FOCUS On the surface, PKR's wide-ranging amendments to the party constitution looks to improve the party's democratic image, but several key amendments raises the question of whether it was designed to keep new central leaders in check.

Apart from amending rules that will provide greater recognition for women and East Malaysian states, some significant functions of the party's central leadership functions will be passed on to the state and branch levels.

pkr special congress 241113In principle, the branch and state leadership will be able to choose councillors for local governments and village chiefs, notwithstanding the central leadership still having veto powers.

This could eliminate rent-seeking behaviour and remove excessive clout of central leaders. But at the same time, it would serve as a good check-and-balance system against new leaders that will helm the party in the near future. Party elections are scheduled for next year.

There are indications that a leadership transition is in the offing. One amendment to the party constitution was to allow the party's deputy president to automatically take helm of the party if the president vacates the position.

Anwar's next move

This is likely a subtle vote of confidence for the party's present deputy president Azmin Ali and others who have been mentored by PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim.

In addressing the special party congress today, Anwar was direct in wanting younger leaders to step up during the party election.

pkr congress 2011 261111 wan azizah anwar"We will give space to the second rung leadership to lead in the 2014 election," he said.

He specifically mentioned PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar's achievement in fending off a monumental challenge in retaining the Lembah Pantai parliamentary seat and Rafizi Ramli's role in a series of exposes against the ruling coalition.

"I know many people in Umno despise him but at least now there is someone to carry the weight. I'm no longer the sole target for attacks (by Umno)," he said jokingly.

However, whether or not Anwar steps aside for someone younger remains unclear. He has been the "de facto leader" of PKR since 2007, a position that is not even described in the party constitution.

A delegate from Malacca, Abdul Wahab Ibrahim, had urged Anwar during the congress to take over as party president but he was mum on the matter in his winding-up speech.

When approached after the congress, Anwar was coy, refusing to say more than: "It's still too early to say".

Idealism over individualism

Technically, Wan Azizah can still remain as president for two more terms because the party's three-term limit only took effect from April 2010. Wan Azizah has led the party since 1999.

Another key concern for the party appears to be the smooth running of the party elections. Corruption, incompetency and fierce infighting marked the last round in 2009.

Anwar's winding-up speech touched on this and warned that fierce competition would result in a split and that the election committee will be stricter this time to protect the party.

He also appealed to members to reject vote-buying attempts.

Both Anwar and Wan Azizah stressed the importance of idealism over individual political ambition, which had at many times threatened the party.

"I would like to stress in the idealism of our struggle... without idealism, democracy is meaningless," said Anwar.