November 19, 2013 Zaid Ibrahim
PAS at a Crossroads
This weekend’s elections for the top posts in PAS will reveal many things about the Islamist party. Are they a serious alternative for Malays and Malaysians or are they just a group of ideologues with no real prospect for government besides in the state of Kelantan?
If incumbent deputy president Mohamad Sabu and his friends win well, and especially if the three incumbent Vice Presidents—Datuk Paduka Husam Musa, Datuk Mahfuz Omar and Salahuddin Ayub—are returned to their posts, then I will be reasonably confident that the party has a future in galvanising the democratic and moderate forces of the country.
On the other hand, their defeat will mean that right-wing conservatives in PAS may coalesce and join forces with those outside the party, particularly UMNO, to further the cause of extremist politics in Malaysia.
The forthcoming PAS elections will be a day of reckoning for the party, for the Malays and for Malaysia. Some observers have pointed out that the resurgence of PAS conservatives is a result of the defeat of party moderates at the recent General Election. This, say observers, is why delegates will abandon the moderates at the party polls and opt for the ulama faction. They also say that widespread talk of implementing hudud is a sign of the growing influence of the conservative faction.
It will be most disappointing if the conservatives prevail. UMNO will then have no reason to return to a moderate and progressive Malay-Muslim political platform, as some expected after the General Election.
Indeed I believe that the DNA of UMNO has totally mutated and it has become a completely different species from the original party that was founded 55 years ago and led by our first three Prime Ministers. The fact that the MCA, Gerakan, the MIC and other parties in East Malaysia are still attached to UMNO does not in any way indicate that they are real partners in Malaysian politics today.
Thus, the space for a moderate and progressive Islamic party is there for the taking. There is room for PAS to make new friends and build new alliances in addition to those they already have in the Pakatan Rakyat. If PAS were to opt for more practical and pragmatic politics and policies, they will fill the void by making it easier for others to work with them.
The first step towards greater acceptance must involve putting an end to using hudud as a tactic to scare people. PAS leaders know that this aspect of shariah law does not resonate in Malaysia and will not be implemented, whether by PAS or by UMNO, in the near future. We are not Brunei where the views of the many do not count. So why give Middle Malaysia no choice but to support the so-called “moderate” UMNO when UMNO has become extreme beyond recognition?
PAS leaders need only address the real issues of the rakyat and champion the cause of the people in order to make the party an acceptable alternative to UMNO. PAS leaders should remember the advice of Dr Burhanuddin Helmi, Tan Sri Asri Muda and Datuk Fadzil Noor, that uplifting Muslim life in economics and education is the only way to create a just Muslim society. As such, the structure and forms of the Islamic State, with its attendant ideologies such as hudud, do not enrich or empower Muslims and do not deserve priority when so much more can and must be done.
Malaysia today is desperately in need of a Malay-Muslim party that addresses the needs and hopes of the common people. The young need jobs. Those with jobs need good pay. Those who have gone to university need regular incomes to repay their student loans. The list goes on and on, and the country deserves a fairer party in power than UMNO. PAS has the potential to be this party if it can offer reforms in all walks of life to improve the lot of ordinary Malaysians of all creeds and colours.
I think that it will be easy for PAS to gain support and increase its parliamentary representation if it can convince Malaysians that it is not as narrow-minded and extremist as UMNO. PAS must develop models whereby Muslims can be shining examples to others, which is a practice demanded by the Holy Book anyway.
Harakah is already more moderate than Utusan, and this in a small way shows that PAS is acceptable to the middle class. There is no need to outdo UMNO in extremism and conservatism to gain the support of Malays in UMNO. PAS should look at the wider marketplace and should cease quarrelling with PKR about who has the right to stand in Malay constituencies.
A new image and more moderate credentials will open up new opportunities for PAS in the many mixed areas of the country. On the other hand, if PAS goes to bed with the UMNO right wing, they might get two seats in the Cabinet, some titles and a share of the political funds—but the party will disappear soon after. PAS delegates must decide if they want political power for the long term or some peanuts and ice cream from Putrajaya.
Many PAS members are highly educated professionals. They should spread the new wave of thinking that democracy and human rights are consistent with, and indeed demanded by, Islam. How differently they will sound from UMNO and other organisations such as ISMA and JAKIM!
PAS should bring fresh ideas to the people, gathered from the writings of Islamic scholars and historians, and even from the hadith sahih of the Prophet himself. They must do what UMNO is too lazy or incompetent to do, and if they succeed, I am sure a large segment of the Malaysian electorate will flock to this revitalised Islamic party.
There are many Islamic parties around the world and quite a few of these can serve as examples of good governance. Whatever the case, PAS should not opt for sermons and popular preachers without offering practical solutions to the people.
Finally, I call on PAS delegates to be brave. UMNO has too much to lose (in terms of business and positions) to effect any meaningful change in the country. Their idea of bravery is to support groups like Perkasa and ISMA, who only know how to threaten and humiliate others through fliers and other cowardly means.
UMNO will not stand up for the rakyat when the interests of the higher-ups are at stake. They will cower in the face of “sensitive issues” but PAS does not carry this burden. The country desperately needs a PAS, and it will come down to PAS delegates to make the giant leap forward.
Do not be afraid of change. PAS has nothing to lose and everything to gain by being what UMNO is now unable to become. PAS might lose some ulama in the process, but it stands the chance of gaining the entire country together with the Pakatan Rakyat.