SHAH ALAM ― Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was in tears at the PKR national congress here yesterday as she recalled the tumultuous early days of the “Reformasi” movement.
The outgoing PKR president delivered a heartfelt speech and imparted an outgoing message that had constant reminders about the party’s origins which, she said, was born out of a real struggle during the turbulent years that followed her husband’s incarceration.
Dr Wan Azizah said PKR had but little support at the time of its birth, as it waged a tough campaign to free Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked as then deputy prime minister as a result of a political rift with then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Dr Mahathir, Anwar and Dr Wan Azizah are now allies in the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH).
“We are a party that was born of struggle,” Dr Wan Azizah, who is also the deputy prime minister and minister of women, family and community development, said as she broke down in tears.
Dr Wan Azizah stayed out of the party polls to make way for Anwar, who claimed the presidency unopposed and is set to become the next prime minister once Dr Mahathir steps down.
The party concluded its elections on Friday and the new lineup, led by Anwar, officially took over the leadership yesterday.
At the congress, PKR also appointed Dr Wan Azizah as the first chairman of its advisory council.
Dr Wan Azizah recounted the critical moments leading up to her decision to take her husband’s place while he was in prison, stating that it was the people’s support that kept her motivated.
“I was consoled by the presence and outstanding support of the people. We succeeded in breaking the walls of power of Umno-Barisan Nasional and gave a tough fight with allies in the Alternative Front (AF),” she said.
The AF was a loose coalition that comprised PKR, PAS and DAP. It dissolved in 2004 only to reincarnate again as Pakatan Rakyat, before a fallout with PAS broke them apart again.
The “Reformasi” movement lasted more than 20 years, with Anwar jailed the second time in 2015 for yet another sodomy conviction. He was granted a full royal pardon after PH took federal power in May.
In the later part of her speech, Dr Wan Azizah stressed the need for PKR to remain grounded. She said the party was at risk of losing support if it veered away from the course of justice, truth and equality.
“With the spirit of New Malaysia, the legislative and judiciary must remain separated. This is paramount to ensure check and balance,” she said.
“Corruption, power abuse, oppression and misappropriation must not happen. This was a promise we have long made and fought for.”
Some PH supporters have slammed Dr Wan Azizah for what they saw as her tip-toeing on issues that demanded strong leadership, such as those on child marriage and female circumcision. Critics claimed her soft stance was meant to placate a conservative voter base when she should have been decisive instead.
Dr Wan Azizah told PKR members it must not be seen to perpetrate corruption and weaknesses of past governments.
“How unfortunate it will be to our struggle and sacrifices if this were to happen,” she said, adding that she is leaving a party much stronger than its time of inception, and that she felt relief to depart on that note.
“We survived against the odds and we grew stronger and changed the government. That gave me a lot of emotional feeling because of what we had gone through,” she said.
“Maybe its part of the price we pay for a change of government but tears sometimes can be tears of joy because I am relieved of my position, my responsibilities and passed the (task) when the party is at that level.”