|Kee Thuan Chye|
| PAS has never been so appealing to non-Malays as it is right now. Its just concluded muktamar (general assembly) has seen the rise of the progressives, and PAS president Hadi Awang has redefined the party’s goal of setting up an Islamic state to that of a welfare state. In essence, they mean almost the same thing, and Hadi himself has acknowledged that the difference is merely semantic, but “welfare state” has a friendlier ring to it to non-Muslims, and even some Muslims. It also connotes concern with earthly matters, which in these days of rising prices and inflation are more pressingly relevant to most Malaysians, especially those whose income is low.|
This change of emphasis bodes well for PAS as it shows the party’s sensitivity to the times. Its delegates exhibited awareness of political realities by voting in more of the progressives and diluting the influence of the conservative ulamas. It should cheer non-Malays to see the return of Husam Musa as vice-president and also to see among the Central Committee names like Khalid Samad, who has gained the respect of many non-Malays for his intelligent and inclusive stance, Mohd Hatta Ramli, Kamaruddin Jaffar, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Dzulkefly Ahmad. I know of a Chinese person who can listen to Dzulkefly discourse on religion for hours!
PAS’ biggest step towards change is probably the election of Mohamad Sabu as its new deputy president, making this the first time a non-ulama has taken that position since the party adopted the Kepimpinan Ulama (Leadership by the Ulama) policy in 1985. Mat Sabu is well-regarded by the non-Malays. He is a powerful orator and he is expected to be an effective counter to Umno’s attempts at brainwashing the Malays with irresponsible propagandizing. His inclusion in PAS’ top leadership will be an asset to Pakatan Rakyat as the coalition braces for the next general election.
To be sure, the general election could have been a factor influencing the muktamar voting outcome as PAS would need to consolidate itself as a party that can gain support. Party members know that if it is to present itself as an alternative to Umno, it will need votes not only from the Malays but also the non-Malays. But such an agenda does not detract from affirming the party’s other attributes and the course it has set for itself.
Hadi has announced that PAS will remain with Pakatan, which is a boost to the coalition and a blow to Barisan Nasional (BN), particularly Umno. Despite the recent overtures that have been made by Umno to PAS to join BN and form a “unity government”, PAS has rejected them outright. Its spiritual adviser Nik Aziz Nik Mat disclosed last month that Umno offered PAS three ministerial posts to cross over. At the muktamar, Hadi said in no uncertain terms that a merger with Umno would lead to narrow communalism whereas Islam recognizes the existence of plural societies.
On the whole, he spoke out strongly against Umno, excoriating it for practicing “corruption, money politics, slander, racism, lying and every other filthy act that pollutes young minds”. He accused Umno of having “created a flock of Malays and Muslims who are blind as a result of money politics and excessive entertainment that has made them weak and consigned them to a state of stupor”.
Apart from all that, PAS’ rejection of the offer achieves a dual purpose – it proves itself to be morally superior to Umno, and it shows that it stands by its partners. This confirms the perception the public already has of PAS – that it is a party with integrity, a party whose faith is unshakable and whose commitment is solid. Even if you don’t like it or agree with it, you have to respect it.
That its party elections were free of money politics already speaks well for it and its members; that the party has now clearly told Umno off gives a feel-good twist to current politics. This is something truly welcome when so much that has transpired in recent weeks has been so ugly, sordid and plain dirty.
What automatically springs to mind in this regard is the sex video antic pulled by the Datuk T trio to implicate Pakatan leader Anwar Ibrahim in a compromising position. Although the underhanded attempt by the trio has actually turned against Umno – now publicly perceived, rightly or wrongly, to have been involved in one way or another – it has nonetheless tainted Malaysian politics and given the country a negative image.
To its credit, the PAS Ulama Council has now come out to call the use of sex videos for political slander “a sin”. It also berated the BN government for allowing the sex video to be aired on television and excerpts to be published in the print media. “We condemn the silent stance taken by the official government ulama,” it declared. This move has further put Umno on the defensive.
Apart from providing the feel-good factor, PAS also shows it is rising to the need for better governance, social justice and national healing. Its welfare state idea has been around for some years already, but now seems the right time to promote it.
As Husam spells it out, the welfare state is about following the rule of law, establishing a fair system, sustaining strong finance, and providing equality to all the races in the country. “One of the components of a welfare state is saving the country’s revenue, which can only be achieved with good governance. The country’s extra revenue can then be returned to the people,” he explains.
Hadi reinforces this by referring to the current Government practice of going into business through government-linked companies (GLCs) and dividing the profits among its cronies while burdening the losses on the people by way of taxes. “PAS must remove the culture of obtaining revenue by way of burdening the people, which is the hallmark of the Umno-BN government,” he advocates.
Of course, PAS needs to explain in greater detail to the people its vision of the welfare state. And it needs to do so before the next general election rolls around. But for now, it seems a better deal than what the BN Government is dishing out – rising prices of essential goods due to higher costs of fuel and electricity, and the prospect of a goods and services tax (GST).
It’s ironic that for all the Government’s talk about transformation, including political transformation, it is PAS that has transformed, while Umno and its BN partners remain dinosaurs, plugging outdated racial politics. They continue to play on Malay insecurity and to threaten the Chinese with no representation in government if they don’t support the MCA. They are still dominated by warlords, and their members continue to hanker after projects.
In view of all this, when the reckoning comes at the next general election, which side should the voters stake their future on?
[This article first appeared in Malaysian Digest. The author is actor, dramatist, poet, journalist and civil rights activist. - Ed.]