For Permatang Pauh by-election, PKR should break mould


February 22, 2015

For Permatang Pauh by-election, PKR should break mould

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: A recall of the immediate prelude to the sixth general election in April 1982 should help bolster the point of what needs to be done by PKR for the upcoming Permatang Pauh by-election.

4th PM of MalaysiaThe then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was shaping to dissolve Parliament, having been in office for nine months after succeeding retired Hussein Onn the previous July.

Requiring as a newly-installed PM a fresh mandate from the people, Mahathir caused a huge surprise by reaching across the political divide to induct Anwar Ibrahim, then ABIM President and nascent leader of the Malaysian opposition, into UMNO.

The sensation of that induction had barely time to recede when Anwar was announced as the party’s candidate to wrest the Permatang Pauh seat, held by PAS, in the polls scheduled for late April.

Until the announcement of his joining UMNO was made, Anwar had been more likely to become President of PAS upon incumbent Mohd Asri Muda’s retirement although he did not hold a position in the party and neither was he a member.

The year prior Anwar’s credentials as the fledgling leader of the opposition were highlighted by his leadership of an informal coalition of NGOs and political parties which protested the amendments to the Societies Act set for tabling in Parliament in its March sitting and viewed as detrimental to civil liberties.

No surprisingly, that effort did not succeed against the crushing majority commanded by the ruling BN though it garnered a lot of publicity against a backdrop of heightened public sensitivity to human rights issues.

What Anwar’s joining UMNO did was to remove a potential leader for the Malaysian opposition, it being axiomatic that no effort to supplant BN in the seat of government could succeed without it being led by a credible Malay leader.

With one surgical move, the astute Mahathir cut the ground from under the feet of an opposition which had begun to sense that BN’s lengthy incumbency was starting to erode its appeal among voters who had commenced, albeit belatedly, to appreciate the need for a denial of a two-third majority to the ruling coalition.

In sum, clever tactics and strategy, deployed in anticipation of looming trends, can obviate its detrimental effects to interests favored by the strategists. That move by Mahathir would delay by a good 16 years the rise of a credible Malay leader to steer the opposition and garner support for it.

Anwar IbrahimAnwar would yet become that leader, but only after he had supped for 16 years with the incumbents before being shunned by them in a most humiliating manner in 1998. Today that humiliation has not ceased and the methods of its stamping have not altered but it comes after a move akin to the one deployed by Mahathir in April 1982: subversion of the adversary through enticement.

It was Kelantan UMNO who told PAS after GE13 in May 2013 that it would support its plan to implement hudud. Almost two years later, the Islamist party is bent on the measure and is now ready to enact the preliminary legislative moves for the implementation of the Islamic penal code in Kelantan, to the acute dismay of its Pakatan Rakyat partner, DAP, and the quiet remonstrance of a third member of the coalition, PKR.

Trying to stop PAS, especially after a national meeting of ulama in Serdang this weekend, a body adamant for hudud in Kelantan, is like arguing with the deaf.

What then about the future of Pakatan, the opposition coalition on the cusp of something that was not imaginable in 1982 – the supplanting of UMNO-BN in the seat of power – hope for which glimmered in 1998 and now, a wearying 17 years later, is an imminent prospect, especially after Anwar’s renewed incarceration?

Frankly, it’s bleak if Pakatan, especially PKR and DAP, do not submit to the logic of one’s necessity which is to do something that will shore up the Pakatan ground and scythe it from under the feet of those within the coalition who are determined to row it into turbulent waters.

Right now, Pakatan is like a boat with oarsmen rowing in opposite directions – it will capsize. To prevent that calls for a move resembling Mahathir’s clever strategy in 1982 in turning Anwar from oppositionist to collaborator. The move was mould breaking, its panache stemming from the surprise of the gesture and its hint at promising possibilities.

Breaking new ground

PKR, with DAP support, can break new ground by loaning Permatang Pauh to PAS and fielding its Vice-President Husam Musa in the upcoming by-election for the seat vacated by a convicted Anwar.

Husam is under interdiction by the assertive ulamak wing of his party which seems determined to weed out progressives like him. This is a retrograde move by the ulamak, a move reflective of a mind-set that prefers ideology over reality, essence over existence.

If the blood-thirsty 20th century taught humankind anything it is that the irruption of ideology into political realities is the recipe for much political woe.

But the religious inebriates of PAS contend they are only going about God’s business which incidentally is what the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq say they are doing. Only a PKR move of panache and sensation akin to Mahathir’s 1982 move with respect to Anwar can waylay a PAS ulamak-driven gallop of Pakatan’s to the precipice.

PAS ulamak will doubtless not allow the move but what does that matter now that they are set to drive Pakatan apart while maintaining their fidelity to the coalition.

PKR can argue with more conviction that the move is not to drive a wedge between progressives and conservatives in PAS but to keep the party within the opposition coalition. One paradoxical argument begets another.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.

Nurul Nuha Anwar sets the stage for Family Politics in PKR


February 15, 2015

Nurul Nuha Anwar sets the stage for Family Politics in PKR

by Jocelyn Tan@www.thestar.com.my

Nurul NuhaIT was a rather teary debut for Nurul Nuha Anwar, the second-born of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s six children.

The slender and attractive 31-year-old broke down barely minutes into the press conference, her voice shaking with emotion and her cheeks wet with tears as she read from a prepared script. Her big sister Nurul Izzah was clearly in charge as she draped a protective arm over her sister while the rest of the siblings looked on silently.

The children have stepped up to the plate to take charge of the March to Freedom campaign that is aimed at garnering national and international support for their imprisoned father. It is not unlike the “Free Anwar Campaign” during the first sodomy case.

Their mother, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, was not present and the children said they wanted to share her burden and responsibility.

Despite struggling with her composure, Nurul Nuha is said to be the most spunky and politically-astute among the Anwar brood.

Nurul Nuha is the daughter who most resembles her mother in terms of looks. Many would remember her as the skinny adolescent who, shortly after Anwar’s black-eye incident in 1998, thrust her body from the window of a moving car and shouted out “reformasi!” to the crowds. It was one of those riveting moments in politics.

The young gawky girl with cropped hair and spectacles has grown up and is now a mother of two.

The Anwar clan is very tight-knit but Nurul Nuha has often stood out for her fierce belief in her father. At the start of the second sodomy trial, she had leapt to her feet when she saw Saiful Bukhary Azlan in court and shouted at him. Family members had to quickly calm her down.

Some PKR politicians insisted that having the family take charge of the March to Freedom campaign was to give it a less partisan dimension. They said a “family affair” would encourage participation from NGOs and individuals who might otherwise be put off if it was done by a political party.

But many saw Wednesday’s press conference also as a move to project Nurul Nuha as a possible candidate for the impending by-election in Permatang Pauh.

“She is a quick thinker and has good people skills. I saw how well she got along with people, old and young, when she used to accompany her mother to Permatang Pauh,” said Faekah Husin, the former political secretary to Dr Wan Azizah.

Another Anwar family name is about to enter the fray. The political dynasty is about to become more entrenched, and not everyone in PKR is too comfortable about that.

Nurul Nuha’s name was proposed as a candidate in Penang in the general election but Anwar had shot it down. But her turn may have come.

It is going to be quite awkward for the party, especially for those whoPelukan terakhir Anwar feel that PKR must wean itself from the dominance of Istana Segambut, as the powerful Anwar family is known among party members.

The party is still smarting over the starring role of the husband-and-wife pair in the party election last year. This carried into the Kajang by-election and the Selangor Mentri Besar crisis. It was way too much family politics, and it had turned the party into some sort of laughing stock.

But few would dare to object to another family member in Permatang Pauh even if they think it smacks of nepotism. The seat is synonymous to Anwar and it would seem callous for anyone to insist that it goes to a non-family member, even in the name of democratic politics.

Those arguing for a non-family candidate said the seat is symbolic of Pakatan Rakyat’s strength and that someone who is measurable to public expectations would be more suitable.

“Anwar claims that his cause is that of justice and democracy for Malaysia. If that is the case, it should not preclude others. There is no need to go down the family line,” said a Pakatan politician from Penang. Actually, a number of other people are eyeing the sure-win seat.

A day after the Anwar verdict, a well-meaning PKR politician had called Dr Wan Azizah to offer words of comfort and also to suggest that she consider PAS Deputy President Mohamad Sabu for Permatang Pauh.

The caller said it would allow Mat Sabu a platform to go for the Presidency and if he wins, he can ensure that PAS stays with Pakatan. Giving the seat to a PAS man is out of the question but there was no harm trying.

There are equally eager candidates within PKR, and one of them isDato Saifuddin Nasution former Secretary-General Datuk Saifuddin Nasution whose career is now in limbo after losing badly in the PKR election.

Saifuddin had complained during a party meeting that he felt like he had been abandoned. He indicated that he was struggling to cope with a lawsuit brought against him by Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim. Saifuddin had made corruption allegations against the former Selangor Mentri Besar at the height of the Mentri Besar crisis and he has been sued for that.

Yusmadi YusoffBeing an MP would help him return from the cold and restore his political career.Another name that has cropped up is that of Yusmadi Yusoff, a lawyer and former Balik Pulau MP.

Like Saifuddin, Yusmadi is also looking to make a comeback and what better opportunity than via a high-profile by-election.

But this is no ordinary by-election and some of the above names are rather too garden variety to excite the electorate. Moreover, there are already suggestions of a watikah or authorisation from Anwar about the seat and, like it or not, he will have a big say from prison.

Some in the party have even suggested Dr Wan Azizah for the seat.Kak Wan, as she is known, stepped in and won the seat in 1999 after Anwar’s sacking. In 2009, she resigned to pave a by-election for Anwar to return to politics. Then she made her own return to politics in the Kajang by-election last year.

It was starting to look like a revolving door, the way the family went in and out as they liked but they do seem to get away with it. As such, Kak Wan’s candidature should not be discounted.

PKR’s first lady may become even more powerful now that she is the chief conduit between the party and her imprisoned husband.

The focus on PKR was interrupted by the death of PAS leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat on Thursday night. It was the passing of a legend and the by-election in Chempaka is likely to happen sooner than in Permatang Pauh.

The Permatang Pauh seat will only be declared vacant 14 days from the date of conviction if Anwar fails to get a royal pardon. To date, there is no sign that he is seeking a royal pardon.

Pakatan leaders welcome the breathing space because they need to get their act together, patch up some of the cracks and agree on a suitable candidate.

Anwar was an important figure in Penang because he was the Malay face to the otherwise Chinese-centric government. But there will never be another Anwar and they may have to settle for his daughter.

Pakatan leaders want nothing less than a landslide victory in the by-election. This is crucial to show that the people are still with Anwar and to validate Pakatan’s standing as a coalition.

The last seven by-elections have not been encouraging for Pakatan. The coalition lost Teluk Intan and it retained the seats where it was the incumbent by smaller majorities. In contrast, Barisan won with bigger majorities in the seats where it was the incumbent.

The signs of voter disenchantment are there. Pakatan needs to restore its image with a big win in Permatang Pauh.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

 

Pakatan Rakyat and the Future of Malaysia’s Two Party Democracy


February 12, 2015

COMMENT: With Anwar Ibrahim back in Sungei BulohDin MericanY2 prison can Pakatan Rakyat coalition hold, given the strong and uncompromising stands taken by the secularist DAP and the theocratic PAS? That is the question. Without the glue that was responsible for making the Pakatan Rakyat coalition of PKR, PAS and DAP a reality, it is difficult to envisage an alternative force that can take over from the present regime that had held power since Independence. The spirit of 2008  that galvanized Malaysian voters has been extinguished. That is the sad truth.

I am personally not optimistic that a two-party system as presently constituted if PAS is obsessed with the hudud and DAP is uncompromisingly secular can be viable. So in the run up to the next General Elections, Pakatan Rakyat must get its act together and settle their ideological differences that can cause it to implode. A house that is deeply divided cannot stand.

UMNO-BN strategists knew the secret to weaken and eventually break up Pakatan Rakyat. They persecuted and put Anwar Ibrahim out of action, and continue to play the religion and race card to entice PAS to join their ranks in common cause. It is, therefore, naive to think that a two-party system as presently constituted can be a viable one.–Din Merican

Pakatan Rakyat and the Future of Malaysia’s 2-Party Democracy

by R B Bhattacharjee–The EDGE MALAYSIA

Malaysia's opposition leaders hold hands at the end of their People's Alliance conference in Shah AlamDAP’s Lim Guan Eng, Anwar Ibrahim and PAS’s  Hadi Awang

Although it has become common to acknowledge that a two party system has emerged in Malaysia following the unprecedented setbacks faced by the Barisan Nasional coalition in the 12th. and 13th. General Elections, recent events show that there is a long way to go before that concept can be said to have taken root in the country’s democratic system.

No doubt, the opposition parties had set aside their visceral differences to form an electoral pact in the run-up to the 12th general election in 2008. And following the surprise gains that they made in that election, Democratic Action Party (DAP), Pan Islamic Party  of Malaysia (PAS) and the People’s Justice Party (PKR) showed much promise as a new political force when they came together to form the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in order to establish the state governments in Selangor, Penang, Perak (at that time) and Kedah, besides Kelantan which  was already being administered by PAS.

Anwar-UbahThe Slogan for 2008 General Election

With five states under their control, it did seem for a while that Pakatan Rakyat was on its way to become an alternative  to the entrenched  political infrastructure created by Barisan Nasional.

Certainly, the groundswell of support for the opposition parties was an unmistakable sign that the people had become impatient to change the patronage of the ruling government for a new brand of politics that does not take voters for granted. At the same time, no politician worth his salt would be blind to the fact that voters would be looking for signs that the opposition coalition was intrinsically cohesive before they would be convinced about backing its bid to take power at the federal level.

Subsequently, it seemed that Pakatan Rakyat only needed to build on a common policy platform, grow its grassroots machinery, attract enough talent and avoid pitfalls that Barisan Nasional had fallen into to ultimately inherit the mantle of power from a political establishment that was showing serious of dysfunction.

Since the sea of change in voter sentiment in 2008, however, the Pakatan Rakyat grouping has come under severe strain on a number of fronts that collectively pose questions about its viability as an alternative federal government.

The well-aired conflict between DAP and PAS over the notion of Malaysia as an Islamic nation versus the supremacy of the secular Constitution is perhaps the most divisive of the issues that foreshadow the unmaking of Pakatan Rakyat. Not that the cluster of issues around this theme does not impact the Barisan Nasional too, but the dominant role of of UMNO in the coalition means that dissonance in the ruling coalition is very much muted by comparison.

The Islamic nation controversy illuminates the difficulties  confronting Pakatan Rakyat in its efforts to establish an inclusive political institution that can govern Malaysia’s diverse population without falling back on the self-defeating divide-and-rule paradigm that has become the default political culture particularly in recent years.

Hadi AwangPAS  is committed to Hudud

Far from clearing the way to build a race-blind, religious-blind society, DAP and PAS, which have been at loggerheads for decades over the establishment of a shariah-oriented administration, could only disagree to disagree on the matter in 2008 when it was expedient to announce the formation of Pakatan Rakyat as an emergent coalition bedecked with a string of states under its control.

Allah Issue SupportersThe Allah Issue

This is just not good enough, as demonstrated by their endless bickering over a slew of inter-ethnic and inter-religious issues that have bubbled up of late. Since the 12th general election in particular, the many difficulties between shariah and secular institutions show that the overlapping of theocratic and secular jurisdictions is an inherently problematic proposition.

So, it is almost inevitable that a political coalition that juxtaposes secularist and theocratic  parties will become undone when it comes to a crunch. This is clearly the story of Pakatan Rakyat’s journey until now.

To conceptualise a political system that can survive the competing pressures of secular and theological worldviews, there is effectively no alternative to the separation of religious and state powers. The lessons of history, from church-state relations of Medieval Europe to the record of contemporary Islamic states, are quite clear on this score.

This means that the Pakatan Rakyat parties have to embark on a voyage of discovery to chart new territory that circumvents potential whirlpools of conflict in a multicultural society. Only when it has mapped the extent of this new sphere can it present to voters a workable alternative model to the current one that puts one group against another in a perpetual cycle of acrimony.

It is necessarily a work in progress. explored one area at a time, with each emerging issue between individuals, institutions and society in a variety of combinations pointing to gaps that need fixing, rights that need acknowledgment and duties that must be performed.

To expect an overnight alliance forged  in the heat of an electoral triumph to withstand the assault  of a political establishment that has been in control over five decades is in itself wishful thinking. Perhaps, it may even entail a deconstruction of current political parties and coalitions to allow new thinking about contentious issues to emerge. This is a work to be undertaken for the long term, with the interests of the coming generations in mind.

The Pakatan Rakyat leadership council cannot be expected overnight to resolve such a fundamental issue  that goes to the heart of power relations, socio-cultural  pluralism and concepts such justice and equity, among other things. Rather, Pakatan Rakyat leaders may give themselves some breathing room if they merely acknowledge that their mixed marriage is on the rocks.

Learn from Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa


January 11, 2015

Learn from Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa

Commentary by The Malaysian Insider

Pres Mahinda RajapaksaSri Lankan strongman Mahinda Rajapakse surprisingly lost the country’s presidential elections two days ago while pursuing a third term in office – much to the joy of the South Asian island nation.

He lost with 47.6% of the vote, while his opponent, former Health Minister and ally Maithripala Sirisena took 51.3% of the vote.

If those numbers are familiar, it is because those are nearly the same numbers as the split between the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in the 2013 general election in Malaysia.

More importantly, the fall of Rajapakse in Sri Lanka offers a lesson for Malaysia: that the very powerful and those who intimidate their opponents and the press, apart from advocating censorship – ultimately lose.

Rajapaksa was Sri Lanka’s hero who ended the 26-year civil war with the minority Tamil population in 2009 and after two terms in office with three brothers also holding key posts in the government – decided to change the law allowing unlimited terms as president.

Using the economy as a key driver in the Indian Ocean island, his government imposed censorship and hounded both opposition politicians and journalists to prevent dissent to his rule.

Rajapaksa, who first came to power in 2005, was last elected in 2010 when he defeated his former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka, who was later jailed on charges of implicating the government in war crimes.

Maithripala SirisenaPresident-Elect

According to the BBC, his critics said he became increasingly authoritarian and failed to tackle the legacy of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which left the Tamil areas in the north impoverished and embittered. While the circumstance with Malaysia is different, his brand of politics is all too similar to Malaysians.

The licensed mass media in Malaysia paint a picture of a popular government but in cyberspace, dissent and criticism hog online media and social media sites that has now led Putrajaya to bring back a retired civil servant to head its communications regulatory agency.

In public universities, academics and students are routinely reminded not to get involved in political activities while the colonial-era Sedition Act is now the preferred law to silence dissent.

This from a government that has lost further ground in the 2013 elections from the 2008 elections where PR first denied BN its traditional two-thirds parliamentary super-majority.

The BN government had also used the economy as a bait, planning economic and government transformation programmes together with direct cash aid but only gained 47% of the popular vote in 2013.

Perhaps BN can learn from what contributed to Rajapakse’s defeat and if it does not, it might just share the former Sri Lankan President’s fate in the next general election.

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

RCI Report on Project IC in Sabah is farcical, says Anwar Ibrahim


December 6, 2014

RCI  Report on Project IC in Sabah falls short of expectations, says Anwar Ibrahim

by http://www.themalaymailonline.com (December 5, 2014)

anwar_ibrahim2Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said today the findings of the Royal Commission set up in 2012 to investigate the abnormal spike in Sabah’s foreigner population was not only “farcical”, but had also failed to bring to book the real culprits behind the problem.

The Opposition Leader noted that the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) report released Wednesday (December 3) had placed the blame squarely on errant civil service runners for what he described as the “biggest illegal immigrant scandal” in Malaysian history since Independence.

Anwar said the report, which was 366 pages long, contained mere “meaningless” texts that saw all government agencies and departments completely exonerated of any culpability in the scandal, which has now resulted in nearly 30 per cent of Sabah’s 3.12 million population made up of foreigners.

“The masterminds and the real culprits responsible for the nefarious importation into Sabah of illegal immigrants from Southern Philippines and Indonesia are completely off the hook,” he said.

“Even more glaring is the utter failure to mention the role of the National Security Council as well as the Prime Minister’s Department, let alone attribute any blame on them, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence to that effect,” he added.

After a nine-month hearing, testimonies from 211 witnesses and more than a year’s worth of delays, the much-anticipated RCI report was finally released to the public on Wednesday. But its findings, according to local and Federal opposition politicians, fell short of expectations.

The Royal panel, despite acknowledging that “Projek IC” had in all “probability” existed, said the initiative was not politically driven as initially claimed, but likely the fault of corrupt syndicates that handed out identification cards to illegals to make a buck or two.

Due to limitations in its terms of reference, the panel also made no mention of the culprits involved or recommendation of punitive action.

The panel ended its lengthy 366-page report with a postscript that said it only has the power to “inquire” and “make findings”, while any further action is up to the government.

Anwar’s longtime arch nemesis Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has beenDr.Mahathir repeatedly accused of spearheading “Projek IC”, a citizenship-for-votes initiative in the 1980s that has been blamed for the illegal award of identification cards to foreigners.

But during his testimony to the RCI last year, the former Prime Minister blamed this on “government officers” and said that he had never heard of such an initiative “until recently”.

During the RCI’s proceedings, which started in January last year, testimonies from Filipinos and other immigrants revealed how they received their blue identification cards or the MyKad — which is proof of citizenship — in just a few years after arriving in Sabah and how they had also voted in elections.

Najib Razak at 2014 UMNO GA“While it is well-known that the UMNO-BN government will never own up to its failings, we would have expected at least a modicum of contrition followed by a resolve to make good the errors and misdeeds of the past,” Anwar said.

“Sadly, there is nothing to show for that and Malaysians are once again treated to another farcical display of chest thumping and proclamations of grandeur reminiscent of the recently concluded UMNO General Assembly,” he added.

Dr Welsh on PAS’ 60th Muktamar and the Doublespeak of Abdul Hadi Awang


October 7, 2014

Dr Welsh on PAS’ 60th Muktamar and the Doublespeak of Abdul Hadi Awang

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Hadi3The Political Comedian with Ambition to be Malaysia’s Next Prime Minister

COMMENT: With emotional outbursts, walkouts and contradictory statements, PAS’ 60th muktamar last week was more of a confrontation rather than a celebration.

With the PAS President referring to the Islamic party’s Pakatan Rakyat partners as “minor enemies” and its members who stood with ally PKR as “lackeys”, it has become evident that PAS under the leadership of Abdul Hadi Awang appears to be no longer a party that can be trusted to listen to the people and work with other parties to bring change to Malaysia.

There is a sense of betrayal among the public, whose hopes have been dashed by a reactionary faction of conservative ulama within PAS who think they are the ‘chosen ones’ – many of whom who have acted in a manner that is neither in keeping with their religious values nor reflects wisdom.

In the wake of this muktamar, where the reactionary forces have dominated the bitter discourse, the Pakatan coalition has suffered a serious blow from within. It appears that the opposition coalition is over. This conclusion is understandable but – for now – premature.

Pakatan is clearly deeply wounded, but the intensity of the battle inside PAS reveals an ongoing struggle that suggests that there are many more battles ahead and the fight to develop an alternative political narrative is not over. In fact, arguably, the PAS muktamar reveals the scope of struggles that are necessary to overcome in order to give the majority of Malaysians what they have voted for – a better Malaysia.

In this muktamar, the divide within PAS has come into the open. The skirmishes have been ongoing for many years, repeating historical tensions inside the party and paralleling struggles within Islamist parties globally.

PAS has moved from a pattern of working toward consensus – even this was fragile – to open conflict. Those that are the most insecure, the conservative religious ulama, have taken to the reactionary tactic of destruction, aiming to derail political reform within PAS itself and nationally.

Most of the focus of the discussion has centred on Abdul Hadi Awang. The underlying issues facing the party go well beyond its president. There are three interrelated crises facing the party – identity, leadership and democracy. Let me elaborate these further.

PAS identity – in UMNO’s image?

PAS’ political advantage has traditionally been that its leaders are portrayed as moral and non-corrupt. This ‘upright’ standing has allowed the party to be compared favourably to UMNO. It has underscored the profound respect for spiritual leader Niz Aziz Nik Mat, for example, whose missing moral authority was keenly felt at the Johor muktamar. But PAS’ righteous advantage is disappearing.

Rightly or wrongly, PAS’ response in the Selangor MB crisis has caused many to question the honesty and integrity of its leaders. Double-speak, contradictions and inconsistencies – in direct contrast to the theme of the muktamar – have left a mark on party’s image.

PAS has always had a trust deficit among the majority of the country; it only managed to win on average a third of support among Malaysians on its own. The actions over the last few months have deepened distrust and, for many non-Muslims and Muslims alike, shattered the perception of PAS as the ‘good’ party.

People are asking why PAS leaders have misled the public, visited certain places in the shadow of night and avoided answering questions directly. In the wake of the muktamar, PAS has come off as a party interested in its own power, not listening to the public nor apparently keeping its promises. Has PAS taken a page from UMNO, many wonder?

In fact, while scholars point to UMNO becoming like PAS in its advocacy of exclusionary Islamist policies, there has been another phenomenon, PAS – or at least some within the party – is becoming more like UMNO.

This perception is reinforced by a closer look at the backgrounds of PAS leaders. Gone are the days of humility and humbleness. Today many PAS leaders appear to be interested in securing international positions, wealth and material goods. The sins of greed and pride appear evident.

Observers are asking how religious schools led by some PAS leaders have amassed such wealth, while others secured lucrative business contracts. Questions are being raised about the ties of many PAS leaders with those from UMNO over assets and finances.

Corruption and nepotism within PAS are even being quietly discussed in the sense that some are using the party for position, their families and personal wealth rather than the ideals the party supposedly espouses. Worse yet, religion is being used to justify positions that appear to be more about self-interest rather than actual religious principles.

For decades, PAS has been wrestling with how to promote an Islamist agenda and what sort of Islam it should be advocating. As it engaged in a more inclusive manner through Pakatan, the myopic focus on implementing hudud and syariah laws has been challenged by more inclusive shared religious values of justice, good governance and stronger humanity.

A spirit of humanism and community has been fostered, where greater inclusiveness and appreciation for equality have disputed the narrow-minded thinking of many conservative ulama that see themselves a step above ordinary people.

Many conservative ulama within the party are uncomfortable moving outside of what they know, and in fact have increased their efforts to indoctrinate younger members with their interpreted religious views. They advocate an exclusionary approach that not only divides Malaysian society, but also follows the line of dictating to others.

They just don’t get that the overwhelming majority of Malaysians want to choose how they practice their own religion, and that the majority believe that the country is not ready for hudud.

Moreover, they do not realise that citizens are not willing to turn over moral authority to religious leaders that appear to be acting immorally. PAS’ conservative ulama appear to have forgotten that the means are as important as the ends, and by choosing to adopt practices that promote division and disrespect they are not acting righteously.

Sadly, of late, a path of destruction has been adopted by Hadi and his ulama camp against their professed goals. The message that stands out is not only one of further parallel to Umno in the prominence of arrogance and use of division, but it is also a signal that ironically strengthens Umno as the choice for government over the long term.

Crisis of leadership

Malaysians have been searching for leaders they can respect and put their faith in. More and more have been putting their belief in PAS. But this muktamar has not inspired any such confidence.

Rather than working together to move the country forward, PAS under Hadi appears to want to move the country and his party backward. When Hadi assumed the presidency in 2002, he had difficult shoes to fill following the death of Fadzil Noor. Not only was the former president willing to listen and work with others, he inspired support that brought new people into the party and won additional states to govern.

By any measure Hadi cannot be credited with the same gains, especially in recent months. Hadi’s decisions contributed to the loss of Kedah, Terengganu (twice), Perak and potentially Selangor, and his leadership has weakened rather than strengthened the party.

The future of Hadi’s leadership will continue to play out until the next muktamar when a party election is scheduled. The rally-around-the-leader dynamic of this muktamar was as much a reflection of weakness of Hadi’s leadership as it shows that many within his own party are alienated by his actions.

The leadership problem in PAS is broader than one person. One dimension is the role of the ulama in the party hierarchy. Many in PAS do not agree that the conservative ulama should lead the party. It is a long-standing battle in PAS, and this battle has intensified.

Until this muktamar, the conservative ulama have been losing ground. Conservative ulama have played limited roles in Pakatan, with many of them not even attending decision-making meetings. The ulama leadership in states like Kedah was rejected by the electorate.

The key PAS actors involved in successful Pakatan governance have been those with the direct skills and knowledge to address the country’s problems, the non-ulama. The party delegates and general public understand this. In last year’s muktamar, progressives were elected in the majority for positions, as the delegates opted for more non-ulama leadership.

The conservative ulama fear marginalisation and in this muktamar fought back. They defended the decisions and positions of their teammate Hadi who has increasingly taken on less reform-oriented positions.

The conservative ulama clearly are unwilling to accept a different and more advisory political role. The recent meeting shows that they are willing to do anything to stay in premier positions, even if it means dividing PAS and weakening the opposition as a whole.

Painting themselves as martyrs for the conservative cause, the current ulama are seen to be trying to assure the survival of younger conservatives, many of whom are from the same families of the current ulama leadership. At its root is a reactionary goal – to stop reforms in the party and nationally.

A second leadership problem is that PAS currently does not offer a viable prime minister candidate. This has to do in part with the competition among the more progressive leaders among themselves. It also stems for a lack of grooming and experience of many PAS leaders in government and on the national stage.

For a party that supposedly claims to seek national power, it has a deficit in giving voters an alternative that can not only lead the country but also inspire confidence. While there are many PAS leaders that have potential to fill this role, the current situation and traditional PAS party culture of accepting hierarchy has prevented them from coming to the fore.

If the progressives are to have any chance at all they will need to agree and present an alternative leader. This will require significant reform within PAS, and successful measures involving courage that thwart the reactionary turn.

Moving away from democracy towards theocracy

A third interrelated dimension of PAS’ current crises involves democracy. PAS is grappling with the conflict between different political bodies within the party, namely the syura council versus the central working committee.

It is wrestling also to respond to an increasingly demanding and diverse membership and electorate. In recent months, the PAS ulama leadership has moved in a more authoritarian direction, with decisions by fiat rather than through consultation.

In fact, minority views have prevailed, as the majority were ignored, dismissed and even ridiculed. Clearly, the mandate of the delegates and voters has been ignored. The conservative ulama appear not to understand that dictatorial practices lead to the downfall of Islamist parties, as happened in Egypt. They similarly do not understand that as an opposition party calling for more democracy, their own lack of democratic governance reveals hypocrisy.

PAS, like other parties, wrestles with engaging democratic practices. As Umno and PKR have introduced more democratic internal party elections, allowing members to select the party leadership, under Hadi PAS has resisted opening up. This has not allowed new blood to come into the leadership and different ideas to emerge. It has signaled a lack of respect for the wisdom of its members.

Another challenge has been including women in political positions within PAS. The party leadership’s recent attacks on a politician – although not everyone in PAS – because she is woman, has not conformed to democratic values of inclusion.

Equally important, members in PAS have been supporting decisions that are not in line with the public mandate on who was voted into office and why. Unlike a decade ago where PAS was leading the path toward democracy in the Malay community, the Islamist party has stagnated in expanding democracy. In this muktamar, the reactionary conservative ulama have further resisted democratic reforms.

An example is the supremacy of the syura council in party decisions. Syura members have the undemocratic power to choose their members and they are not accountable to anyone. Is this the type of body that Malaysians are willing to accept to wield ultimate decision-making power and those who assume positions not from an open election?

Who should have power and whether that power should be accountable to the delegates and ordinary voters has come to the fore.

This involves the difficult issue of legitimacy. Who should legitimately hold power? How should leaders be chosen by the people? What should be the source of legitimate power is right for PAS? Should it be the party constitution, elections from members or archaic practices of a syura council that is neither representative to the party itself or appears willing to respect and listen to the views and aspirations of ordinary voters?

Reforms to the party constitution will be necessary if the party is to move in a more democratic direction. The reactionary push-back in PAS has resisted these democratic pressures. More broadly, the party’s authoritarian turn had been damaging for democracy in Malaysia.

Difficult future for Pakatan

Anwar-Ubah

The Doublespeak of Hadi weakens Pakatan Rakyat

The reactionary elements in PAS have been there for decades. In this muktamar, they have come out into the open. The intensity of their responses reflects ongoing struggles over identity, leadership and democracy.

The fact that they have come out as they have, fighting in a no-holds-barred manner, reveals weakness not strength. They are afraid and insecure. They are willing to do everything to stay in control of PAS to maintain their reactionary position.

The use of reactionary politics is sadly increasingly common across the political spectrum in UMNO as well as PAS. Its roots however have to be seen to derive from the increasing democratic pressures and demands from the public on leaders who are neither willing nor able to accommodate them.

The fact that more of these reactionary measures are being used shows that Malaysia is changing and those in power are unwilling to change with it.

PAS is headed for further internal struggles. The more progressive forces in the party may appear to have lost ground at this muktamar, with reactionary forces dominating the discourse. They clearly were not prepared to fight openly against the reactionary forces. But they have survived to fight another day, and the party election in the next muktamar as well as the Selangor issue will be the next battlefields.

The muktamar showed that the internal battles will continue to rage, and that the fight within PAS is far from over. The important decision ahead for the progressives in PAS involve whether or not to stay within the party, the development of strategies that strengthen internal party reform and movement toward offering an alternative leader to Hadi.

What does this mean for Pakatan? Is it dead as many have claimed? No question, the working relationships of leaders and partnerships have soured, and will likely to continue. The opposition coalition may enter a period of decline. As long as the reactionaries control the party decisions in PAS, the Islamist party will not be seen as a trusted partner. This will feed distrust among the opposition parties.

Pakatan’s future will heavily depend on the outcome of the battles within PAS. It is important at this juncture not to completely dismiss PAS and the reality of the difficulty of its internal struggles. Indeed, the battle for democracy in the Malay community is taking place on many fronts.

It also needs to be acknowledged that PAS alone is not responsible for all the troubles in Pakatan and considerable responsibility lies with the folly of the ‘Kajang move’ and inflexibility of other Pakatan leaders in the handling the Selangor crisis. PAS’ Pakatan partners need to look inside themselves to appreciate why reactionary forces in PAS have become so predominant.

Pakatan now enters its most difficult phase and this will decide whether the coalition will survive and the struggle for political reform is a genuine one. It will involve courage, faith and wisdom. One decisive factor ahead will be the willingness of leaders across the opposition coalition to learn lessons from Selangor and set in place measures that offset the damaging cycle that has emerged.

Current conditions suggest this is not yet promising. People are increasingly losing confidence in Pakatan and words will not be enough. What will matter is whether the opposition remembers why it is in office in the first place – to serve the people.

Malaysians want results and solutions to problems rather than politicking that results in more problems. The time now is for reflection, not reaction or ‘reactionarism’, and a return to respecting the mandate that made the Pakatan coalition a reality in the first place.

BRIDGET WELSH is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University and can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.