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Why is PAS still flirting with Umno?

Nasharuddin Mat Isa

SHAH ALAM, 6 June 2009: Nasharuddin Mat Isa, re-elected as PAS’s deputy president today, said the party would never make a unilateral decision on major policies without consulting the rest of its allies. In other words, the party is in the same boat with Pakatan Rakyat (PR) politically, but is keeping the door to dialogue with Umno open.

Nasharuddin beat his closest competitor, Datuk Husam Musa by 199 votes in a race shaped by a proposal for a unity government with Umno by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.

However, he scored less than 50% of the total votes thanks to a third contender, Mohamad Sabu, whose 261 votes combined with Husam’s 281 comprised about 56% of votes cast.

Nasharuddin, a religious teacher and former comparative law lecturer in Universiti Islam Antarabangsa and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said the “door to dialogue with any political party or non-governmental organisation will never be closed”.

He said talks with Umno would be for the betterment of society, and any major issue that arose would first be discussed with partners Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and DAP before a decision is made.

Mat Sabu (left) and Husam waiting for the results of the deputy presidency to be announced

“We will only talk [with Umno] on issues that benefit the country. It never arose that PAS would join Umno or BN,” Nasharuddin said at a press conference after the results of the party election were announced.

He said he remained committed to PR as it was PAS’s stand to enhance cooperation with the rest of the alliance.

Asked categorically if he would continue pursuing a unity government with Umno, he replied: “I will pursue the need for PAS to talk to all.”

What’s the agenda?

Some questions emerge from the PAS muktamar stemming from the unity government proposal.

Why would PAS, now at its most popular with support even from non-Muslims, wish to extend a hand to arch-rival Umno?

Since PAS has declared its political loyalty to the PR, what’s in it for the Islamist party by bridging gaps with Umno?

Coinciding with this, there are calls from delegates at the muktamar for PAS to take the lead in the PR instead of playing second fiddle to PKR.

These questions have so far not been adequately answered. It is thus open to speculation that another path for the party is to eliminate the differences between Umno and PAS, and concentrate on the similarities: Islam and Malay Malaysian unity.

Hadi (left) and Nasharuddin
Islam is a similarity that PAS does not share at all with DAP, and less overtly with PKR. Does PAS hope, with Umno’s help, to further its Islamic state agenda, or at the minimum, install shades of Islamic law where it can?

Nasharuddin did say the things that are “exclusively PAS’s domain” within the PR are matters related to Islam. But Hadi, in his press conference after the muktamar opening on 5 June 2009, said that PAS could “advise” Umno on Islam.

Nasharuddin says talks with Umno are for the “betterment of society” on things like electoral reform and anti-corruption measures. At the same time, he affirms PAS’s stand with the PR and the collective leadership of the alliance.

“Major issues are discussed at the Pakatan presidential council. As of now, there is no need to say who should be leading,” he said at the same press conference today.

However, the more pressing issue at the moment instead of who should lead the PR, is the real agenda behind the unity government proposal. Until this is clearly stated, the relationship between PAS, PKR and especially DAP, will be tenuous. PAS and DAP have had run-ins before, most famously over hudud law and the former’s Islamic state agenda.

Check and balance

That a few delegates rejected the unity government idea in the muktamar debates shows how the PAS leadership has yet to articulate and sell the idea fully to members. One wonders why the ambiguity was left to fester since the March 2008 general election, resulting in a divisive battle between Nasharuddin and Husam.

Hadi had to then consider his gamble carefully. If he appeared too keen on talking to Umno, he would risk spooking the staunch anti-Umno elements in the party, as well as non-Muslim supporters.

But while joining Umno or BN was never the question, the idea of talking to the enemy was never abandoned either. And with Nasharuddin’s win, that looks set to continue.

The defeated Husam, however, believes checks and balances will be provided through the new vice-presidents and central working committee line-up. He said the majority of those elected shared his view that cooperation in any form with Umno was unfeasible.

Of the three new vice-presidents, only Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, a religious teacher and Syura council member, appears to be from the “conservative” camp. The other two are former PAS Youth chief Salahuddin Ayub and party information chief Datuk Mahfuz Omar.

On the 18 seats contested in central working committee, only seven elected are religious teachers and 16 are incumbents. Of the two new faces, one is embattled Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamamad Nizar Jamaluddin, who is popular among non-Muslim Malaysians.

Dzulkefly Ahmad (File pic)
The incumbents retained on the committee include moderates like PAS research head Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and secretary-general Datuk Kamarudin Jaffar.

Husam believes that with the mix of ulama and professionals on the central committee line-up, ties with PKR and DAP can be stronger.

He is also confident that the delegates have bought his anti-Umno message based the combined total of his and Mohamad Sabu’s votes, which outnumbered Nasharuddin’s by 62.

“That is an achievement. It also appears the delegates don’t agree with the unity talks idea based on how they voted to elect the new central working committee and the vice-presidents.

“Maybe I lost because of the way I look, my beard is not long enough and news reports were biased against me,” Husam quipped. He alleged that even party organ Harakah was biased against him.

Husam admitted being the underdog from early on, but said he stood in the race to make a point on his stance against Umno.

“I contested not to win, but for delegates to understand the issue. PAS must replace Umno for the sake of Islam and change in the country. There is no shortcut through cooperation with Umno.

“My opposition to Umno is not about sentiment but strategically, we just cannot play a supplementary role. Till today, I don’t understand how a unity government [with Umno] can work.”

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5 Responses to “Why is PAS still flirting with Umno?”

  1. Right2Choose says:

    PAS will definitely lose the support of most Chinese and Indian Malaysians if it chooses to work with Umno or BN. Stay clear of BN if you want to ultimately come to power. Listen to Tok Guru [Nik Aziz]. You need to understand the wishes of the people.

  2. Sino says:

    Mark my words. PAS is bound to lose most of the non-Malay Malaysian votes.

    There won’t be a repeat of Kuala Sepetang voters support for PAS at the recent Bukit Gantang by-election.

  3. unite says:

    What people tend to forget is that Islam unites Malay [Malaysians], just like Chinese education unites Chinese [Malaysians]. But I’m not really sure what unites Indian [Malaysians] here. The only way to break up Malay dominance is to weaken Islam, just like the westerners did. They did it ideologically, using TV, movies and internet as medium for their propaganda. But then again, the Muslims here are not stupid either, for them it’s better to work with the devil they know better.

  4. Karcy says:

    Some of the Ketuanan Melayu people just walked over to PAS ever since a lot of crap from Umno started coming up, so this direction is hardly surprising. Not much has changed, people just jumped ship.

  5. Singam says:

    I ask the same questions of ulama leaders in PAS:

    Does Islam allow you to endorse Umno’s racial segregation and isolation?

    Does Islam allow you to support the corruption rampant within Umno/BN?

    Is PAS an Islamic party first or a Malay party first?

    Do not betray your religion by cheating the rakyat with hidden agendas.

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