakatan Rakyat.
During a Parliamentary debate last month, Zahrain had taken the opportunity to reveal details on Anwar’s purported government takeover plan on September 16, 2008, while Zukifli divulged how he had been asked to link Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, to the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaaribuu four years ago
Following their stunning revelations, Najib himself said he had spoken with the duo on the party’s secrets during their trip to Washington recently.
“It’s true (that the defectors still had the Umno mentality.) That’s why I say good riddance... Mistakes were made,” added Anwar, who chose his words carefully before he answered questions regarding former party members.
But Anwar also came to the defence of PKR’s choice in fielding candidates.
He said that candidates had to have had some with prior party experience, arguing that inexperienced party members would have also been detrimental to PKR’s growth and progress.
“You know, there is also some advantage of those who have had previous experience being in the party, jemaah or societies They know how to work as a team, discipline, leadership. There is a problem because sometimes they are also tied to the old culture. But there is also a problem for those who have no experience working in the party.
“If you have no experience being exposed to any of these ‘cultures’ it’s also a problem. They are then not used to give-and-take or leadership discussions, just individual positions and concerns. Look at Tan Wei Shu,” explained Anwar.
Anwar reiterated PKR’s stand that the party was undergoing a “cleansing process.”
He noted that the public troubles of the party were a “tough experience’ but nevertheless something that PKR “had to go through” to mature as a party.
“(The) cleansing process should continue because you need to remind people that this is a party committed to the reform agenda. The party has to be mindful of the fact that we came in with these principles.
“So that’s why party needs to be reminded.”
Anwar also conceded that he had been too lenient in the past and claimed to have known beforehand of the possibility of defections.
“Yes, I’ve been criticised for being a bit too lenient. I am a consensus builder. In fact some of them who jumped I got wind a month before. You know and I know some of them were just waiting, but some of them were waiting to be sacked. Then they feel that they can get a better price,” quipped Anwar.
But the former deputy prime minister dismissed the notion that he was “close” to the members who had left PKR.
He said that while he was friends with them, he did not maintain close personal ties.
“Normally I avoid personal questions. Are we close? I meet [Zahrain] twice a year. Then from after 1998 to 2006, I never hear a word from [him].
“But then again I cannot say he’s not my friend. Zulkifli Noordin for example, he was in my backup (legal) team, (but he was) never committed to the party in its struggles. It’s a non-issue,” said Anwar.
The Permatang Pauh MP said that their reasons for leaving were “scripted.”
According to Anwar, leaders like Zahrain and Zulkifli knew what PKR stood for the moment they joined the party, and that the struggles have never changed.
Anwar was also cautious in stating that the defections would stop after this.
“I see it’s the end, but [then again] you must know people still approach PKR, offers become higher .. Najib [is] bent on getting two-thirds majority,” said Anwar.
The result of 2008 election was something beyond everyone imagination. No one really knew how the rakyat felt after so many years of false promises. Lopsided deals. Rent seeking. Cronyism and lots more. PKR was as AI said lack of strong candidates so much so that if a monkey has been allowed to stand for election. The monkey would be in parliament today.
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