Partyforumseasia: The overwhelming victory in the internal party elections (see our comment last week, link here) for the conservative, Muslim scholar or ulama faction may not be such a triumph as the winners seem to believe. The aftershocks continue, on Monday 15 June with the resignation of Mazlan Aliman, the last “surviving” progressive in the 23 member Central Working Committee. In a press conference in the PAS headquarters he underlined his disappointment with the “cai paper” strategy, a list of ulama endorsed candidates.What is cai paper or cai list all about? Ironically, the pro-Malay PAS has adopted the word from the expression for menue in Chinese coffee shops. Lists with candidates recommended by the leadership are common in all parties world-wide. But for this convention the internal preparations were obviously much more carefully orchestrated than normally, the president challenged for the first time in decades and opinions split about the introduction of the Islamic penal code or hudud and the co-operation with the Chinese dominated DAP and the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition. Normally the recommended candidate list game is played in the background, this time it was visible for friends and foes alike:
“The “Cai Tan” or menu for electing the office bearers for the 2015-2017 term that was posted on the Dewan Ulama official Facebook account not long after the acting head of the wing, Datuk Mahfoz Mohamed asked members to reject leaders whose loyalty is not with party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang but Pakatan Rakyat allies, had raised eyebrows. While “Cai Tan” is important to ensure a working team is voted in, many did not expect the Dewan Ulama to endorse a complete list of line-up and make it public, too.” writes The Rakyat Post on 3 June (Link here).
Religious, strategic, ideological or loyalty considerations may not be the only driving force to influence the outcome so massively. A round table discussion on Islam and human rights in Kuala Lumpur on 14 June highlighted the material aspect of Islamic bureaucratization in Malaysia:
“The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) is budgeted to receive more than RM783 million for its spending this year under the Prime Minister’s Department.”
And there is also criticism of exaggerated enforcement of alleged religious prescriptions:
“Here in Malaysia, they have even added things which are not even in the traditional interpretation of Shariah, especially when it comes to moral policing, intrusion of private space of Muslims.” Source: The Malay Mail Online, 14 June, Link here)
While President Jokowi emphasizes the specific peaceful characteristics of Islam in Indonesia, PAS seems to go for an even more Middle Eastern style. A friend of the author once told him “Here in Indonesia we are Muslims despite the Middle East”… Malaysia cultivates a supposedly more authentic and Arab style of Islam and honors sometimes dubious theological qualifications with cushy positions. This may alienate not only non-Muslims, especially in the fast growing urban population, but also many more moderate Muslims.
At the end the sweeping victory of the ulama faction may turn into a sort of Pyrric victory. The progressive faction is licking its wounds with some considering to split from PAS and start a new party. Meanwhile the 40,000 non-Muslim supporters in the “PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP)” who were anyway asking for more say before the convention are certainly not encouraged.
Partyformseasia: In one of Grimm’s fairy tales the optimistic hero has a convincing motto: “If you trust in God and are always lucky nothing can happen to you”. Watching the party convention (Muktamar) of PAS ending this Saturday 6 June and the sweeping victories of the clerical or “ulama” faction on all levels, their trust in God may have been even stronger than their good luck. At least this is what they probably are sure about with their mission to implement the Islamic criminal law (or hudud) as a religious duty in politics.
As widely anticipated, the results were clearly against the more moderate “professional” faction. Incumbent president (since 2002) Hadi Awang polled 928 votes against 233 for his challenger Ahmad Awang, a former vice president of the party and Muslim scholar himself. Incumbent deputy president Mohamad Sabu was ousted with 279 votes against 881, which was seen as a punishment for disagreeing with president Hadi Awang. Similarly sweeping were the victories of the three vice-presidents, ousting all three incumbents, and the 18 members of the central committee.
With a lesser margin but clear enough the incumbent youth chief was ousted with 263 votes against 429 by Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, son of the late spiritual leader of the party. His deputy, Mohammad Khalil Abdul Hadi, was re-elected. He happens to be the son of party president Hadi Awang. PAS has two rising sons with charisma and a very clear mainstream in support of the religious leadership, Malaysian media call it wiping out of the progressives in the party. The buzz words are about the dangers of secularism and liberalism and the necessity not to separate religion and politics!!
There are at least two dangers in this development:
1. The conservative drive for hudud as a religious obligation will alienate PAS not only from the hudud critics in coalition partner Democratic Action Party (DAP) but endanger the fragile cohesion of the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat as such. The UMNO dream of seeing the opposition coalition falling apart may come true.
The first direct fallout is already there: After the delegates approved a motion to sever ties with the secular DAP at the end of the convention, DAP leader Lim Guan Eng asked PAS representatives in the Penang state government to leave.
2. The second question mark comes with the emphasis on Islam and its mandatory lifestyle in a period of growing attractiveness of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) among Southeast Asian young Muslims. While Malaysia is trying to prevent young men and women to join ISIS and reduce radicalization within the country, the internal shift within PAS and its leadership might pour oil into the smoldering fire.
Partyforumseasia: With nearly one million members Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is the biggest party in the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance, but many of its members seem to feel that Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) are treating PAS as a junior partner. This has lead to the formation of factions within the party, often dubbed as Ulama (clerical) and Erdogan (“liberal”). The tensions were visible for some time already and even more so during the party convention over last weekend, 22-24 November. Party president Abdul Hadi Awang was reelected unchallenged and deputy president Mohamad Sabu‘s victory over his conservative rival from the ulama faction with 588 to 490 votes was considered a victory for the liberals, also called “Anwarinas” for supporting Anwar Ibrahim as leader of the PR coalition.
Among the three vice-presidents only one from the ulama faction was elected. But some results came out only after recounting, a sign that the polling was controversial. The following calls for unity show that the strategic orientation of the party remains under debate. The “progressives” want to broaden the voter base and open it to non-Malays and non-Muslims because they are fishing in the same pond as arch rival UMNO. As seen among the religious (Christian) parties in old Europe, the rural and probably more religious constituencies lose much of their importance with the fast urbanization, even if the Malaysian first-past-the-post election system still gives them an advantage.