posted by din merican-May 27, 2009
Husam Musa – cometh the hour, cometh the man
by Terence Netto @ http://www.malaysiakini.com
For almost four months now, one could be forgiven for thinking that the battle over who should rule Perak is the most important issue in Malaysian politics. It’s not.
Only federal incumbency lasting 52 years and the enormous advantages that accrue from it, particularly control over the civil service, the police and mainstream media, have enabled the UMNO-dominated Barisan Nasional (BN) to sustain the fiction that they have a credible claim to be in the saddle in Ipoh.
Two signal judicial precedents – one in 1966 in Sarawak and the other two decades later in Sabah – have already lit the constitutional trail out of the political stalemate that presently afflicts Perak. No amount of UMNO manipulation of institutional levers can conjure away the power of well-reasoned judicial precedents, even if some members of the third estate presently profess amnesia about them.
When BN finally decides against evading the inevitable which is a snap poll, they may well find themselves adrift of the required majority by far more than the three seats that only recently separated erstwhile winners from unquenchable hopefuls in the Perak legislature.
Two sharply differing factions
Rather removed from the legislative-cum-judicial arena in which the Perak battle is being fought is another contest whose decibel level is low by comparison but is no less intense and, more importantly, whose outcome is certain to be crucial to the future cohesion of Pakatan Rakyat.
This is the battle for the deputy presidency of PAS that is being billed as a contest between the orthodox wing of the country’s second biggest political party (after UMNO) and its progressives. It was joined yesterday when Husam Musa, after weeks of swirling speculation in the alternative media of blogs and web news portals, announced that he had accepted nominations to contest the post of deputy president, taking on incumbent Nasharuddin Mat Isa, an ulama (religious scholar), at the party’s muktamar in Shah Alam on June 5-7.
Although there is a third contestant in the fray – another incumbent vice-president, Muhammad Sabu – the speculation is that closer to the date of the party congress, Sabu will bow out in favour of a more focused battle between two sharply differing factions in the party.
One faction is in favour of fortifying ties with Pakatan allies PKR and DAP, led by PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat and strongly backed by Husam; and the other inclined towards talking with UMNO about intra-Malay/Muslim cooperation, led by party president Abdul Hadi Awang and Nasharuddin and supported by the orthodox among the party’s theological wing.
The PAS-UMNO talks started on the day after the March 8, 2008 general election which saw Pakatan make unprecedented gains in the federal parliament by denying BN its two-thirds majority and securing control of four state legislatures in addition to enhanced control of a fifth.
To PAS’ progressive wing, the election results were a confirmation of their belief that the party could win non-Muslim support if it modernised and allowed professionals a greater say in the way it is run and portrayed to Malaysia’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious population.
The election results elicited a quite different reaction from the party’s conservatives. They felt uneasy over the increased non-Malay/non-Muslim presence in state governments won by the Pakatan coalition and were led by their fears of a potential watering down of Malay/Muslim domination of Malaysian politics to seek common ground with UMNO, unabashed exponents of Malay hegemony.
This divide between the two factions in PAS separates the modernists, among whom the professionals are prominent, from the conservatives, among whom the party’s ulama, with the singular exception of Tok Guru Nik Aziz, are in plentiful evidence.
The litmus test of an Islamist
The battle for the deputy president’s post has crystallised the divide in the party with contending forces coalescing around the protagonists – Husam, a prominent Kelantan state executive council member in charge of administration, financial planning and welfare; and Nasharuddin, a not particularly distinguished ulama whose path to the upper reaches of the party was eased through fortuitous circumstance than by personal distinction.
Already the media has publicised it as the battle between the Erdogan (after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister) faction and the ulama wing of PAS. The ‘Erdogan’ label has come to be the pejorative term for a Muslim politician who attaches more importance to political rather than religious victories. They are regarded with suspicion by theologians who hold Islam as not only an ethical ideal but also a polity.
A few months ago, Husam moved to solidify his credentials with this faction in PAS when he deliberately took the bait dangled by UMNO’s Khairy Jamaluddin by coming out and saying outright that he will support the implementation of syariah (Islamic law) when and if Pakatan takes over the federal government.
The occasion was a debate in Kota Baru between the then aspirant to the UMNO Youth chief’s post and Husam, both in their separate ways exuding the potential for leadership of their perennially contending parties.
While that assurance of support for syariah implementation from Husam predictably saw him challenged by DAP’s Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang, arch defenders of secularism in Malaysian politics, it is doubtful whether it eased his path to acceptance by PAS’ conservative wing.
“A good Muslim, which is what Husam is, must support the implementation of syariah,” said Wan Zainal, a businessman friend of Husam’s from University of Malaya days where the embryonic PAS leader studied economics in the early 1980s.
Presumably, support for syariah, not so much endorsement for the principle of ulama leadership in politics, is the litmus test of an Islamist.