Can the Party Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) evolve into a National party with an Islamic agenda or should it get stuck in the past only to represent a rather shrinking and divided Muslim arena? Most observers believe the PAS is not bound to evolve but the party could emerge as a recognized national force in Malaysia if it was to adapt to the political changes in the country.
To become a true national force, the PAS has to reinforce its image and adopt a host of resolutions and policies that will transform the party altogether. Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat is seen as the man capable of jostling the party leadership and sends the party rocketing on the Malaysian national scene as the party of the future in a coalition of the willing that will include the Party Keadilaan Rakyat (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) amongst others.
Currently the PAS is of appeal to some 20% of the Malaysian population, being the third largest opposition party in the country despite controlling 2 states, Kelantan and Kedah. It is the most junior party in the opposition coalition in Parliament, lagging behind the DAP and the PKR in number of Parliamentary seats. In order to secure a better future, the PAS has to do better than 2008.
The party is however bound to fail as a major representative of the Malaysian population of all races and religious beliefs if the party rejects the overtures of Nik Aziz, the respected and powerful Murshidul Am of the party. His role in the PAS Kelantan and at national level has become his track record, projecting a party that is not corrupt, does not practice extremism in the states that it controls (though it is bound to impose some Islamic standards) and is also much appreciated and respected by non-Muslims and Muslims that falls under its rule.
While Nik Aziz rejects the idea of working with the Barisan National (BN) and the United Malays National Organization (Umno), declaring that a Government of National Unity (GNU) is out of the question, the rise of the PKR as the most powerful opposition force in the country has caused some PAS leaders to be cautious. This has also caused them to look into the ‘all Malay-Muslim’ option – which was one of the theories we exposed last year. This would mean there are members of the party who would rather work with the Umno than the PKR instead and this is not a secret but it can only happen if the PAS is without Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
With Nik Aziz constantly pronouncing against the possibility of working with the Umno and the BN, this puts the agenda of the pro-GNU in the cold since not much can be done without the support of the spiritual leader. The stalwart Islamic leader has his reasons for refusing to deal with the Umno and when we look closer into the matter we see the bigger picture in this decision by Niz Aziz.
The PAS has a brighter future and it is the party that can help change the political thinking and strengthen the unity among Muslims and non-Muslims. It also has a gloomy past in which it was a ‘coalition’ partner with the Umno. The PAS is also a very vibrant party, even more vibrant than the Umno today and it has a national agenda as well as an Islamic agenda that is shared by many in the country. On the contrary, the Umno has lost its feet on its national agenda and is barely holding on to the newly found ‘Islamic’ agenda.
The PAS is the Malaysian party that made a special declaration on the historic May 13th date. It is the party that says the country will be safer and much more peaceful without the Internal Security Act (ISA) and other laws of similar nature. It is probably the only Islamic party in the world that has a non-Muslim supporters club and has allowed non-Muslims to become members of the party. It is altogether a unique party since foreigners are not disallowed to join the PAS. The party also proposes the liberation of the press and the disbanding of the National Economic Plan (NET) as it believes economic aid should be for all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is the kind of spirit that appeals to the masses today and the PAS is on the right track there.
Its track record in Kelantan has made it possible for it to brush aside the Umno from taking over the state and it must be remembered that the PAS Kelantan is the one that Tun Mahathir Mohamad the former Prime Minister of Malaysia failed to defeat on many occasions. The failure of the party to regain the Terengganu state is yet another example of the extremes that has ruled the party’s fortunes in the past. Today, the PAS can regain Terengganu if it were to impose a national agenda of change against what is perceived as the mismanagement and the abuses by the current regime.
At this stage, rejecting the Nik Aziz principle of maintaining the coalition with the PKR and the DAP and not joining into an all ‘Muslim’ alliance to salvage the Umno in the event the latter party looses power, means adopting the policies and strategies proposed by those closer to the belief that ‘Islam’ should be the only goal of the party and Malaysian nationalism is not the answer to the problems faced by Malaysia. It also means the promotion of ‘Ketuanan’ Melayu or the salvaging of Malay political power with the Umno as a partner. However, it is clear that Nik Aziz is instructing the PAS to trust the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim and to trust the fact that the PKR is still a party largely run by Malays. The Party will have to come to the point of accepting the fact that the PKR does not represent the death of the ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ though with the PKR as partner in a future government, the concept of ‘Malay political power’ will be more diverse than it is understood today.
It is to be believed that the PAS represent the future Malay political power and that the Umno, in the views of Nik Aziz, is not irreplaceable at all. If the Umno was to lose in the next General Elections (GE) and the PAS was to be a partner in the PR government, the PAS would be the party that would represent the salvation of the ‘Ketuanan Melayu’. It has enough young leaders, like Hussam Musa, who can rope in the Malay-Muslim votes, certainly those on the ‘Umno’ slate. The PAS has to target Umno voters and supporters by putting at the forefront leaders who are modern, nationalistic and populist and this will include the PAS wild card in Perak, Nizar Jamaluddin.
In view of turning the party into a national political formation, the PAS leaders has to establish a policy that will be its national agenda for the minorities, the non-Muslims and for justice and equality in the social fabric of the country. It will not what the PAS represent that will attract the voters but what policies the PAS is pursuing and to who’s advantage these policies are being drawn. Being a national political party that has to lay claim to the government in the future, the PAS has to build such national policies but this does not mean it has to abandon its Islamic goals. The supporters of the PR will understand the reality of the Malaysian state of affairs and they will adopt to a large degree of compromise, the Islamic agenda of the PAS in view of supporting its larger and bigger goals of national unity, justice and equality.
The coalition government under the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim would need the total support of the PAS to push forward any agenda to reform the country and this would include getting the PAS on board to vote on issues that could hurt the Malay-Muslim majority. Indeed, if there such a government were to vote on allowing Muslims to become ‘apostates’ the PAS would reject such a vote and this could mean a defeat in Parliament for the PKR-DAP. What is essential to understand here is that the PKR and the DAP will never be able to change the face of Malaysia drastically without the PAS supporting them hence the power of the Malays will remain mostly in the hands of the PAS and surely in that of the Malay-Muslim members of the PKR.
The group headed by the Terengganu wing of the party has wide support among the grass-root but it does not have the entire support of the apparatus of the party. Any attempt by the pro-Umno or pro-Ketuanan Melayu wing to overthrow the decisions taken by the spiritual leader will surely fail and this will only hurt the PAS in the long run and in the short run. Henceforth it is better, observers suggested, that the PAS sticks to the principles laid by Nik Aziz in order to garner more support among the Malays and rally a sufficiently large number of non-Muslims to support its newly found national agenda.
Tok Guru Abdul Hadi Awang is seen as the leading figure of the wing that supports the idea that the PAS should remain a purely ‘Islamic’ entity and should take on a different route, including joining the Umno in sealing Malay unity. The facts above put the party grass-roots and leaders in a limbo. The immediate question that comes to mind is whether the country needs Malay unity to solve the inherent problems of race relations, religious conversions, equal distribution of wealth among Muslims and non-Muslims and the equally pertinent issue of rights? Does the party have to join the Umno to defeat laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA) and so on? Can the party push its own agenda under a PR regime and help the Malays continue in their prospects of maintaining political power, which is something the Malays-Muslims will never want to relinquish to the non-Muslims in Malaysia?
To begin with, the PAS has to get its ‘Islamic’ agenda straight. What type of Political Islam will the PAS promote and when we talk of Political Islam, we also talk of all that accompanies politics in Islam and this engulf economic, social and humanitarian policies. It also supports rights for all and the equal distribution of wealth through the equal chances given to all. If the Islamic political struggle of the PAS is to be similar to the Umno, the battle field will be a shrinking one for the PAS. The Umno still command a lot of power in the ‘ketuanan’ arena and will dominate this arena as long as it has Malay support behind it. Umno will not allow the PAS to become a stronger party that in the defense of Malay political rights and power. What the Umno will do to the PAS is to grab its apparatus and turn it into another junior partner that will have to follow the Umno leadership in the defense of the Malay political power. That is not what the PAS was made for, that is aid the Umno to survive politically and help in defeating the new Malaysia that the PR is trying to build. After all, the Umno is a tremendous party. It has this gigantic machinery that can grind other parties as it did with the S46 when it forced the dissolution of the party and absorbed its members. It almost did the same with the PAS when they were in a coalition together but the PAS survived when the Ulema wing of the party retreated into the opposition, salvaging the brand PAS altogether. The Umno has also grinded the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Gerakan, reducing them to followers in the government. It has also squeezed and flatten the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) to the extent that it has now a new faction, the Makal Sakthi (MS) as a potential replacement for the MIC.
The Umno has plans for the PAS too and its plans will only succeed if it manage to divide the PAS into the ‘Ulema’ and the ‘Erdogan’ group, which is one of the finest strategies the Umno planners have put into action since the 2004 debacle of the PAS. The Umno was successful in penetrating the PAS after the 2008 elections after it became clear that the Malays would be losing their political power if a majority of non-Muslim MP’s were to be in a government headed by the PR. The behind the doors wheeling and dealing did not escape the PAS which almost joined a coalition with the Umno to run the Selangor state government.
Indeed, the Umno is not yet dead and buried. Losing a few by-elections and winning the control of the Perak State Assembly by a twist of the judiciary does not mean the party is finished. However, it will need the PAS to be on its side if it wants to keep its political power intact. To achieve this, it will have to help the ‘Ulema’ group defeat the Nik Aziz leadership and this will start with the Umno challenging the PAS in the upcoming by-election in Kelantan. Winning this by-election will be a blow to the Nik Aziz leadership in the state as it will show that the party is in need of fresh heads to support the seemingly losing battle of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’. The Umno winning the by-election in Kelantan will help the pro-Ulema group sideline the Nik Aziz powerhouse in Kelantan and open the doors for more formal cooperation between the PAS wing and the Umno. This will also mean a breaking up of the PR and the possibility of a coalition of the pro-Ketuanan Melayu Malays from the opposition with the Umno. A win by the Umno in the by-election will also mean the pro-Ketuanan Melayu group would have ‘assisted’ the Umno, thus sending the PAS into an unprecedented crisis. To avert this, the PAS will have to decide very carefully on the theme of its campaign to regain the seat lost after the death of its assembly man.
Surely the PAS will still be victorious if it lends support to the Umno in a bid to keep the status quo in Malaysia. With the PAS on its side in a coalition, the Barisan National is almost certain of victory as a majority of the Malay voters will then shift to the Umno-PAS while the Makal Sakthi would pull back the Indian voters to the BN, assuming the MS is really an offspring of the BN-Umno led government as rumors have it.
Last but not least, can the PAS survive in the opposition with the PKR and the DAP but commit suicide in a PR government? The protracted echoes from the corridors of power in Putrajaya is reaching the ears of some members of the PAS and they are in their right to believe that salvaging Malay political power could pass through a coalition of the unwilling with the Umno. However, if the pro-Ketuanan Melayu wing in the PAS were to listen to the waves of support that Nik Aziz is gaining across the board in the country, they will surely understand that the PAS cannot be divided in the current conjuncture.