AUG 16 — Often, in this blog and elsewhere, people asked me if the Parti Islam Se Malaysia (Pan Malaysian Islamic Party aka PAS) could rule the country?
As I wrote in my “Other Thots” column in the August 1 issue of the Malaysian Business magazine, the temptation is to refer them to the iconic song “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan.
Why not? If it gets enough support, it could. Whether it will do a good or a bad one is another issue altogether. In democracy, you don’t always choose the best to govern.
But one thing is sure. PAS could not rule the country alone. It could rule the country only if it is able to lead the Pakatan Rakyat or any other alliance. But before it could hope to do that, it must first take over Umno’s role as the principal Malay party.
PAS has to win as many seat as Umno and has to have the financial, organisational and intellectual capabilities matching that of Umno.
Given the country’s demography, political history and the ongoing trends, a Malay party will continue to lead. This dominance is clear in the BN, where Umno is the alpha male, but not so in the PR.
In the 2008 general election, PAS came second to PKR among the three PR parties in terms of popular votes. The PKR won 1,529,265 votes that translated into 31 Parliamentary seats, PAS 1,140,598 (23 seats) and the DAP 1,097,752 (28 seats). Umno raked in 2,381,725 votes that translated in 79 seats, the MCA 840,489 (15 seats), the MIC 179,422 (3 seats) and Gerakan 184, 548 (2 seats).
PAS has to lead PR
PAS could only hope to rule the country if it leads the PR the way Umno has been leading the Alliance/BN since independence.
For now, there’s no dominant party in the PR. The alliance is an equal partnership among the Malay dominated PAS, the Chinese dominated DAP and the multi-racial, but Malay-led PKR.
This equal partnership may be attractive to the liberals and those fighting for equality, but politically it cannot guarantee strength and cohesiveness. Collective leadership among equals is difficult to manage, more so in a multi-racial environment like Malaysia.
From the viewpoint of the Malay support, PAS has been inching closer to Umno, but it cannot hope to be as strong as Umno if it continues to share the Malay-majority seats, hence Malay votes, with PKR, another Malay-centric party in the Pakatan.
In the last general election, thanks to the electoral pact cobbled together by Anwar Ibrahim, and the widespread disgruntlement with the then Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, PAS won Kedah in addition to retaining Kelantan.
It won seats in places that it had not dreamt of and gained supporters in places where Umno ruled supreme like Johor and Malacca.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that the hatred for the so-called Fourth Floor Boys (FFBs) cost Umno a lot of votes. Prime Minister Mohd Najib Abdul Razak is undeniably better and more capable than Abdullah, but whether he too suffers from the FFB-type burden is anybody’s guess.
If he is, the opposition can count on another fruitful outing. In today’s ICT-driven world, perception plays as important a role as reality. Mohd Najib has to prove to the voters, especially members and supporters of his own party, Umno that he’s not only the master of the Malay destiny, but also the lord of his castle, failing which his Achilles heel will buckle.
Those us who are familiar with the song “He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother” made popular by Neil Diamond, can more easily figure this one out.
The changing face of PAS
In recent years, PAS had undergone considerable leadership and policy changes with the non-ulama now dominating the leadership and Islamic State objective morphing into welfare state.
But its relationship with its partners, in particular the DAP, remains touchy due to vast ideological and policy differences. The three PR parties appear to be moving in tandem at the federal level, especially in taking on the BN in Parliament, but show considerable differences in the states that they rule.
A case in point was the recent attempt by the PAS-led Kedah government to shut down entertainment outlets during this fasting month and the reaction to the recent “inspection” by the Selangor Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JAIS) of a dinner gathering by an independent evangelical church, which were attended by Muslims, and features, among other things, a quiz on Islam.
Following a strong objection by the DAP, the party’s national leadership back downed, leaving the Kedah Menteri Besar, Azizan Abdul Razak red-faced, and many PAS supporters angry.
The church issue is far more complicated. After days of trying to ride the political wave, PAS, on Aug. 13, moved to the side of JAIS, urging the department to take immediate action if it finds proof that Christians were proselytising to Muslims.
The statement by the party’s non-ulama Deputy President, Mohamad Sabu, came after reports in the mainstream and alternative media suggest that there were evidence that some independent churches are engaged in the activity.
Political posturing In PR
It is this kind of political posturing among PR parties that could render the alliance ineffectual and cause it to lose the support of the voters.
The price could be heaviest on PAS. Sooner or later, its genuine rural-based supporters, who truly believe in the party’s Islamic ideals, may lose trust in it. They may conclude that the party’s Islamic agendas are being made a pawn in the game by their leaders.
Without the rural support, PAS runs the risk of losing Kedah and even its stronghold, Kelantan. Such plans as limiting gambling activities, the selling of liquor and curbing entertainment, are popular with its rural supporters, who see them as to the prelude to establishment of a “Daulah Islamiah” – the Islamic State.
Despite these differences, PAS and DAP appear to be engaging in more direct talks than ever. This could signal the party’s growing confidence and the general acknowledgement that the PKR may no longer be in the position to be an effective middleman.
This development may auger well for the DAP and PAS, but could reduce the influence of PKR and pose a further challenge to Umno and the BN. If the DAP could accept the dominant role of PAS – in the manner that the MCA and MIC accepted the leadership of Umno, future of the PR is much more assured.
But this may not be the case in the immediate future because PAS is still not as strong as Umno while on the other hand the DAP is stronger than the BN’s Chinese parties combined. The DAP may not want to play second fiddle to PAS.
Depending on their ambition and resolve, there’s possibility that the DAP and PAS may part company and go on their own once again.
The DAP may choose this course of action in order to entrench its position in Penang while PAS could hope to continue to rule Kelantan and Kedah on its own.
But a total breakdown of PR will work against both parties and to the advantage of the BN. The ongoing dialogue between PAS and the DAP will determine the future of PR beyond Anwar and PKR.
Whereas the recent PAS election had produced a line-up that’s capable of taking the party forward, the same could not be said of the PKR polls.
Sufficient time to judge the PR
Three years had passed since the 2008 general elections and the people have sufficient time to judge the performance of the PR, both as parliamentary opposition as well as the rulers of Kedah, Penang, Selangor and Kelantan.
The sterling performance of the DAP in the recent Sarawak state election suggests that the 2008 political tsunami hasn’t lost its momentum.
The demand by PAS that it should be allowed to contest up to 80 parliamentary seats suggests the party’s growing confidence and its resolve to be the replacement for the PKR as the dominant PR Malay partner.
The next important question is the ability of PAS to put forward credible administrative and economic plans. Having muted its “Daulah Islamiah” agenda and replacing it with “welfare state”, the party has to spell out its vision and plans for such an entity.
It’s not sufficient to dabble in ambiguity by pointing out that such a state existed during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the early Caliphates.
There is no denying that some PAS leaders were educated in economics and liberal subjects, and had the experience in the administrative, academic and managerial fields. But running a country as diverse as Malaysia needs more than cursory knowledge and experience.
Judging from the articles and papers on the economy and economic matters that appear regularly in the party’s official organ, Harakah, I get the impression that PAS is aware of the need for a comprehensive and practical economic policies and plans.
The real challenge for AS, should it succeed in taking over from Umno, is to remodel the civil service to fit its mould. Kelantan and Kedah are unique in the sense that their civil services are state-based. So, PAS had not faced a major challenge when it won the two states.
But the situation is trickier for the PKR in Selangor and the DAP in Penang where the civil service is controlled from the centre. Still, the civil service is supposed to be apolitical and loyal to the government of the day.
But a pliant civil service alone will not guarantee the successful running of the country. It needs a government that is sufficiently well informed and efficient. Say whatever we like about the BN, the fact remains that it has managed the country fairly well.
In a rapidly globalising world, economic planning and management are becoming more complex, and this is point that the political parties and the voters must think very carefully before they take a plunge.
But say that only one party or a particular group of people can run the country is inaccurate. Any party that can successfully convince the majority of the voters can rule the country.
Whether it will do better or worse than its predecessor is the risk that the voters must be willing to take. That’s what democracy is all about. It promises the freedom of choice, but not the quality of people to choose from. — kadirjasin.blogspot.com
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.