Even as PKR formalises its union with Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partners DAP and PAS, it finds itself at odds with certain party members whose aspirations may not be in line with PR’s politics and personalities. Never has PKR experienced such attacks from within, with rebel parliamentarians openly criticising the party and PR colleagues.
In an exclusive interview with The Nut Graph on 11 Feb 2010 at the party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, PKR’s newly-appointed secretary-general, Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, admits not all problems are caused by rival Barisan Nasional (BN). Indeed, he stresses the need for the line to be drawn so that party discipline will not be jeopardised including in cases like Zulkifli Noordin‘s.
TNG: As PKR’s new secretary-general, what are some challenges you face in party administration?
Saifuddin Nasution: The biggest challenge is dealing with basic things like respecting disciplinary matters. Once you’re a registered member, you have to bind yourself with the party’s ethics and rules.
You might disagree with certain policies, but you have to learn how to put yourself within the party framework. Outsiders are looking at the party as if we are not firm in tackling disciplinary problems. My challenge is to have a proper plan to educate members to love the party, respect the party constitution and accept the fact that we are part of Pakatan Rakyat. People have given us solid support and have high hopes of us.
From the organisational point of view, we currently have about 400,000 members. We expect to have 700,000 members by the end of the year. This is based on the number of applications — every month we approve about 40,000 to 50,000.
What are the demographics of these new members?
Malay [Malaysians] comprise about 60%, Indian [Malaysians] about 23% and the balance includes Chinese [Malaysians] and those from Sabah and Sarawak. The largest age group of new members is 30 to 45. I’m very relieved when I look at these figures. This is the younger generation and they ensure the future of Keadilan as a multiracial party.
Does PKR face the problem of infiltrators in the party, people sent in to lie low and stir up trouble at the opportune time?
I’m not sure if we have this problem. But we are a big organisation which welcomes everyone.
Irene FernandezPeople like to note that some of our leaders are ex-Umno. People like me, Azmin (Ali), and (Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim). We also have activists with non-governmental organisation backgrounds like Elizabeth Wong, Tian Chua, R Sivarasa and Irene Fernandez. And we also have former members of Parti Rakyat Malaysia like Dr Syed Husin Ali and Latheefa Koya.
We also have leaders who have never been involved in politics before, like William Leong who was formerly a corporate lawyer. When you bring everyone together with their different worldviews on politics, different sets of values, and different expectations, the challenge is to ensure that only one united voice comes out.
So you can’t always blame the BN-controlled media then, clearly some of these problems are PKR’s own problems.
I don’t deny this. This is part of the struggle and we need to be brave enough to admit it. We have problems that are serious to a certain extent. I worry most about people’s perception of the party.
What about alleged favouritism of Zulkifli Noordin by Anwar, which is said to be the reason why PKR is slow in disciplining him?
Zul was in the legal team for Anwar’s first sodomy trial in 1999 and they had a close relationship. But now, we’re talking about another level of relationship which is in the context of the party.
It may be hard to draw a line between friends and party relationship. Perhaps Anwar might be having some difficulty in imposing certain things on Zul because of their past working relationship, and the sacrifices Zul might have made for Anwar as part of his defence team.
But to me that is a separate thing altogether. I would like to differentiate between Zul and Anwar as friends, and Zul as PKR MP with Anwar as Ketua Umum of PKR. We have to draw the line. Otherwise, there is the risk of people taking advantage of having close relationships with the top leaders and then trying to make use of those relationships. It puts the party in a very difficult situation. It’s very unfair to the 400,000 party members.
Zul is a very good friend of mine. As secretary-general, I had to write formally to him. I’ve known him for the last 10 years but that doesn’t mean when the party decided to refer him to the disciplinary board that I don’t write the letter to him. I have to draw the line so that I can fulfil my responsibilities. I also texted him; I said if you have any love for the party, please, control yourself and stop attacking the party.
But he’s still talking despite the gag order.
Exactly. We have to proceed with the due process.
Zulkifli says his presence in PKR is a benefit because he brings in Malay Muslim support. Could that be why he continues to be defiant?
It’s normal for some people to think that way. That because of people like them, they can get support for the party. I think that’s too good to be true. I have a lot of reservations about that kind of statement.
Also with statements like, if they don’t allow me to talk about the interest of Malay [Malaysians] and Muslims, then PKR is not the platform for me. As if PKR is not fighting for the interest of Malay [Malaysians] and Muslims.
That is totally wrong. If you study the 17 points of PKR’s policy, we’ve stated clearly our stand on the position of Islam and the Malay rulers, on Bahasa Malaysia and the Malay special position. So how could you claim that you alone are the only one fighting for these things? That kind of statement is not fair to other party leaders.
Part II: Keeping PKR disiplined.
Read previous Realpolitiker interviews