59th PAS Muktamar, 2013: The Issues


November 21, 2013

59th PAS Muktamar, 2013: The Issues

by Bridget Welsh (11-20-13)@http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: Malaysia’s Islamist party PAS heads to its 59thB. Welsh muktamar this week, electing its leadership once again as it does on a biannual basis.

The party’s elections have come under the microscope, with attention riveted on the heated contests between the ‘pro-ulama’ and ‘progressives’ or ‘Erdogan’ factions.

The decisions made at the muktamar this week will set the course for the opposition in the years ahead and determine whether the Islamist party will be able to bridge some of its internal divisions that played a major role in diminishing its electoral performance in the 13th general election (GE13), especially in Kedah, or continue on a path towards splintering itself and the hopes of a united national opposition.

To begin with, it is important to start with a caveat. PAS is the party in Malaysia that holds its party elections most frequently, for short two-year terms, and it has a record of reversing directions, with the pendulum swinging to both the more conservative and liberal directions.

This is to say that whatever happens in the muktamar is a reflection on ongoing trends and tensions within the party itself that are evolving and will evolve further, post-muktamar.

This said, much of the attention in the media has centered on the increasingly heated ideological differences of the two factions and the personalities involved. It is necessary to unpack what the underlying ideological issues are, as they are intertwined.

It is also important to acknowledge that the issues facing PAS are affecting Islamist parties globally. To simplify, I boil the issues down to four: leadership, alliances, doctrine and strategy.

Leadership composition and consultation

With attention centered on the ulama – many of whom are actually ustaz – the focus is on the senior leadership contests and who should comprise the party’s leadership.

This issue has long been debated in PAS and among Islamists generally. Should the party be exclusively ulama-led, and if not what role should others play in the leadership process?

This issue is not an easy one for any religious party. What has brought the issue to the fore in recent years has been the pressures of being in government on a broader, more national scale.

NONEIncreasingly experts – non-ulama – have moved to the forefront in representing PAS in governance, and this has fostered a dynamics of displacement for the ulama within the party and, for some, engendered a perceived climate of siege against the ulama.

This has been compounded by perceptions of an inability of many of the ustaz to show an understanding of the pressing issues facing the country, beyond religion.

It is not just about the role that ulama play individually, but the process of decision-making moving away from more consensus leadership towards divergence, often with the ulama openly differing with an elected representative, as two different forms of political legitimacy are contested.

One claims legitimacy through learning about religion and the other through the decisions of people believed to be shaped by faith. Increasingly, both sides are opting for non-consultation with each other, contributing to increasing division within the party as a whole.

The ulama have raised the stakes for this election, taking a stand that is forcing hard choices. At the muktamar, delegates have been presented with a stark choice, to opt for a more exclusive ulama dominance or a more inclusive, diverse leadership.

Friends and enemies

A related issue involves who should PAS ally itself with, or whether it should ally at all. Recently, post-GE13, the focus has been on PAS’ role in Pakatan, with concerns raised about the prospect of PAS leaving Pakatan persisting.

The deadline threats given by PAS candidates to its Pakatan partners in places like Penang – a product primarily of politicking for positions – reflect a reservation and insecurity among many in PAS within Pakatan.

Among some, there is discomfort working with non-Muslims, perceived inferiority vis-a-vis other parties, and the perception (in fact misperception when one looks at the electoral results) that Pakatan Rakyat has weakened the party electorally, especially among its Malay base.

National support for PAS has expanded, as seen in the increase in the popular vote, and based on an estimate of polling centre voting patterns, Malay support only dropped by two percent, still higher than in 2004. The losses were largely concentrated in Kedah, and to a lesser extent in Kelantan.

The inward orientation of many PAS members, especially those based in the East Coast, contribute to these insecure views of GE13, pressuring PAS to return to the past position of going it alone.

However, that position of going it alone is no longer a reality in today’s politics. One lesson of GE13 is that without allies you are likely to either be wiped out or minimally lose out to UMNO. Kota Damansara is a case in point.

Divide-and-rule is a tactic that was honed by Dr Mahathir Mohamad and remains a key ingredient in the UMNO arsenal. In fact, the dynamics of pushing to leave Pakatan is being fuelled by UMNO, which continues to present itself as a potential ally and is attempting to infiltrate the party.

There are concerns that UMNO has made headway in its effort to splinter PAS. There appears to have been a concerted effort to woo members in PAS through financial incentives, gifts in kind to religious schools, offers of business contracts, television advertising space, and more.

These infiltration efforts have been reinforced by the mainstream media criticising PAS for allegedly failing to defend Islam and supposedly losing autonomy to the Chinese.

The use of fear, insecurity and divide-and-rule tactics have been longstanding, but as UMNO has increasingly faced the reality of no increase in popular support in GE13, it has been ratcheted up by the mainstream media and the liars-for-hire bloggers’ activities.

The aim is to split PAS, and in doing so, break up the party that has increased its support among Malays by over 50 percent since the early 1990s, thereby destroying this challenge to UMNO.

At the muktamar, delegates will decide which side they will ally in who they select in their leadership. A clear signal will be sent if they cut off leaders who are the bridge for communication and mutual understanding.

This issue, more than the question of leadership, has the potential to shatter PAS’ electoral fortunes and divide it from its electoral base for generations.

Democratising discourse

The decision about alliances is complicated by political doctrine or rather political indoctrination over religion. Debate over Islam in Malaysia, as everyone knows is highly politicised, with the movement sadly towards greater intolerance. There has been an evolving “us versus them” dichotomy and language, full of attacking labels and lacking nuance, or understanding.

Increasingly Islam is being portrayed as something to be possessed and defended rather than shared or appreciated, with the rights of those who differ both in the faith and outside of it increasingly curbed.

This political narrowing of Islam has led to more polarised views about Islam in Malaysia, which have in turn fostered more intolerance across the faiths.

This has been fed by many (although not all) Islamic religious authorities who often blatantly disregard the rule of law, are seen as arrogantly vested in wielding their power, and perceived to have long forgotten the premises of religious freedom. There is no longer an appreciation that choice is a crucial ingredient in the practice and honouring of any faith.

Intolerance has also been fuelled by UMNO, which has tried to strengthen its position politically by dominating the discourse over religion through not only its support of religious authorities but the indirect funding of NGOs that have become uncivil proponents of distortions.

UMNO, with its moral decay over issues of corruption, has had to outsource its efforts to seek religious legitimacy. The dominant UMNO paradigm is thus one that follows the racial chauvinism of the party over Malay rights; it is a paradigm in which Islam is being defended or wielded as a weapon against the rights of non-Muslims.

In schools (and school canteens), mosques, media outlets and in the social media, this UMNO paradigm of Islam become more dominant, contributing to an erosion of decency and kindness.

While there are many deeply conservative PAS ustaz – many of whom are running for office this round – who buy into the tenets of the UMNO paradigm of the religion, what is not appreciated is that within PAS there are robust discussions about what the faith should be and over the last decade these discussions have widened. These have become the arenas for nuance and differences, where black and white labels are dismissed in favour of grey and colour.

This debate over doctrine is frightening for many, even within PAS itself. It is easier to see the world through one set of dark lenses rather than to open up to varied shades of light. This party election involves not only positions over doctrine, but the ability to debate ideas; it involves democratising the discourse over Islam.

Political strategy

How to manage Malaysia’s widening democracy has created other challenges for PAS. PAS is a political party and like all political parties its main aim is to get into government. From 2008 onwards, PAS has evolved into a national party, and the decisions over strategy are increasingly complex and complicated.

The days of winning by attending weddings and funerals in the rural areas are largely over.  Personality politics is waning as it being replaced by debates over issues and populist hand-outs. PAS is playing catch-up. It is thus not a surprise that factionalism and differences have expanded, and the debate over the electoral tactics to adopt has intensified.

Many in PAS are concerned with their core base – Kelantan. Should the tactic for PAS be to defend its current base, especially Kelantan, or should it expand? If so, how should it do this? Without candidates standing outside of the state, bringing home voters to the state, Kelantan would have likely fallen to Umno. The challenge of governing rural Malay states well is now centre stage, with the issues of inclusion and expertise coming to the fore.

The challenge for the future strategy remains. Should PAS appeal to economic concerns or return to earlier failed options such as hudud? What can be done to strengthen the economic credentials of the party or should they return to religious law?

These issues have come to the surface again, as one would expect after GE13, an election where the party did not meet its own expectations and lost the state of Kedah.

Why did it lose this state? Was it a decline of Chinese support compared to the national average, poor governance, religious issues or leadership? The answers to these questions are not easy to answer, as there are many views.

The lesson of Terengganu in GE13 is revealing, a place where PAS gained ground and almost won back the state. Instead of using a strategy of religion, PAS opted for good governance and pointed to the excesses of the current state leadership, especially the Menteri Besar, Ahmad Said. In contrast to 2004 where a conservative hudud religious agenda alienated voters, focusing on good governance yielded stronger support.

The debates over GE13 are ongoing and used for political mileage in the fight for leadership positions. In fact, one irony of what is happening in the party campaign is that serious introspection of PAS’ electoral performance is being overshadowed by performers in the party election.

Altogether, there are broadly two routes. One that is touted is that PAS should follow a more conservative religious path, to return to the past and go into the arms of UMNO.

Malaysia’s ruling party wants PAS to be divided and in the mode of the past, as it knows this will secure its position. Another is to diversify the issues of political engagement, to include good governance and the economy. This is the more difficult and risk-taking choice.

For many, these are not mutually exclusive paths, but there is a matter of prioritisation and these have become linked with the different factions and campaigning, with the pro-ulama camp opting for a more conservative religious route and the progressives pushing for more inclusion and diversity in political engagement.

The 1,300-plus delegates have difficult decisions to make this week, and it is likely that whatever the outcome, these issues will not be solved in this meeting. Signals, however, will be sent, not just for the future direction of PAS, but whether the party is willing to make hard decisions and embrace a more democratic future.


DR BRIDGET WELSH is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University. She can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg.

33 thoughts on “59th PAS Muktamar, 2013: The Issues

  1. PAS remains united despite reports of internal divisions. Once its elections are over, the party will focus on cooperation with its Pakatan partners. Anwar and his colleagues must stay united and focused if they want to take Putrajaya after GE-14. I, therefore,think that the ideological struggle between the Ulamak Faction and the Erdogan group is an unnecessary distraction.–Din Merican

  2. Stay united (both internally) and externally, in partnership with
    PKR, DAP and PSM. The majority of the Malaysian population is
    with you, and victory at the federal level is at hand.

    Chinese-Malaysians no longer fear PAS as the online mass media and social media
    has countered the demonizing propaganda long propagated by
    UMNO Baru-BN, its propagandists and its propaganda machinery in the form of the pro-regime press.

  3. And Chinese-Malaysians have almost all rejected the MCA (which continues to
    harp on the threat posed by PAS to Chinese-Malaysians).

  4. Its actually healthy for the tensions within PAS because its the tensions within people who profess the religion of Islam. As leaders, they owe it to those they claim to lead to deal with these tensions and resolve them. They can’t sweep things under the carpet such as “because its Islam” or “its against Islam” or even “non-Muslim not ready to accept Hudud” etc. Many many things need to be argued CLEARLY AND THOROUGHLY, not simply by political force or reason of faith, but wisdom of reasoning.

    Having said that, the big sword is simply that government of today’s world is simply TOO COMPLEX, to simply use the reasoning of FAITH for doing much of anything. TECHNOCRATS is what make govt work in MOST PARTS even if grandvision still is EVEN MORE NEEDED but NON-TECHNOCRAT ONLY HAVE A RARE PLACE IN GOVT. not its prevalence.

  5. The problem is not with PAS or DAP. Both are matured enough to deal with their internal issues and manage the negative impact.

    The problem is with PKR and some of its current leaders who still have the UMNO DNA. These people are power hungry and I fear would not hesitate to sabotage their own colleagues or party at the expense of the rakyat. You can easily separate the ‘chaff from the wheat’. Just look at the public statements they made, whether these have been constructive and progressive comments or simply, jaguh-kampung ala UMNO style comments.

  6. Religion for personal and private purpose is fine.

    In exceptional circumtances, it could be used as a unifying force to fight gross injustice, for freedom and protect basic human rights.

    Use for other purposes, one is asking for trouble as seen in the past…….misguided and extremist will abuse it for their narrow, divisive and damaging political and personal reasons.

    If one use religion for political purposes, it must be challenged in the political arena by all parties. If it cannot be challenged for ‘ sensitive ‘ issues, there is no democracy and you are inviting troubles from misguided and extremist.

  7. PAS also suffers from the Terrible Quota Syndrome.
    How emancipated are their women?
    How much biennial suffrage can any theocratic party suffer?
    How emaciated are their followers, where submission trumps grace?
    How regressed is their engagement with their peers?
    How repressed are their yearnings, besides earnings?

    The Sayap Ulama has only one agenda – Hudud, come hell or high water. Worry not about Heaven on Earth, but Unenlightened Storm Snoopers who value substance and form over the Human Experience.

    Forgive me for this, all you theocrats (Jimi was ‘stoned’), but i grew up to existentialist nonsense:

  8. I don’t see Pakatan Rakyat being split by anything PAS or DAP members / leaders do, they will always be some chauvinists around… I think its PKR which can split up Pakatan Rakyat coalition with the likes of power-hungry leaders who were ex-UMNO and still possess the UMNO culture… just look at how Azmin Ali attacked the Selangor MB on his recent State Budget 2014… scathing unconstructive criticisms for the sake of chipping away at the MB’s authority….

  9. The Dewan Ulama has passed a resolution without debate; proposing changes to the party’s constitution to specify that posts for the party’s President, Deputy President and at least one of the Vice President must be reserved for the ulama group. Another resolution passed was that the party take a strong stand against the NGO, Islamic Renaissance Front; describing it as spreading liberal Islamic thinking and religious pluralism.

    Yet Harun Taib, the Dewan Ulama head denied that the ulama are power greedy. He was a senior exco when PAS ruled Terengganu for only 1-term after the 1999 GE. These ulama literally think they are the custodians of Islam and that they are better than the rest of us.

  10. Dr. Welsh, Wiktionary says ‘biannual’ is a nasty word, would be best to avoid it.
    Muktamar is a good idea every two years as it gives us some idea about which direction the party is taking. I am optimistic, Turkey should be a good example to follow as a moderately funtioning secular state that has ambition of catching up with Europe.

    they were also ‘stoned’ and but are still rolling:

  11. Jamal Majid.
    How do you define ulamak in PAS.
    Dont tell me Ahmad Sabu,Khalid or Kamaruddin Jaafar is not ulamak.

    I think the bunch of Ulamak in PAS are spliting the party.

  12. BigJoe,
    It depends if it ends like well. Like the schism within PAP in the 60s.

    Muthu,
    I agree with you. PKR is the real weak link. Time for them to cut down on their claim on sabah & sarawak.

    Sotong,
    Ask Reeper! Christian Democrat should be a model for PAS. Conservative but yet practises social justice

    CLF,
    This time I agree with you. Imagine if PAS came into power in the 60s, what would happen to France Gall’s song then. These ulamaks would say tok sah tok sah. Even though it’s extremely educational……If you understand french……Hahahaha

  13. I am not good in my Jawi (or Arabic ) letters, so if it is distasteful or causes annoyance, kindly forgive me . Because, I am trying to ‘Romanise’ this word ULAMA :
    i ) Spelt as ” ‘Ain, Lam. Mim ‘ ” means Ilmu ( Knowledge )
    ii) Same word ‘Ain , Lam, Mim , means Alam ( Universe )
    iii) Again ‘Ain, Lam , Mim , means Alim
    ( the one who is Learned )
    iv) And same spelling ‘Ain, Lam , Mim
    but with a ” U ” sound in front (or the letter Wow in Arabic) , thus pronounced “Ulama”.

    ( He Who Possesses Knowledge Of the Universe, is the Ulama’ , because he is the Learned , or the Alim )

    Not merely the Spiritual knowledge (or about Spirituality , or Rohaniat), But also , of the Worldly knowledge, dealing with ” Secularism” via all the Scientific knowledge….. Thus, befitting calling him ULAMA…..

    ( It is not Easy to be labelled Ulama ) – not trying to be awkward, but that;s how the Arabic ‘letters’ are generally…..

  14. Er.., what’s your Point Abnizar? It’s worse than ‘awkward’..
    I have no ‘Love’ for Ulama or persons’ of that ilk. At least, i’m aware i’m a hypocrite sometimes. These blokes aren’t able to see that. So much for ‘democracy’ by pragmatic hopefulness, by irredeemable morons.
    The way i see see it, organized religion doesn’t teach anyone ‘Worldly’ knowledge – more likely Worldly hate and exclusivity. What it should teach is to love Human Love, if not merely God’s Love.
    No comprendo? Never mind..

  15. CLF,
    Love one another. Aiyaa……Sometimes I envy folks such as Din. During those time, they have so much fun. I wonder if PAS can give such fun……It’s not always decadent.
    One song for our esteemed mature men & women. From Los Brovos

  16. CLF , simply put, the same letters ( ‘Ain, Lam , Mim , ) with four nuances, and the Ulama’ who is endowed with
    “Ilmu” is “Alim” , the Learned , has to possess Knowledge of both this world and the ‘ other ‘ – anything worldly is ” Scientific “, No ? . Both ‘ worlds ‘ constitute The Universe or ” Alam ” , (recollect Sir Isaac Newton who says Space which is in the realm of ‘ matter ‘ is Infinite , how come ? – whereas ALL ‘matters’ are Finite)
    May be, the Ulama might feel upset, but Scientists who possess one=half of Knowledge relating to this Material world are to me also ” Ulama ” in their own right , don’t agree ? (Eg. Albert Einstein, Newton, Thomas Edison, Graham Bell etc…., they are also ” Alim ” ? (Learned)

  17. Looes74,
    you are right, the German model would bring guaranteed success to Malaysia if implemented. for that you have to collect all ulamaks and alamaks together first and give them a sound, worldly EDUCATION then let them lose: see what happens!

    the three important words for the government in Germany are:
    POLITIK, WIRTSCHAFT und SOZIALES (politic, economy and societal issues)
    i.e., NICHT RELIGION!
    religion is very important for us personally but has no place in politics.
    the Greens Joschka Fischer and SPD ex-Chancellor Schröder even refused to use the Bible for the swearing-in ceremony although they are practising christians in normal life. thats german VIRTUE, if we do a job, we do it 100%, we don’t need a religion or someone else to vouch for us!

    looes74, why are you killing us with French lah? the sweetest language in the world, in which you don’t know where a word starts and where it ends! we like a little bit more precision here in Germany, friend!

    if I am not mistaken, CLF, the purpose of organising a religion is to secregate its members from the others. who then believe that they are the chosen people who would be rewarded by God and as such über everyone else,
    just like the extremist moslem mentality. Gods love yes, but whats human love? thats western propaganda, they’ll say!
    all these could be cured with one simple medicine – EDUCATION.

    thats the reason why Mlaysians are denied proper education!

    thats why the biggest asset which the Brits left us with(education-English) was bastardised, Bravo Malaysia! Bravo UMNOb, you did it in just 56 years!
    Bravo Mahathir!
    Bravo Najib!

  18. Dear anon, thank you for pointing that out, which is crucial, yes. I now remember, some Ulamas telling me sometime past, that in the three letters where ” U ” appears – as in Ulama or Ilmu – there is a ‘Sabdu’ in Arabic.

    Viz : ‘Ulama, or Ilmu’ , but ‘Ain Lam Mim remains basic letters for the four nuances ( Ilmu, Alam, Alim, Ulama )

  19. (1) WIth regard to my posting at 8:21 am, in Malaysia, it would be
    democracy versus crony capitalism.

    (2) Queen Marie Antoinette (France, circa 1789) : No bread? Let them eat cake!

    (3) FLOM (Malaysia, 2013) : Not happy with my use of public resources? Eat your own words!

  20. You have the Muslims dominated govt. with rampant corruption, including affecting the Judiciary and other institutions………and a PAS opposition rushing to introduce Islamic Hudud to resolve the problem??

    Non Muslims have no say in good leadership and governance of the country that affect their lives in the best interest of all parties. Something is seriously wrong.

    Some politicians have no political and moral principles.

  21. Abnizar, your are right. Literally that is the meaning of ulama; a person of knowledge, of any knowledge. Unfortunately in the Muslim world including in Malaysia; it has been narrowed down to persons of religious knowledge. Just like ‘kitab’ which means a book but again its meaning has been narrowed down to religious books.

    Malim, you should ask that question to the ulama group. Must an ulama be someone formally schooled in religious studies; whether sekolah pondok or tertiary education level irrespective of their passing grades? Or an ulama must be someone accepted into the Persatuan Ulama Malaysia or a member of the Dewan Ulama PAS? One thing for sure, at present there is no professional body that accredits an ulama. So being accepted or called an ulama is rather subjective. Using an ulama credential just to get an upper hand in politics is rather devious I would think.

  22. No reeper, the original reason (like the ‘Original Sin’) for organizing religion is to impose doctrine-dogma and thus a ‘community of believers’. It was not for exclusivity per se – who wants to be martyred?

    Whether that is favourable or not, depends in the individual. There is unpredictability in human nature and therefore religion needs to be self-contemplated – not generalized or contextualized to all.

    As i’ve often pointed out the orthodox religious ‘mysteries’ are actually doctrines that are held back from the uninitiated so that they will not be misunderstood. In my ‘religion’ of Christianity, even if i do appear heterodox at times – i understand that these doctrines are a set of ideas and postulates that have to be mastered in order that we are truly able to grasp the experiential truths contained within. It is thus an ‘internal life’ which is expressed in action externally, to the best of our ability (although i always fall very short!)

    To me, mixing politics and superficial outward ‘religion’ is the height, er.. depths, of folly. Just like the Do and Do, Rule on rule, Burden on burden and Law on law – a little here and a little there sort of thing – that they all fall backwards, be injured, ensnared and mampus..

  23. Saudara Jamal Majid, since you see what I have been trying to say, I think the time is long overdue for Muslims everywhere to recognize and accept the ‘ reality ‘ that there’s such a thing as Religious Ulama, and the reality of the ” Scientific ” Ulama ” who have delved into many of the ” secrets ” of our Physical universe to contribute to human happiness – from the telephone, to electricity to the Computer and the jet-propulsion, which are marvels of nature uncovered by the Scientists….
    God bless, salams….

  24. Well Reeper,
    French used to be la langue de diplomatique in Europe. Ask Din. Furthermore, many mathematicians & scientist happened to be french. Laplace, Fourier, Poisson. Just to name a few. Like la femme beau, I got fascinated with mathematics especially during my time with the french.

  25. “many mathematicians & scientist happened to be french”

    Looes74,

    S’il vous plaît lire si vous avez le temps.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muḥammad_ibn_Mūsā_al-Khwārizmī

  26. looes74,
    I had french as second language in my pre-university for a year. that was in 1969/70. French is a lovely language, not coarse and loud as German, and has its charm. it is a language for diplomats because even if you scold someone in French it sounds so friendly? ;)!
    Germany , France, Switzerland, US and England are big contributors and most importantly they made use of science in general to make life easier for us.
    what I don’t understand is; the indians supposedly invented the first toilet bowl which the brits brought to Europe, but why are the toilets still such a mess in India?!

    http://www.storyofmathematics.com/mathematicians.html

    what, you got more fascinated with mathematics than la femme beau??

    p.s.,
    the french forgot to invent the numbers lah, imagine mathematics without 1234567890?? monsieur.

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