PAS’s hudud folly – a political putsch

By Bridget Welsh
Mar 17, 2015

COMMENT Tomorrow the Islamist party PAS is scheduled to introduce ‘minor’ amendments to the hudud legislation it introduced in Kelantan in 1993.

The bill cannot be implemented as the constitution currently prevents the legislation from having effect. Although limited in scope, the move nevertheless will have significant consequences as it brings to the fore political dynamics within the party and showcases how the PAS would govern.

At its core, the amendment introduction is a political exercise aimed at shoring up a Kelantan PAS state government that has lost its moral authority with the passing of respected leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and in the wake of devastating floods where the state government proved to be completely ineffectual.

This process of introducing the amendments and the political implications signal that the current conservative ulama leadership of PAS is apparently no longer meaningfully interested in democratic principles and holding national power.

This action of moving to strengthen hudud if fully realised will have negative electoral implications even within Kelantan itself.

To say that this a folly is perhaps an understatement, as it potentially marks a turning point for PAS as a trusted and viable party in national government. This is the first article of a three part series that looks at this issue.

Breaking trust – a democratic betrayal

The process through which these amendments have been carried out have raised serious questions about the PAS conservative ulama’s leadership respect for democracy. Not only does the introduction of new amendments break from the agreed common policy framework of the opposition Pakatan coalition, they were formulated in collaboration with Umno and without proper transparency.

It was less than a week before the amendments were to be introduced that they were reluctantly shared with the opposition partners. The original intention in December was not to share them at all.

There was no open debate with the public at large or proper feedback, including consultations with civil society or legal practitioners. Even when the amendments were shared behind closed doors, meaningful inputs were not solicited from its opposition allies.

The partner for these amendments in the technical committee was clear – Umno.

It is not enough that the trust was broken within Pakatan, the same pattern happened within PAS itself. The Islamist party is not a monolith, as the splits within the party have manifested themselves clearly in the painful ongoing party contest.

The original decision in Kelantan was apparently taken without prior consultation of the PAS elected leadership committee, done in contradiction to the principles of decision consensus making inside the party and with dismissal of objections.

While most of the progressives in PAS support hudud in principle and support the Kelantan amendments (for reasons developed in part two of this piece), there are real reservations within PAS about how the amendments have been handled, as the ulama leadership opted for dictate rather than discourse.

There is no real respect for difference and minority views over this issue or a willingness for accommodation, as the conservative PAS ulama believe they ‘know best’.

The ulama leadership calculatingly know that it is difficult for other PAS members to oppose the amendments and process openly, as this would lead to accusations of undermining of the leadership of the party.

The irony is that by going ahead as they have, the conservative ulama have betrayed the principles of democracy and consultation in PAS.

Insecure defensive political motivations

This raises questions of why? Why would the PAS ulama leadership opt to disrespect its coalition partners and fellow party members, to partner with their claimed political enemy? The first part of the answer is simple – power. The introduction of the Kelantan amendments is arguably a putsch within PAS itself.

The decision appears to be based on the calculations of the weak ulama Kelantan state leadership and paty president Hadi Awang to secure their own positions and to discredit alternative views.

Since 2008, the conservative ulama leadership broadly in the party has been displaced. This has not been intentional, but rather an evolution with PAS having a more prominent role in governing and policy-making.

Ulama generally are not trained to govern. Sadly some of the PAS’ conservative ulama group are not even properly trained religious scholars and many do not understand the complexities of managing the economy.

While there is considerable diversity in views and skills of PAS’s religious leaders and all ulama are not the same in outlooks, most PAS ulama do not have technocratic skills to resolve problems, and often lack administrative and management skills.

They have been increasingly insecure in their positions as the shortcomings and demands of governing have become more apparent, especially after the devastating floods.

This has fed deep-seated insecurities that have grown with support for different leadership of PAS within and outside of the party. The open urgings by its coalition members especially the DAP to replace its ulama leadership have particularly enhanced these fears.

The criticism has centred around Hadi Awang (right), whose decisions around GE 2013 weakened the party electorally and whose performance did not meet expectations, but have included the more conservative ulama leadership faction broadly.

The conservative ulama response has been defensive, to turn to religion to protect themselves and their positions. The hudud amendments are part of this reaction, to assure that they have a role in the state, in government, as hudud strengthens the role of ulama in government.

At the same time, they know that going down the divisive hudud road they will assure that the other more progressive PAS leaders who have gained in influence and forged a national alternative in Pakatan will be discredited and weakened.

This introduction of hudud amendments has also come at the time when many conservative ulama are losing their moral authority. The loss of Nik Aziz is keenly felt, with no other leader able to fill his shoes.

The conservative ulama have lost their moral compass. Many of the conservative ulama appear focused on materialist wealth and positions abroad, so much so that they do not appear to be fulfilling the roles assumed locally.

There appear also to be sharp contradictions between statements about principles and actions, with the use of vicious personal attacks in the party contest and encouragement of division and even hatred. The conservative ulama response to dealing with criticism is to stubbornly plough ahead.

Compromised moral principles

Others may believe the introduction of the amendments are about beliefs, the aim of PAS to introduce their ideological agenda. This suspicion of Islamist parties runs deep and many view PAS exclusively as a party with hudud as its goal.

Hudud in Malaysia has always been primarily political, not principled. In 1993 the aim was to fulfil a political promise. Today, the first goal is secure political position. The ulama leadership are using hudud as a political weapon to slay their enemies within the party, not to bring about genuine moral governance.

Genuine moral principles in Kelantan PAS over hudud and governance are missing. If indeed there was a goal of strengthening the moral fabric of society then there would be efforts to bring people together, not divide them.

If there was a recognition that the amendments would bring justice, then there would be more concern with what is happening to issues of rule of law in the country before moving ahead.

If there were concerns about fairness, than all views would be allowed to be heard, incorporated and respected. If there was concern about the welfare, then there would be more concern with the economic negative impact of introducing hudud on the well-being of Kelantanese.

Make no bones about it, this decision will lead to a loss of tourist revenue and investment. No study of these effects has been reported or reportedly even considered. If there was meaningful concern about Islam, then there would be more appreciation of the negative implications these measures bring to the perceptions of the faith.

The internal political motivations of these amendments stand out, and have already negatively affected PAS’ standing as a democratic party. They potentially take PAS down a path of democratic decline.

Part II: PAS’s hudud folly – it’s not chosen by all

BRIDGET WELSH is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University and can be reached at [email protected]

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 19 March 2015 - 7:34 pm

    The interesting question now is the private member bill and whether it will be put to the floor. The problem is how will Najib vote on it if its on the floor? If he vote for it, its a point of no return and end of BN – all the excuses in the world won’t work. If he does not vote for it, he will come under attack which is what PAS wants and think they have gamed him.

    So will Najib let the bill get on the Floor? If not, how will he coped out without losing back what he has gained from PAS??

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Thursday, 19 March 2015 - 9:34 pm

    PAS’s resolute push for hudud exposed its true colors, which may have a negative impact on the party’s performance in GE14.

  3. #3 by good coolie on Thursday, 19 March 2015 - 10:47 pm

    PAS has never waivered from its intention to implement hudud. Don’t accuse it of insincerety or politicking.
    Let’s get practical. Now, implementation of hudud is against the Constitution. Even if hudud is enacted, there are ways to prevent its implementation.
    Let us start discussing this.

  4. #5 by Bigjoe on Friday, 20 March 2015 - 8:47 am

    EVEN in claiming their right to implement Hudud, it is still wrong. Why now? Why this way? Their own study says the non-Malay voters are against Hudud, no ifs and buts. They have failed miserably in so many ways administratively and losing Kedah as well as other places and face so much they have to do like the floods. They have no right, moral, Islam or any other to exercise their power in Parliament when the voters who put them there clearly assumed they won’t do what they are doing..

    You can’t hide falling short behind religion much less causing damage, indulging using religion as excuse? Its foolishness and corrupt – just like UMNO.

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