School children walk past Malaysia opposition People's Justice Party flags ahead of the 13th upcoming general elections in Kuala Lumpur on April 8, 2013. Malaysia's premier Najib Razak unveiled a manifesto on April 6 pledging bigger cash handouts, millions of new jobs and lower taxes and crime, as he seeks his first mandate in looming national polls. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN

PKR has been the most problematic of parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition, and the root cause of its internal rifts goes further back than just the recent spat over its attempt to work with PAS.

Even after PH’s presidential council decided not to cooperate with the Islamist party, some PKR leaders continued to issue statements to justify their positions over the issue.

A few months back, PKR’s internal tensions caused delays in the naming of the PH leadership, owing to the big personalities involved like Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar Ibrahim and PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

PKR, which prides itself for allowing differences of opinion as a sign of democracy, was already divided over 2014’s “Kajang Move” orchestrated by vice-president Rafizi Ramli and supported by secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution.

The plan was to remove then Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim, and have Anwar replace him.

It failed as the Selangor palace appointed PKR deputy president Azmin Ali as menteri besar instead, and the episode caused cracks in the opposition pact then known as Pakatan Rakyat, which included DAP and PAS. PAS was against Khalid’s removal.

Party discord became worse after Anwar was convicted and jailed for sodomy in February 2015. When PKR leaders from different groups met the de facto leader in prison or in court to discuss party matters, they came away with different information.

Anwar has been seen as the only person who could unite PKR’s disparate factions that come from a diverse range of parties and non-governmental organisations – Umno, Parti Rakyat Malaysia, Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Abim), Jemaah Islah Malaysia (JIM) and Reformasi activists.

Two camps

Rafizi recently revealed which leaders were in whose “camp” when he called for a special congress to let the party grassroots decide whether PKR should pursue talks for electoral cooperation with PAS.

In Azmin’s “camp” are those who favour talks with PAS to avoid three-cornered fights in the general election: Chua Tian Chang, Shamdul Iskandar, Xavier Jayakumar, Dr Shaharuddin Badaruddin, Zuraida Kamaruddin (PKR Wanita’s chief), Sivarasa Rasiah (political bureau member), Saifuddin Abdullah, Kamaruddin Jaafar, Fahmi Fadzil (strategic communications director), N. Surendren, Elizabeth Wong (Selangor executive councillor), Hee Loy Sian, Siti Aaishah Sheikh Ismail, Mohamad Nur Manuty, Latheefa Koya, Dr Afif Bahardin dan Haniza Talha.

Those who support Rafizi in opposing cooperation with PAS are: Sim Tze Tzin (strategy director), Fariz Musa (Jingga 13 head coordinator), General (R) Abdul Hadi Al-Khatab (disciplinary board chairman), Christina Liew (PKR Sabah chairman), Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid (Selangor exco), Wong Chen, Rodziah Ismail, Fuziah Salleh, S. Manivannan, Gooi Hsiao Loong, Azan Ismail, Dr Idris Ahmad, Dr Azman Ismail, Hassan Karim and Aminuddin Haron.

The fear of three-cornered fights in the general election is real, even though there are differing projections on how well PH will perform.

Azmin had earlier maintained an open stance on talks with PAS, saying he wanted to keep the door open. The discomfort among those who disagreed with this grew worse when photos of him and Dr Wan Azizah visiting PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang in hospital went viral.

It prompted Rafizi to call for the special congress, sparking off a flurry of statements by one leader against another.

Rafizi’s call was criticised by deputy PKR Youth chief Dr Afif Bahardin, who called it “absurd” and pointed out that Rafizi had not been attending political bureau meetings for a “very long time”.

Party grassroots, however, supported the idea, saying that the “confusion” was affecting preparations for the general election

The matter appeared settled when the PH presidential council announced that the coalition had decided to reject any cooperation with PAS in the 14th general election.

Azmin issued a cryptic statement a few days later, in which he said there was still “room for consensus” on the matter, while affirming the PH decision at the same time.

Anwar in a statement from prison then explained that he had endorsed PKR’s talks with PAS and that Azmin had been appointed to lead them. However, he also acknowledged that the leadership had the right to review the situation from time to time.

Rafizi was quick to jump on Anwar’s statement, saying it must not be misconstrued as a signal for PKR to continue talks with PAS.

Earlier, Rafizi had also explained why he stopped attending party political bureau meetings, which he described as a waste of time, because of disagreements with Azmin.

The issue appears to be put to rest now, and PAS out of the picture, with Azmin yesterday chairing the first meeting of the Selangor PH committee that comprise leaders from the other parties that make up the opposition coalition. He said they had already started discussing the pact’s election manifesto and machinery.

Recently, Dr Mahathir admitted that PH had a “slight problem” with PKR as Anwar appeared to desire continued talks with PAS.

“I hope we can put a stop to it,” the former prime minister had said.