As Malaysian PM Anwar’s party turns 25, members say succession plan needed

Charismatic founder of the People’s Justice Party is a spry 76, but his replacement needs time to be trained.
Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
Kuala Lumpur
As Malaysian PM Anwar’s party turns 25, members say succession plan needed Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who leads the Peoples Justice Party (PKR) that turned 25 this month, speaks at a PKR Congress in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Nov. 26, 2023.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

As Malaysia’s only secular party, the People’s Justice Party (PKR), celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend, it needs to urgently begin grooming a successor to its leader and founder, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, party members and analysts said.

A spry 76, Anwar could run for PM in the next election in 2028, but having depended on his charisma for decades, PKR needs time to prep an effective replacement, without whom it could end up a mere bit player in national politics, those sources said.

A leader from PKR’s youth wing acknowledged that he and other members believe there is the need for a succession plan.

“The question is whether this can be done in a timely fashion or not,” the leader, who did not want to be named because he is not allowed to speak to the media, told BenarNews.

He added that now is the time to decide on Anwar’s replacement because his successor would have time to prepare for the role of PKR leader.

“Leaders [usually become] ready because we are given the opportunity to grow. We are given roles in state governments, even the youth members,” he said.

“A lot of training is given to us [such as] to work with MPs and state assemblymen.”

Supporters of the Peoples Justice Party-led Pakatan Harapan coalition cheer as an alliance leader speaks at a poll rally ahead of the 2022 national election, Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 16, 2022. [S. Mahfuz/ BenarNews]

A political analyst at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia concurred with the youth leader.

“PKR has to start introducing and highlighting [the work] of a successor. The faster the better. People, especially voters, are convinced if the succession plan is executed in a deliberate fashion,” Kartini Aboo Talib, a professor of public policy, told BenarNews.

“If this happens, PKR’s survival for the long term would be guaranteed. If they have no replacements, it shows that PKR has no strategic succession plan and will fail in the near future.”

Besides, PKR has been relying too much on Anwar, and its members need to be convinced that the party’s struggle for a middle Malaysia will continue no matter who is at the helm, analyst Tunku Mohar Mokhtar said.

“While the party is strongly related to Anwar, it is also made up of activists from civil society and former members of UMNO,” the assistant professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia told BenarNews.

Anwar Ibrahim, chairman of the Peoples Justice Party-led Pakatan Harapan coalition, delivers a speech at a poll rally ahead of the 2022 national election, Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 16, 2022. [S. Mahfuz/ BenarNews]

The question of who will eventually replace Anwar could surface at Sunday’s event to commemorate the silver jubilee of PKR.

A PKR national lawmaker posed this very query to the more than 1 million members of his party, in a statement on April 14.

“Is the party ready to roll out candidates to replace Anwar Ibrahim as the president of the party and prime minister of Malaysia, when the time comes for him to retire?” Hassan Abdul Karim’s statement said.

Anwar founded PKR after he was sacked from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in 1998, which had been ruling Malaysia since its independence from the British in 1957. In multiethnic and multireligious Malaysia, UMNO pitched itself as the party for the majority ethnic Malays.

PKR was multiracial from the start and grew out of the “Reformasi” (reformist) movement that Anwar had started after he was fired from UMNO. The movement demanded institutional change with the goal of social equality and social justice. And the party aimed to provide an alternative to UMNO’s race-based politics.

Who could succeed Anwar?

While Anwar’s position as PKR leader has been unrivaled, other members have clashed over who would be the number two person in the party.

Such dissensions would be unavoidable, which means Anwar may well end up picking his eldest daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, to lead the party, said Tunku Mohar.

“Nurul Izzah has experience as an MP and she is the current vice president of the party. Coming from Anwar’s family is an added advantage and she seems to be able to get support from the competing camps in the party,” he said.

However, others are more than capable of heading PKR, the youth leader and analyst Kartini said.

“PKR has a lot of second-line leaders with administrative experience. Many of them have been MPs for many years and one of the leaders is Amirudin Shari, chief minister of Selangor, the richest state in Malaysia,” the PKR youth wing member said.

Kartini named more than one “good” potential PKR head.

“They have Saifuddin [Nasution Ismail], Rafizi [Ramli], Nurul Izzah,” her said.

Saifuddin serves as home minister and Rafizi is economic affairs minister.

Still, Anwar is needed for the 2028 election, said party member Lee Boon Chye, a former lawmaker and deputy health minister. This is especially the case if the parties in the current PKR-led coalition government decide to run together.

After no single party won a majority in the 2022 general election, Anwar, with his Pakatan Harapan alliance, struck a deal with foe UMNO and regional parties from the states of Sabah and Sarawak, to align.

The king invited Anwar to form a government, after which he was sworn in as prime minister in November 2022.

This government has stayed intact for two years despite many challenges, with observers saying Anwar is the glue keeping the ideologically disparate coalition together.

“Anwar is still needed to lead the coalition in the next general election,” Lee Boon Chye said.


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