PKR touts inclusivity with slew of new party members, but analysts say this needs to go beyond a cosmetic exercise
KUALA LUMPUR: Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) has introduced a slew of new party members, including religious scholars and celebrities, as preparations for elections kick into gear.
While party leaders are heralding the move as part of PKR’s inclusivity narrative, experts interviewed by CNA said that this group will need to pull their weight and speak for the party in order for the attempt to pay off.
Earlier this month, 15 Islamic leaders including scholars and a Syariah court chief judge joined the party’s Negeri Sembilan chapter. Among them was a state assemblyman who used to be with Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS).
Speaking at a press conference on Apr 11 to introduce the new members, party chief Anwar Ibrahim said he has faced questions regarding the sudden surge of Islamic leaders joining the party.
“We are not a regular political party. This is a movement to bring good. It is not to sharpen the enmity between parties or between religions and races. It is just about claiming justice for everybody equally,” he said.
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In a Facebook post on Apr 12, Mr Anwar added: “(They) have the experience and the ability in a variety of disciplines and fields which they have mastered. I believe their participation will inject a new spirit for Keadilan.”
“I am optimistic and I believe that it would fill and improve the spirit of enabling reform and proving Keadilan as the platform for all, including professionals, artists, religious scholars and others,” the Port Dickson Member of Parliament (MP) said.
PKR central leadership council member Amidi Abdul Manan, who spoke on behalf of the Islamic leaders who recently joined the party, told CNA that PKR appealed to the group because it was more inclusive than the other parties preaching Islam.
“Keadilan is a party that is multiracial … that itself shows their inclusiveness and that is what has caused these leaders to be attracted to the party,” said Mr Amidi who has been a member of PKR for over 20 years.
He added that despite being a multiracial party, the fact that the PKR has adhered to its original aspirations such as keeping the Malay language as the federal language, working towards eradicating poverty and reforming the community even after 20 years, made the party ideal for Islamic leaders.
“(PKR is) more inclusive than PAS and UMNO (United Malays National Organisation and they are a party based on idealism. They care for the need of all quarters,” Mr Amidi added.
Before the religious scholars were introduced, actor and comedian Afdlin Shauki as well as rapper Syed Ahmad Syed Abdul Rahman Alhadad, who is better known as Altimet, both joined the party.
“If you throw a big enough fishing net, you catch what you need,” Subang MP Wong Chen told CNA.
He noted that the party now has a membership of around 1.1 million people and it is not unusual for celebrities to join PKR.
“When a celebrity joins our party, they get highlighted but it is nothing unusual for the party itself because the number of people joining the party has increased by many folds, especially after the 2018 General Election,” he claimed.
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When asked if such celebrities would draw young voters from rural constituencies, PKR’s communication director Fahmi Fadzil noted that many voters are social media savvy, regardless of whether they are from rural or urban areas.
"While having a celebrity on board is a win for the party. it will not win the election per se. It may draw attention but the ground work still has to happen,” he said.
Mr Afdlin and Mr Syed Ahmad declined to comment when approached by CNA.
A COSMETIC EXERCISE?
Will these eye-catching party recruits give a real boost to PKR’s campaigning efforts?
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s senior fellow Jeniri Amir said the impact of the new members would not be far-reaching.
“To me, it is not going to have any impact. It is more of a cosmetic approach. This has been done in Indonesia and it is very common to drop in artists and popular people like celebrities and preachers. I think PKR has taken a lead from there.
“All this will not undo the damage the Sheraton Move has done. You need to do well on the ground. It is more about PKR being seen as a credible party that sticks to its reform agenda,” he said, referring to the political maneuvering that led to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan governent.
He added: “What is needed is for PKR to be seen or perceived to be committed is to have credible leaders and not party hoppers … It is difficult to convince people that they are credible. They have no choice but to focus on their reform agenda, because in the 15th General Election, even a small party will play a big role, no one party is going to be dominant.”
In order for the move to pay off, the artistes and religious leaders must be willing to pull their weight and speak for the party, said Professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a scholar-in-residence at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.
“The vital point that needs to be communicated to the Malays is that PKR-led government will not disadvantage the Malays, irrespective of whether the Democratic Action Party (DAP) is in the government or not.
“The religious leaders will be more impactful on the ordinary Malays in generating a snowballing effect in terms of popular support,” he said.
The political scientist added that PKR has been Malaysia's most inclusive Malay-led party for close to two decades, appealing to a cross-section of the increasingly urban population while being able to garner a significant non-Malay following.
“It is not that PKR never had rapport with the Islamic community, but its inclusive socio-political approach was slow to take hold among the conservative Malays, who are still the majority in the largely rural or semi-urban Malay belt areas.
“That more religious personalities are gravitating towards PKR, rather than being an unconditional endorsement of Mr Anwar, reflects a disappointment with the performance of the present Perikatan Nasional government, notwithstanding its claims of representing primarily Malay-Muslim interests,” said Prof Ahmad Fauzi.