(Bucket of apples by Teresa Kenney; bad apple by Artography / Dreamstime)
Both men are self-styled defenders of Islam: PAS’s Hasan against Muslims who drink alcohol, and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s Zulkifli against those he perceives as anti-Islam. Hasan’s public criticism of the Selangor government’s Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat) in September 2009 drew public scorn, and harsh rebuke from PR colleagues.
There’s one other thing both men have in common: they both seem capable of escaping decisive disciplinary action by their respective parties for the disruptions they cause.
Seven months after Zulkifli stormed a Bar Council forum on conversions to Islam in August 2008, PKR closed the issue without any punishment. In Hasan’s case, PAS deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa pre-empted any expectations of disciplinary action by saying none were necessary because Hasan was merely giving suggestions about Selcat.
Are Hasan and Zulkifli really detrimental to the PR’s cohesiveness? And curiously, why do others feel that disciplinary action is required, but not their own party leaders?
True to themselves
Zulkifli Noordin Actually, there shouldn’t be surprise at Hasan’s and Zulkifli’s controversial statements, considering their previous party affiliations. Past experiences in Umno for Hasan, and PAS for Zulkifli, must surely colour their perspectives.
It explains Zulkifli’s salvos against those he deems to be lesser Muslims, like Sisters in Islam, and those whom he feels wrongly encroach on Islam, like Wanita MCA chief Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun. Even fellow Members of Parliament who differ on Islam are not spared. As an MP, he has a personal jihad to move constitutional amendments to further elevate the status of Islam in Malaysia. He has proudly exclaimed that he is a “Muslim first” and “lawyer second”. In the present parliamentary sitting, Zulkifli has again submitted a private members bill to amend Article 3 of the Federal Constitution to clearly define Malaysia as an Islamic state.
Selangor PAS commissioner Hasan has championed banning the sale of beer, butted heads with fellow executive councillor Ronnie Liu over the same issue, called for mosque officials to arrest Muslims who drink alcohol, and also wants future action against Muslims working in breweries. In essence, he is not deviating from his current party’s Islamist stance, even if other PAS politicians have a more practical stand on alcohol consumption.
By criticising Selcat‘s methods of questioning, which he said were embarrassing for civil servants, Hasan can trump his friendly ties with public service employees, a job he too once held. He can show, too, that he defends “Malay [Malaysian] institutions” like the civil service.
Hasan Ali (Source: selangor.
gov.my)But surely Hasan and Zulkifli are aware that being in the PR causes their personal views, expressed in public, to have repercussions on the alliance? Their parties are in a coalition that espouses pluralism, equality and transparency. The consequences in Hasan’s case are arguable graver, for he is part of a government in the most modern, urbanised state which the Barisan Nasional (BN) is desperate to wrest back.
Why, then, do they keep saying things that put them at odds with their PR colleagues, and with public expectations of PR politicians? Just as Zulkifli was once speculated to be defecting to Umno, Hasan is now accused of being an Umno lackey trying to destabilise the PR-led Selangor government.
Reaching the fringes
Political analyst Prof James Chin considers both politicians to be “Malay [Malaysian] nationalists”, especially in Hasan’s case, eager to net support from conservative Malay Malaysians.
Chin is also not surprised that PAS and PKR leaders are not taking concrete action against either politician. The parties need both men to attract “the extremist fringe”, Chin says. In other words, Hasan is probably useful for swaying the staunch Islamists and Malay conservatives in Umno, while Zulkifli extends the same outreach for PKR.
“Pakatan has to capture not only the middle ground, but also the extreme ground. They need to counter Umno’s campaign through Utusan Malaysia to reach the extreme Malay [Malaysian] ground,” Chin tells The Nut Graph.
It’s a tricky premise for party leaders to admit to. PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali, when asked whether Zulkifli was beneficial to the party in that way, said, “I don’t know how much influence he has.”
Syed Husin Ali Yet, Syed Husin finds Zulkifli’s repeated performances to the gallery an “irritation”. “He is not strong enough to undermine Pakatan’s position, but he does put us in bad light. We don’t want people to think that what he says is what the party stands for. But we don’t think that we should ask him to get out for expressing his views,” he says in a phone interview.
Where’s the line?
DAP deputy secretary-general Prof P Ramasamy says PR parties are “still learning where to draw the line” on freedom of speech when it affects the alliance. “There are others who are just as conservative or Islamic but more measured in their statements,” he notes.
To him, fussing over the likes of Hasan and Zulkifli is unnecessary and a give-in to media spin, Ramasamy tells The Nut Graph by phone. “People like them are not formidable figures in Pakatan. We would only be concerned if leaders of (Datuk Seri) Hadi (Awang), Tok Guru (Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat) or Anwar (Ibrahim)’s stature make such comments,” he says of the PAS president, PAS spiritual adviser and PR de facto leader.
PAS’s response to Hasan, meanwhile, is reflective of the conservatives-versus-moderates schism that was highlighted in the party muktamar this year. While middle-ground central working committee members like Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad want stern action against Hasan for undermining the PR, top leaders like Nasharuddin have already quashed chances of that happening.
Nasharuddin did not return phone calls for an interview.
Ahmad Ismail (Courtesy of Oriental Daily)Balancing free speech
When comparing Hasan’s and Zulkifli’s cases, it is worth recalling that Umno, despite support for Datuk Ahmad Ismail, suspended his party membership for three years last year for calling Chinese Malaysians immigrants. How is it that Umno dares to punish a popular local warlord, but PAS and PKR dare not do the same of their members?
It can be argued that politically, coming down too hard on Zulkifli and Hasan could have nightmarish consequences for the PR should both defect or become independent.
Slamming the brakes would also not solve future problems of other PR politicians speaking publicly in similar vein and sowing discord in the alliance. At the same time, parties want to show that they allow freedom of speech.
Syed Husin says PR leaders at a tri-party convention in August 2009 agreed on the idea of a PR rules and disciplinary committee to discuss cases like Hasan and Zulkifli. “Actual disciplinary action will be left to the respective parties, but at least Pakatan can collectively make known its position on a case,” he says. The committee has not been formed yet.
The more difficult challenge is if provocative party members have support from within the ranks. More so when the subject is close to the party’s ideology, as Islam is for PAS.
Zaid Ibrahim Which is probably why Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who is in charge of formalising the PR coalition, also called on PAS to make clear its stand on freedom and democracy in Islam. Zaid said if the PR were to rule someday, citizens would want to know the limits of PAS’s stand on Islamic and non-Islamic matters.
The same call should apply to PKR, too, which is accused by its own Zulkifli for not having a clear stand on key Islamic matters such as those he has proposed for constitutional amendments.
Addressing the differences in ideology would thus be the PR’s greater challenge compared to setting up mechanisms to deal with belligerent politicians. For now, Chin says the best thing the PR parties can do is to put some distance between the personal views of such politicians and the implementation of those ideas.
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