A re-branded PAS?

By Tan Siok Choo
13 Jun 2011

TAKEN collectively, three developments at PAS’s recent muktamar or general assembly have the potential to re-define Malaysian politics.

For the first time since 1983, an ulama (or religious leader) wasn’t retained or elected as deputy president, the second highest-ranked party official. The ulama also lost all three vice-presidential contests and reportedly won only six out of 18 central committee positions, which underscored the extent of the party’s makeover.

Equally notable, in his keynote speech at the muktamar, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang Hadi announced that the party now aspired to create a welfare state while maintaining it wasn’t abandoning its quest for an Islamic state.

Additionally in the same speech, Hadi rejected in the strongest terms the prospect of unity talks with Umno – a call which he described as “narrow communalism” – while reaffirming the party’s commitment to the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR). This suggests PAS is positioning itself for the possibility PR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim may be found guilty of sodomy and his political activity curtailed.

That PAS’s newly-elected deputy president Mohamad Sabu forged a close relationship with DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng while both were detained under the Internal Security Act in 1987 will enable both parties to work together without the need for Anwar as an intermediary.

All three developments are part of PAS’s

on-going efforts to broaden its electoral appeal. To date, its charm offensive includes its view the word “Allah” can be used by Christians and that Christians shouldn’t be denied their right to use bibles printed in Bahasa Malaysia – a stance at variance with some militant Muslim groups.

One indicator that reflects PAS’s attempts to woo Malaysian Chinese voters is former Perak mentri besar Datuk Nizar Jamaluddin singing Teresa Teng’s iconic song The moon represents my heart at ceramah. Although his singing may be off-key, Nizar’s brilliant gesture makes it easier for Malaysian Chinese to connect with PAS while reminding listeners the moon is also the party’s symbol.

Furthermore, in soliciting Malaysian Chinese support, PAS enjoys a singular advantage, because it has no business interests to protect or promote. PAS could be especially appealing to a significant segment of the Malaysian Chinese community.

Moreover, religion rather than language is PAS’s preferred priority. This gives it the option of adopting a more relaxed stand on Chinese schools and the use of Mandarin – yet another heartland issue for the Malaysian Chinese.

To be sure, PAS’s attempts to solicit greater support from non-Muslims could backfire. The opposition party could alienate Muslims who are a bigger voting bloc and are the majority in a majority of parliamentary constituencies.

Cynics may claim PAS’s charm offensive is a public relations exercise and that it could revert to its restrictive Islam-centric persona after the next general election. Even if PAS’s attempt to re-brand itself as a moderate Muslim party is opportunistic, its shift to the middle ground has been facilitated by Umno’s apparent willingness to cede this space.

One example – last month, Utusan Malaysia published a blogger’s claim that DAP together with Christian leaders were plotting to make Christianity this country’s official religion. This in turn prompted Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali to announce a crusade against Christians if they continued to challenge Islam’s position in Malaysia.

PAS leader Datuk Husam Musa immediately rebuked Perkasa, pointing out that using racial and religious issues for political interest showed the pressure group wasn’t upholding the true teachings of Islam. By taking up cudgels against Perkasa, Husam prevented the issue from degenerating into a religious conflict while burnishing PAS’s credentials as a moderate Islamic party.

Another example – a pressure group, Gaps, recently suggested only Malays and bumiputra have the right to receive Public Services Department (PSD) scholarships, a right it asserts is enshrined in the Malaysian constitution. While Prof Abdul Aziz Bari challenged this claim, no one from Umno appeared to do so.

Some Umno politicians suggest responding to Gaps and Perkasa will give them undue publicity and boost their stature. Nevertheless, allowing these groups to speak with impunity and without being sanctioned reinforces the perception, possibly mistaken, that their views are shared by Umno.

PAS’s strategic shift at the muktamar could alter the political contest between the party and Umno. In the past, Umno responded to PAS’s call for an Islamic state by successfully establishing Islamic banks and insurance companies within the country while achieving dominance in the global sukuk (or Islamic bond) market.

How will Umno respond to PAS’s strategic shift? Will it try to outbid PAS for the non-Malay, non-Muslim vote? Or will Umno persist in believing that to retain its hold on Putrajaya, securing the Malay-Muslim vote must be an overriding priority?

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 8:35 am

    The big question that is not answered in this article is why has UMNO ceeded the middle ground? The typical answer is blame it on Mahathir, UMNO are hypocrites, they are corrupt, bankrupt and an UMNO loyalist says they don’t know how to handle success.

    Actually the fact of the matter is that the issue of leadership and organisational renewal is never an easy one, its an issue that UMNO/BN took for granted and refuse to address because they had depended on a feudal system of governance for a long time and confronting it would have taken patriotism, self-sacrifice AND dynamism that has not been since since Merdeka days.

    Simply put, UMNO/BN got used to ever easier way of success and power and forgot or rather never wanted to confront the fact the right way actually mean the other way – it never gets easier.

    UMNO simply has become irrelevant especially to the middle ground because it was always getting harder while the fringe got easier to fall back on. They basically wimped out each and everytime it got harder. So its not surprising we have Najib who wimps out each and everytime it gets rough..

  2. #2 by dagen on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 8:48 am

    There is elasticity in the party leadership and key positions. The party is therefore able to adjust and adapt to changing needs. In other words, the party structure is responsive and able to keep itself relevant. This is so unlike umno, the red dinasour. Ideas and thoughts of the red dinasour would travel from the brain to the lips only, and no further. All four of its limbs have until now remained locked in movements that were dictated by past instructions from the brain transmitted some 20-30 or even 40-50 yrs ago.

    The internet has moved from IPv4 to now IPv6. And japan is talking of screening the next world cup in full halographic images. Umno here is still recycling and reusing the 50yr old fighting-for-malay-rights purpose as its main guiding principle.

    Hoi. Masih tengah tidur ke? Melayu kini nak IPv6 dan halographic tv. Bukan lagi apanama ketuanan.

    PS. In line with DAP’s effort to extend the party’s reach to the malays, I shall now add a line or two in bahasa to all my comments/remarks here.

  3. #3 by k1980 on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 9:19 am

    “The biggest mistake made by Malays was when they were too enthusiastic for independence and sacrificed Tanah Melayu citizenship to foreign races (Chinese and Indians).”

    Who said the above?
    A. Anwar Ibrahin
    B. Hadi Awang
    C. Zulkifli Nordin
    D. Nik Aziz

    The answer is ‘C’ and remember what to do to that racist during polling day.

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 9:52 am

    Siok Choo is quite Ok as writer. A lawyer by training and journalist by inclination (with solid establishment credentials (daughter of Tn Cheng Lock) she at least tries, within constraints of mainstream media parameters, to write with some balance/objectivity, not skewing facts at every opportunity to lambast the Opposition.

    Her last para – “How will Umno respond to PAS’s strategic shift?”

    From what we can see UMNO will not compete PAS for Non malay votes: for so long as those who support Mahathirism over Najib’s re-invention are dominant, UMNO will concentrate on garnering the Malay-Muslim vote as an overriding priority. Could that be a miscalculation? Maybe not but if it is (in Semenanjung), they think they can still rely on Sarawak and Sabah to retain power in next GE.
    others in UMNo who believe in his Ketuanan ideology are stronger than bi

  5. #5 by sheriff singh on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 10:03 am

    Mat Sabu should context against Zul Nordin at the next GE.

    Alternatively, he could stand in Kota Star or Sungei Petani.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 10:04 am

    Its natural UMNo turns inwards to race and couldn’t do a PAS and appear multiracial to canvass national vote. It is because fundamentally its a communal party that fights for Malay rights. To fight for everyone’s rights appears a contradiction in terms. It works as far as national votes go, if other partners like MCA & MIC (also communal) could play their part to win and deliver Non Malay votes at national level to combine with UMNo’s Malay votes. This communal Alliance formula won’t work if MCA & MIC lose their respective constitutencies’ support as what has happened when more Malaysians are looking beyond racial politics, and even amongst those that still do, they are aware by new media & internet how the traditional communal formula has been used as pretext/camouflage for aggrandizement of the political elites of the communal parties that their constituencies. The changes abound are militating against this traditional formula working well but luckily for the moment they could still corner the East Malaysian votes as fixed deposit or else they are done for.

  7. #7 by Jeffrey on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 10:07 am

    “….aggrandizement of the political elites of the communal parties thaN their constituencies…”

  8. #8 by rcchia on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 10:20 am

    They have already responded, gauging from the intense uncalled for “attack” by PM and others in the MSM. I sincerely hope the rakyat are not so easily swayyed and be able to see thru all these lies.

  9. #9 by sheriff singh on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 11:06 am

    Has she written anything giving insights as to the ‘Social Contract’?

  10. #10 by Jeffrey on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 12:48 pm

    Anyway digressing, todays News Straits Times Pge 8 reports UMNO will mobilise cyber troopers (organise a more systemetic cyber troop team) to counter and rebut opposition attacks in new media and to win over fence sitters in coming GE.

    Looking forward to some of them being sent to this blog to exercise their power and capability of persuasion. So far there appears to be none here, which is strange. I would have taught they’d send their most capable/credible ones here, the No. 1 political (Opposition Blog). But there seems to be none. Maybe they don’t to waste resources to try persuade the already converted, an exercise in futility so to speak.

  11. #11 by k1980 on Monday, 13 June 2011 - 12:56 pm

    Now that a sex DVD has appeared implicating Mat Sabu, I believe new ones to surface soon involving actors resembling Hadi Awang, Nik Aziz (God Forbid!) and YB LKS.

  12. #12 by Evenmind on Tuesday, 14 June 2011 - 10:13 am

    I hope te existing ‘Ruling’ party members burn in hell , as they are a disgrace to the civilised world. MOre brain drain to follow…………, trust me.

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