KUALA LUMPUR, 21 May 2009: PAS elections next month will not only witness a clash between the ulama and the professional group, but will also showcase how far the party is willing to go in defending its struggle to set up an Islamic administration.
PAS today is a pale shadow of its former self.
Twenty years ago, the party was known for its radical Islamic ideology to the extent of calling Umno supporters as “kafir” just because Umno was cooperating with political parties dominated by non-Muslims.
Back then, stories of two imams in mosques in Kelantan, Kedah and Terengganu or fights breaking out among family members and neighbours due to political differences, were aplenty.
Today, PAS showcases a very different image. Apart from collaborating with the Chinese-dominated DAP and the liberal Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the voices of the radical ulama are also weakening.
The kafir-calling issue has vanished. Its determination to establish an Islamic state and implementing the hudud law seems no longer as strong as it used to be — perhaps due to PAS coming of age or being drowned amid the rise of the professionals who are more liberal in their approach.
Perhaps sensing that the influence of the professional group is getting stronger, some party leaders are now stressing the importance of having the ulama to fill the party’s top two posts, a call which is readily opposed by others.
Seeking to cool the rising temperature in the party, PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat said the professionals and ulama should be allowed to lead the party because leaders should have both the knowledge of the world and the hereafter.
Goodbye to radical approach
The fact is, according to several political observers, PAS does not have much choice other than to let the professionals lead the party if it wants to put up a good fight in the next general election.
They said that the party had realised that the radical approach would not be helpful in maintaining the non-Muslim support towards the party.
“PAS is now coming to term with political reality, and that is, struggling for power. Before this, they are fighting for the sake of ideology, but the ideology is now growing thin,” said Prof Dr Mohamad Agus Yusoff of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
The political science lecturer said right now PAS was “making up” with the non-Muslim dominated parties with only one goal — to see the end of Barisan Nasional (BN).
“Now the multi-racial people can accept PAS’ adapted approach, so they will stick to the modest approach as long as they got the support,” he said.
Although the presence of the professionals (known as the Erdogan group) had benefited the party in terms of support, Mohamad Agus said it also triggered unhealthy culture in the party such as power struggle.
The June elections will also see a record number of people vying for posts.
Even President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang admits this.
Although he won the presidency unopposed, his deputy Nasaruddin Mat Isa will have to face a four-cornered contest against two vice-presidents — Datuk Husam Musa and Mohamad Sabu — and an ulama candidate, Datuk Dr Haron Din.
Husam, who is labelled as a member of the Erdogan group, is said to be the most popular candidate to win the post even though some said that Harun would be Hadi’s best running mate.
Although some regard this as a sign that democracy is flourishing in PAS, Prof Dr Ahmad Atory Hussain feels that the fight for the post showed a diminishing practice of “syura” (consensus) in the party.
“It looks like PAS is practicing Western style democracy, not syura,” said the Universiti Sains Malaysia Malaysian Politics and Public Policy lecturer.
Ahmad Atory foresees the Erdogans dominating PAS elections as the party is now dominated by the younger generation.
“There are not many ulama left in the party, and they’re getting old. Now there are more young professionals who will design the new leadership. It may not be so obvious in this election, but I am sure it will show in the next one,” he said.
Ahmad Atory said whether they like it or not, PAS supporters especially the radical group, would have to accept the new leadership style.
Another political observer, Assoc Prof Dr Ghazali Mahyuddin also agreed with the view and characterised PAS as being pragmatic, knowing that the ulama faction would not be able to get the support of a multi-racial community.
The academician from UKM did not dismiss possibilities that the ulama will be neglected and become a minority in the party.
“These changes are normal in a political party. So it should not be a surprise if most of the elected leaders are from the professional group.
“Although there will be hardcore grassroots supporters who may not be able to accept it, I predict that they will remain in the party as long as there is an ulama leader,” he said, adding that he doubted the party would return to its old approach.
“If that is the case, then they will be isolated. We shall see how things develop but I am confident the professional group will dominate the elections this time around,” he said.
Going by the latest trend in the party, it can be said that PAS is now adopting the approach that has brought about major support to Umno and BN.
Although political analysts are sure that PAS’s fundamental objective of creating an Islamic country has not changed, the question now is how far the leaders from the professional group would want to defend it.
Or, will the desire for power overwhelms the struggle of its original leaders? And will the remaining ulama allow this to happen? — Bernama