DATUK Seri Anwar Ibrahim had seemed a bit wobbly on the political front the last few weeks but the PKR retreat last weekend ended in a show of support for his leadership.
For weeks, the uproar over the sex video issue had almost threatened to tear his party apart, but the political retreat attended by PKR leaders, MPs, assemblymen and division chiefs confirmed that despite the split between the top two, the party is still intact, with Anwar having the upper hand.
Anwar also extended an olive branch to Datuk Seri Azmin Ali when he went along with the police view that Azmin was not involved in the sex video.
It was an important gesture to show that he wants to meet his estranged deputy president halfway and that he is keen on a political reconciliation.
Azmin was a no-show at the gathering and it is apparent that he is still hurt and wounded by what he sees as a conspiracy to bring him down.
Anwar had very much wanted Azmin at the retreat in Port Dickson. It would have been great optics for the party to show that there is hope for reconciliation.
The Economic Affairs Minister was supposed to address the gathering on Saturday evening and Anwar had phoned him a few times. It is understood that Azmin finally answered Anwar’s call after the latter’s statement on the video but he was unable to attend.
“Many people were looking forward to Azmin’s session, not to criticise him but to hear from him,” said polling expert Prof Datuk Dr Redzuan Othman who had presented the opening paper at the retreat.
The sex video issue was like one of those proverbial elephants in the room, but Prof Redzuan said delegates did not want to rock the boat any further and the controversial video was almost a “sideline issue”. But that did not mean that there was no fiery and emotional debate from those who spoke.
It was undeniable that most of those who attended are with Anwar and they were particularly upset over a statement signed by 28 party leaders censuring Anwar for saying that Azmin should resign if he was indeed in the video.
Some of those who spoke even wanted the party to take action on the signatories.
The mood at the retreat was that it is the party’s stand to support Anwar as the next prime minister and those who do not support that are free to go or, as one speaker put it, the party will “cut off the gangrene”.
“I think they want to see the party united behind the president and future prime minister. They also want disputes to be settled through internal channels instead of being thrashed out in the media,” said Tanjung Malim MP Chang Lih Kang.
Chang admitted that delegates also want Anwar to be firmer and more authoritative in dealing with those seen as sabotaging the party.
One of them criticised Anwar as being “too nice” to those who go against him and that he did not have the “killer instinct”.
The retreat, said Chang, was planned about three months ago to discuss how PKR leaders now holding government posts could use their resources to help the people and implement Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto.
But its timing at the height of a party crisis turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed delegates to let off steam and hear from the leadership.
Anwar, said Selayang MP William Leong, opened up the space for everyone to speak frankly but within the norms of decorum.
“He told us: ‘If you think I am wrong, tell me. If you think I am not doing my job, you are free to say so.’ He wanted to hear from us.
“There was overwhelming support to put the interest of the people and party first and when you do that, everything else falls into place,” said Leong.
He said the public want their problems solved and party members do not want to be distracted by infighting.
The president is keen to bring Azmin back into the folds of the party.
Anwar is very aware that his aspiration to become the next prime minister also rests on his ability to keep his party in one piece. People are not going to take him seriously if his party breaks into two.
Moreover, the fact that 28 party figures are prepared to openly defend Azmin shows that he still has considerable clout in PKR.
As such, Anwar’s overall tone at the retreat was the “language of reconciliation” and the need to move forward.
He is also upset that his political secretary Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak is still in police custody but his stand is to let the police do their work without interference.
It is understood that efforts are being made to find a suitable personality to mediate between Anwar and Azmin. Among the names tossed around are Dr Muhammad Nor Manuty, Datuk Dr Siddiq Fadzil and Dr Redzuan.
They are Abim stalwarts and respected within the PKR circle.
Prof Redzuan, who is also vice-chancellor of Unisel, had worked closely with Azmin when he was Selangor mentri besar while Muhammad had supported Azmin in the party polls.
The worst seems to be over for Azmin in the greatest debacle in his political career but he is still not out of the danger zone.
The question is whether he will now accept the olive branch held out by the person whom he had sarcastically called “the man in the mirror”.
“The ball is in Azmin’s court,” said Prof Redzuan.
Joceline Tan was an associate editor of The Star and continues to contribute political
analyses. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Star.