Will PAS’s new dream team be Umno’s nightmare?

By Sheridan Mahavera
June 05, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

ANALYSIS – June 5 — The election of veteran activists, parliamentarians, state administrators and think tank experts into the top PAS leadership has appeared to put the party on a firm war footing.

This line-up of Mohamed Sabu as the PAS deputy president and vice-presidents Salahuddin Ayub, Datuk Husam Musa and Datuk Mahfuz Omar is expected to not only stand shoulder to shoulder with allies in Pakatan Rakyat (PR) but it is said that they want to spearhead the coalition in its march to Putrajaya.

Their election perhaps speaks of the party’s changing membership and support base, and the rank-file’s desire to see the party move beyond an Islamist movement to a national-level ruling party.

And there is very little doubt about working or talking to Umno or Barisan Nasional (BN). Not only will this leadership have no truck with them, PAS’s new war cabinet fervently wants to replace Umno as the representative of Malay Muslims.

Yet despite the optimism that the new leadership could widen PAS’s public appeal, a significant number of members are uncomfortable with the shift in the voting trend.

“I wished that an ulama had won. PAS should be lead by an ulama because it is an Islamic movement,” said a Kuala Lumpur grassroots member when he heard the new line up.

For the first time in 20 years, a majority of PAS’s top leadership are made up of those who don’t come from a religious education background or to use a much-misunderstood term, ulama (religious scholar).

“This is the leadership that will put the fear in Umno,” said Kelana Jaya delegate Abdul Rahman Othman. “It is a dynamic dream team for us to go into the next general election.”

The headline-grabbing personality is the very amiable new party deputy president Mohamad. A former MP, senior Pakatan leader/activist, ex-Internal Security Act detainee, popular ceramah speaker and a veteran civil disobedience insurrectionist.

Mohamad defeated incumbent Nasharudin Mat Isa and another popular challenger, Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man for the coveted post.

Below him are three vice-presidents, each of whom has crafted huge public profiles as national parliamentary opposition leaders — Salahuddin, Husam and Mahfuz.

Of the central committee members, only six are considered “ulama” personalities. The rest of the 18 elected members are lawyers, doctors, engineers, — individuals that more reflect the majority Malay middle and working class that PAS courts.

Mohd Rashidi Hasan, a popular pro-PAS writer, explained that though delegates still wanted the ulama to be “guardians of the party”, they realised it would take more than religious scholars to beat Umno.

“PAS wants to lead Pakatan, but to do that it needs to win more Malay majority seats,” said Rashidi.

In a way, the election results are an out-growth of the sentiments that elected the new Muslimat (women’s wing) leadership, where the top three posts went to two MPs and a Senator.

“We wanted a leadership that would be able to take Muslimat forward,” said a Muslimat member from Perak, who requested anonymity.

It is a desire for PAS to move beyond Malay society’s religious set and appeal to mainstream Muslims, whose ties to the faith are basic and who are more worried about making ends meet.

Delegates however took pains to stress that the polls was not a manifestation of the “ulama vs professional” schism that has dominated media reports about PAS..

“We choose based on who we think can best perform,” said Temerloh delegate Syed Hamid Syed Mohamed.

“We want leaders who we think can raise PAS to the level of a ruling party,” he said. To get there, it needs to coordinate a united, hand-in-glove relationship with the DAP and PKR.

“Mat Sabu” as Mohamed is popularly known, brings with him an almost three decade-long legacy of working closely with DAP and PKR leaders.

He is said to enjoy a close friendship with DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, which was forged when both were detained under the ISA during the 1987 Ops Lalang crack down.

Though to the public Mat Sabu is known as the jester of PAS, those who’ve worked with him say he has wide experience leading campaigns against BN policy.

“He coordinated a campaign to oppose a plan to privatise health care that was eventually dropped. He has also been at the forefront of many civil society demonstrations and actions,” said Alor Star delegate Adnan Saad.

However, Mat Sabu still has a long, difficult road ahead and one of them is convincing the more conservative members that his methods will suit PAS’s Islamist brand of politics.

At the same time, Mat Sabu and the new leadership will have cut through the mental barriers of racialism that Umno has grafted into the non-urban Malay electorate.

They may have convinced PAS members that they can bring the party forward, but the real test will be whether Mat Sabu and the new leadership can persuade Malay Muslims that it will be PAS and not Umno, that can bring the community forward.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 5 June 2011 - 12:02 pm

    Its not yet UMNO’s nightmare BUT its already Najib’s. There is absolutely NO WAY he can do well in an election, short of massive fraud that cannot be hidden, without major surgery to UMNO/BN.

    Najib has to decide come July 9, whether he want to reboot his ENTIRE political strategy. He has no choice. Either he starts to plan his exit OR he has got to take on Perkasa, Ibrahim Ali and Mahathir head on. There is no room for anything else.

  2. #2 by hallo on Sunday, 5 June 2011 - 12:09 pm

    Soon….the MALAYSIA corrupted politicians line up to JAILS….

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 5 June 2011 - 12:11 pm

    PAS’s “dream team” is “UMNO’s nightmare because, when UMNO, since Mahathir’s time, started “competing” with PAS in terms of religiosity for Malay/Muslim vote bank, UMNO’s strategy has always been to paint PAS as ulama dominated and “conservative”, “radical”, and extremist, and whose leaders’ understanding of religion cannot extend beyond that of Arab Islamic orthodoxy and basically is out of touch with Malaysian multiracial milieu.

    In contrast UMNO holds itself in comparison as progressive by institutionalizing Islam via Islamic banking/bonds, a slew of Sharia enactments and bureaucratising via state controlled JAKIM etc

    In the contest PAS has strategically neutralized by internally re-inventing – the election of the Erdrogans directly contradicts UMNO’s painting of it as conservative, Ulama controlled and whose policies follow Arab Islamic orthodoxy.

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 5 June 2011 - 12:26 pm

    UMNO’s bureaucratisation of Islam has created drawbacks. It has put bureaucrats in position to interpret policies: the result – banning of use of “Allah” or stamping of the Alkitab, which PAS seizes the opportunity to say they’re OK, thus painting UMNo into the corner of being guilty of the very narrow conservatism it has demonized PAS to be! Tables are turned against UMNO which appears caught in a groove of competing with PAS on narrow religiosity when PAS has already upped the ante by defining another goal to compete counter-wise in opposite direction of how Islam could be more inclusive and moderate to secure the broad based national vote!

    Of course the likes of Hadi will not abandon the Islamic State. They are however prepared to “postpone” and not mention it for the moment to assuage and get confidence and votes of non Malays/Muslims through PR. That’s what Haji meant by no change in policy but change in strategy. PAS leaders are “entrpreneurs” in sense thjey can decide on how to make flexible an inflexible goal. UMNO got painted into the corner because it can’t be flexible because its policies are dictated by state sponsored and paid “bureaucrats” in comparison to Pas political “entrepreneurs” so to speak.

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 5 June 2011 - 12:37 pm

    Because of the disadvantages of bureaucratization of the religion via institutionalization through agencies like JAKIM operated by bureaucrats as alluded to in preceding post (currently moderation) UMNO’s has ended up being perceived incapable of re-inventing as compared to PAS and ended up committing strategic error of competing with PAS at different goals! Pas (with supposedly archaic views on women is targeting 800 000 women mmbers, would field female candidates at the next general elections, amending PAS Constitution to allocate a vice-president position to the female membership & increase number of women in its Central Working Committee. Because the likes of progressives in PAS think like entrepreneurs (as opposed to UMNO’s bureaucrats) in presenting its religious agenda they will be more “flexible” and could adapt changes from Arab Spring blowing from Middle East that people here take cue. In a hurricane it is the trees that could bend their stem/trucks which survive without being snapped by the forces at play.

  6. #6 by Cinapek on Sunday, 5 June 2011 - 1:00 pm

    UMNO’s worst nightmare. This is how some has described this new PAS leadership.

    While this is true that this new leadership is perceived to be less accomodative to UMNO’s attempt to woo PAS, it is more significant to see beyond the faces of this new leadership. It is the wishes of the PAS members who voted them. While it is too far reaching to describe it as a paradigm shift, the fact that the members has decided to shift away from an ulama-led leadership is sending a very strong message to the public that PAS is ready for main stream politics and not just confine their policies within an Islamic cocoon. In short they are sending a strong message that they can replace UMNO as a party of choice for the general public.

    UMNO, be afraid, be very afraid.

  7. #7 by boh-liao on Sunday, 5 June 2011 - 1:01 pm

    Too early 2 decide if dis is a dream PAS team 2 UmnoB/BN’s nightmare, cos PAS on n off comes out with comments dat go against d spirit of PR n give bullets 2 UmnoB/BN 2 tembak PR; voters do remember what was siad n done, esp no principle n treachery
    We will C how things unfold, esp when d next GE is around d corner

  8. #8 by k1980 on Sunday, 5 June 2011 - 1:03 pm

    The important thing is whether Mat Sabu can deliver the votes to PR in the fast approaching 13 GE. If he succeeds, then he will soon be president of PAS.

  9. #9 by wanderer on Monday, 6 June 2011 - 1:42 am

    PAS will drive these UMNO scumbags to insanity…
    there is a God!

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