At the 54th PAS Muktamar in Ipoh, 17 Aug 2008. Are the leaders of the party steering a new course for the PAS ship?
POLITICAL watchers who expected fiery debates and even a possible rift at the just-concluded PAS muktamar got it only partly right: there were passionate discussions, but no hint of a revolt. Party president Datuk Seri Haji Abdul Hadi Awang alluded to this in his closing speech of the three-day annual meeting on 17 Aug: “The rampant speculation by the mass media did not materialise. There was no big split in PAS at this muktamar.”
He was referring to conjecture that the recent meetings between Umno and PAS — referred to as “muzakarah” and “muqabalah” by each party respectively — would rip PAS apart.
Granted, the muqabalah was the most prevalent issue discussed at the muktamar. During the debate on Hadi Awang’s keynote address, representatives from different divisions made their passions known to the 5,000-strong crowd of delegates and observers.
On one hand: approval. Terengganu representative Mohd Noor Hamzah likened the muqabalah to “a victim strategising ways to get back what is rightfully his from the oppressor”. Dewan Ulama representative Nik Zawawi Salleh went a step further. He asked: “How are we going to uphold Islam if, one day, there are more non-Muslim parliamentarians than Muslims? Already our non-Muslim partners in Pakatan Rakyat are demanding too much and not supporting us enough.” This, he said, is why the muqabalah is crucial. “This time we’ll scuttle Umno, God willing.”
But on the other: disfavour. Selangor representative Salehin Mukhyi blasted the meetings between Umno and PAS leaders as “confusing” and “haphazard”. He said that following statements made by the different leaders over the past weeks, one could not be blamed for thinking of the muqabalah in terms of a Chipsmore cookie: now you see it, now you don’t.
This internal dissension might have been partly due to the way the mass media covered the issue. Malacca representative Kamaruddin Haji Sidek said: “We should have a campaign to punish the media like Utusan and TV3. We should burn the papers in public or something like that.”
Deputy spiritual leader Harun Din: “No one should question the Syura Ulama’s decisions if they are within the spirit of the party constitution”And deputy spiritual leader Harun Din delivered another slap in the face: “In their response to the muzakarah, it might appear as though the Umno members have been better behaved than PAS members.”
That said, Harun’s main warning was that members should never bypass or disobey instructions given by the Syura Ulama. The party constitution gives the Syura Ulama powers to instruct the rest of the party membership, and these instructions must be followed, he stressed.
In the end, Hadi Awang affirmed that PAS will not be entertaining any discussion to share political power with Umno. Spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat echoed this: “The reason we want to continue the muqabalah with Umno is to ask them why they do not fully accept Islam.” His logic is that PAS needs to keep reminding Umno to follow the dictates of the Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad.
Deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa also stressed this point: “Our talks with Umno have no political content, nothing about sharing power. We are only addressing things like Islam, religion and race.”
Despite these protestations, Hadi Awang revealed some tangible outcomes of the muqabalah so far. “The fact that we can now publish Harakah twice a week again is one fruit,” he said.
When asked what other fruits PAS has reaped, he replied: “Time will tell. Already, there are more provisions being channeled to religious schools in Kelantan. The muqabalah might even benefit our Pakatan Rakyat partners. We can talk to Umno about the ISA, for example, and this affects Hindraf too.”
The muqabalah between PAS and another other party is technically open until the day of judgement, says Nik AzizStill, Nik Aziz does not seem to be convinced. In a separate press conference, he pointed out: “This is what we expect from Umno. They will only make overtures with us when they are in trouble. It shows how immoral they are. Shouldn’t they have tried to do some soul searching with their other Barisan Nasional component parties before courting us?”
Besides, he added, meetings with Umno are not new. According to Kedah Representative Musoddak Ahmad, PAS has been initiating different meetings with Umno since the 1980s; it is only the current meetings that have raised eyebrows in light of the general election results.
Bottom line: even though PAS has gone public saying it will not share power with Umno, the muqabalah will nevertheless continue.
Another anxiety revolved around PAS’s status as a partner in Pakatan Rakyat. Several delegates expressed dissatisfaction at the way PAS was being sidelined in the opposition coalition.
Penang representative Mohd Fahmi Abdul Wahab said: “If we were to liken our partnership in Pakatan Rakyat to a marriage, then it’s normal for a couple that’s been married for more than four months to expect some nausea and morning sickness. But we haven’t even started holding hands yet.”
Terengganu representative Mohd Noor Hamzah was less generous: “We are not married to our partners in Pakatan Rakyat. We are only friends. Their children are not our children, and vice versa.”
Implicit in this complaint about being sidelined is that PAS is starting to lose focus as a party that is not only involved in the political process but also in religious outreach. Some representatives bemoaned the fact that PAS’s religious outreach programmes have been put on the backburner since the general elections, articulating fears that political victory would mean PAS turning its back on Islamising Malaysia.
One delegate asked: “Don’t tell me now that we’ve won five states, we’re not going to do religious outreach anymore?”
This dissatisfaction was underscored by Hadi Awang’s wait-and-see answer about endorsing Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister should the Pakatan manage to engineer the requisite political defections come 16 Sept. However, the PAS leadership was also quick to stress their endorsement of Anwar’s candidacy in Permatang Pauh.
Several delegates called for a more unified coordinating structure within the Pakatan, one example being the setting up of a central committee of some sort. But in the end it was the passing of a resolution brought by the Dewan Pemuda PAS Pusat to empower and strengthen the Pakatan Rakyat that laid to rest any doubts about PAS remaining a viable partner.
Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad believes the muktamar has resolved issues that created concern and anxiety in party membersCentral Working Committee member Dr Dzulkefly Haji Ahmad told The Nut Graph: “The Pakatan Rakyat offers its parties the greatest common ground to work from. DAP’s secular state position is not antithetical to PAS’s struggle, because we have already said that we will respect what is enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Besides, we have learnt our lesson from 1999. This time, the Pakatan Rakyat will work.”
Another recurring issue was that of maintaining and growing the support of non-Muslims towards PAS. Several delegates agreed to the increasing of support and expansion of the 10,000-member Kelab Penyokong PAS, but stopped short of calling for it to be elevated to Dewan status.
The issue of whether or not to accept non-Muslims as associate members of PAS was also unresolved. In the end, Hadi Awang suggested that perhaps PAS could nominate some members of Kelab Penyokong PAS as senators, “but this will depend on the discretion of the respective State divisions.”
There is no doubt that there were conflicting messages being delivered throughout the muktamar, and that PAS members were clearly split on issues. But Dr Dzulkefly was not fazed by this.
Dr Hatta Ramli is happy that the PAS leadership decided on PAS for All as this year’s theme, as it reflects PAS’s open approach to gaining support“These anxieties have always been there. Members have always been afraid of PAS losing its Islamic identity,” he said. “But we are more refined now, and the thing about PAS is, we do not believe in stifling dissent. We manage it.”
PAS treasurer Dr Haji Mohd Hatta Md Ramli told The Nut Graph: “There are many in PAS who still want to remain in their comfort zone, having a very fixed idea of setting up an Islamic state. But some of us want a more open yet consistent approach. We must be open, but we should also be careful not to be seen as inconsistent or trying to take advantage of certain parties to achieve our goals.”
Which way now?
One thing is obvious: PAS is confident that it is ready to form the federal government, and it is trying its hardest to convince Malaysians to believe this. It’s hard to buy into this hype so soon, because even though the PAS leadership is convinced that all its internal anxieties have been allayed at this muktamar, it hasn’t quite succeeded in telling the rest of Malaysia in explicit terms what exactly it means when it says it wants to “uphold Islam”.
The fact that several PAS leaders have condemned the violent protests by some PAS members at the Bar Council’s forum on religious conversion is encouraging. But the fact that there are even more PAS members who see it as their duty to protest, to the point of violence, public discussions such as this shows that PAS still has a long way to go to convince Malaysians that it can not only govern, but that it can govern fairly and kindly.
Do we know what direction PAS is going to take, based on the proceedings of the recently concluded muktamar? Not quite. But one thing’s for sure: PAS is starting to adjust to its recent electoral rejuvenation, and the party is definitely starting to believe that federal power is within its grasp. And soon.