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One ummah, two PASes

NOTHING could be more wrong than to think there is a pro-Umno faction in PAS.

Rather, we need to notice nuances in the debate on a possible unity government with Umno and the notorious resolution for the National Fatwa Council to investigate and possibly ban Sisters in Islam (SIS). These issues are symptomatic of two factions competing for the soul of a new PAS, by offering different strategies to deal with Umno and other “enemies”.

And specifically regarding the unity government proposal, perhaps one way to foreshadow the direction of such a government is to look at the fates that befell PAS’s two splinter parties, Berjasa and Hamim. These parties could not survive without first collaborating with Umno, but such collaboration soon led to their demise.

Asri Muda (Public domain;
source: Wiki commons)
Berjasa, formed by former Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Mohamad Nasir in 1978, and Hamim, formed by former party president Tan Sri Mohamad Asri Muda, both failed miserably. The question is, why?

To put it very crudely, the Malay Malaysians as a community — at least in the Malay heartlands like Kelantan and Terengganu — are simply too large to be represented by one party.

Notwithstanding the calls by Umno or PAS to unite for the sake of race or religion, Malay Malaysians simply need at least two parties to allow for competition in political, economic and social resources and prizes.

Unity governments — whether between Umno and PAS, Umno and Berjasa, or Umno and Hamim — are basically about doing away with open competition, not unlike mergers of big corporations that deny consumers real choices.

But would Malay Malaysian voters allow competition and choices, which make the masses the ultimate political deciders, to evaporate? Probably not, and judging by history, they would penalise PAS.

For example, the then Umno-led Alliance’s interpretation of the 13 May 1969 riots scripted a “crisis” of Malay-Muslim survival. This then necessitated a unity government encompassing major Malay-Muslim parties. And this was when PAS joined the post-1969 Barisan Nasional (BN) unity government.

Even then, many anti-establishment Malay Malaysian voters abandoned PAS for Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) — the only Malay-based opposition party — in the 1974 elections.

Hypothetically, then, if Umno and PAS continued getting along in 1978, PRM might have further eroded PAS’s support base. By extension, Umno and PAS might have needed to virtually become one like Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU). But we all know the relationship between Umno and PAS soured, and PAS eventually left the BN.

If a unity government between Umno and PAS does materialise now, it would likely have only three consequences: the decline of Umno, the decline of PAS, or the merger of the two into one party. Of these three, the decline of PAS is the most likely outcome.

Husam Musa (Source:
PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa are too seasoned as politicians to not know that the unity government proposal does not unite parties, but rather kills one of the partners. Equally aware are PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and former vice-president Datuk Husam Musa.

The difference between the two camps is how they assess PAS’s own chances of survival in this poisonous offer. In other words, Hadi and Nasharudin believe they can outsmart Umno. Hence, their rapprochement with Umno is not motivated by love, but contempt towards Umno.

PAS’s two competing visions

In my previous analysis, I labelled the two factions of PAS as the “red ocean” versus the “blue ocean”. The red oceaners want to remain in the comfort zone of Malay Malaysian votes and compete with Umno. The blue oceaners are keen to abandon the red ocean of communal politics and explore the uncharted water of non-Malay Malaysian votes.

These two factions have very distinctively different ideas of how PAS should be, despite their common commitment in further Islamising Malaysia and common interest in eliminating Umno.

The “red ocean faction” is eyeing the vast Umno territories and wishes to eventually replace Umno as the standard bearer of Malay-Muslim nationalism. This explains why PAS does not only glorify the opponents of the teaching Science and Mathematics in English policy (PPSMI), but also opposes Umno’s move to liberalise bumiputera-ism. The Islamist party is simply leapfrogging to the right of Umno on the ethno-religious front.

Hadi Awang
But it would be wrong to think this faction is not, or less, interested in the support of non-Muslim Malaysians, as my earlier thesis implies.

For example, Hadi wholeheartedly backs the idea of upgrading the non-Muslim PAS Supporters Club to a full-fledged wing. While Umno failed to entertain the idea of opening its doors to non-Malays, which Datuk Onn Jaafar mooted nearly six decades ago, accepting non-Muslims as PAS members is now a consensus across the board. These non-Muslim PAS members would presumably have voting rights and qualify to contest as candidates in elections.

But what is the red ocean faction’s game plan with regards to the religious minorities both within and outside the party? The non-Muslim Malaysian members would be important to help garner non-Muslim Malaysian votes. They would also be given sufficient power to govern their own communal affairs.

Would they be treated equally? Of course not, but they will be treated with more civility; PAS at least does not have the culture of waving keris.

Put together its stand on Muslim and non-Muslim Malaysians, the red ocean faction is actually aiming to replace not Umno but the BN, with the non-Muslim wing playing the role of the MCA and MIC, albeit with more respect and dignity. It’s a reformed BN model of consociationalism — that is, benign one-party predominance — if you like.

What does the “blue ocean faction” have to offer PAS and Malaysia? They offer to eliminate Umno and the politics of racism, corruption and inequality it represents.

But what next? What to do after Umno is eliminated? This is where the blue ocean faction falters. And their obstacles are bigger than their failure in coordinating supporters in the race for the deputy presidency, where Husam and Mohamad Sabu split the vote almost evenly and lost.

The blue ocean faction fails to define their future enemy after the end of Umno.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Pic by the World
Economic Forum; source: Wiki commons)
; Anwar
They cannot offer a game plan to end PAS’s role as the second-fiddle party in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR). They are mistakenly labelled as “Erdogans”, a moniker that more appropriately applies to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whom the blue oceaners are close to.

But if Anwar is the real Erdogan here, what will happen to the new politics of the blue oceaners? Will their new politics eventually lead to the absorption of PAS into PKR? This is a question troubling many PAS members but the Erdogans fail to answer.

The obstacle of one ummah

The Erdogans are trapped between a rock and hard place. They cannot attack Muslim-led PKR’s inclusive politics, and yet they need to differentiate themselves from PKR to remain competitive.

And this is where the blue oceaners are faced with a bigger test. True, the blue ocean faction now affirms political pluralism between faiths, provided Islam is not perceived as being threatened. But is this faction ready to make that quantum leap to affirm political pluralism within Islam?

To answer this question, let’s just look at the notorious proposal calling for the banning of Sisters in Islam, coming from Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad’s division. Clearly, the proponents cannot see why something so different from their own views could possibly be good and thus should not be banned.

That Khalid allowed such a resolution to go through to the main muktamar was not merely a reckless mistake, but a symptom of the blue ocean faction’s inherent ideological weakness.

But looking at it positively, it is a God-sent signal calling for the birth of a genuine PAS for all, or a PAS that can live with diversity. Can the blue ocean faction, led by Nik Aziz, part the sea of Islamist ideology and arrive on the shore of inclusiveness?

A political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by training, Wong Chin Huat believes politics needs to deal with both ideological and instrumental questions. He believes Anwar can help stabilise the Pakatan Rakyat and promote team-building by making key leaders in PAS and the DAP his shadow ministers.

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6 Responses to “One ummah, two PASes”

  1. chinhuatw says:

    A simple question that needs ideological quantum leap: can you have two good yet different – say one conservative, one liberal – Muslim-based parties?

  2. RM says:

    This is an internal PAS problem. They should use the muktamar to their advantage by settling all differences, whether it benefits the PR alliance or otherwise. Then, they should come clean to all the PR leaders and supporters. Transparency is the best way to solve political fracas like this. Sweeping everything under the carpet will only escalate the problem!

  3. whack says:

    In the next 50 to 70 years or so, when the Malays and Muslims comprise about 90% of the population, then PAS can achieve their ambition. Perhaps they are planning ahead for the time, while non-Muslim and non-Malays are preparing themselves to be the second class citizens of another country.

  4. Fikri Hakim says:

    We should not label conservative or liberal Muslims or Muslim parties. The Muslims should be united, and be strong in their own land. After all, Islam has been in the country since 1400. They should be matured enough and not be influenced to split them into several factions. They should continue to rule and promote Islamic values to the people of this country. They should be strong, and Umno and PAS should continue to be for a unity government. The “do not have principles” PKR could have their own destiny, and will be slowly disappeared from the political landscape of the country.

  5. Eric says:

    @Fikri Hakim, “do not have principles PKR”.
    Are you saying that, by contrast, Umno has principles now? Since when exactly?

    1 Black Malaysia. Democracy First. Elections Now.

  6. The talk of unity government is just a PAS strategy to weaken PKR’s standing in Pakatan. And this is not about Malay unity or whatsoever.

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