Partyforumseasia: Islamic or Islamist parties, maybe more than other religious parties, could be more coherent than their worldly counterparts because they share faith and rituals and certainties in life in a very direct way. Normally their spiritual leaders have clear-cut views and with their authority directly linked to God the dissent among members should be limited. Parti Islam Se-Malaysia or PAS has indeed enjoyed a sort of close-knit stability under its late spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who served also as chief minister of the federal state of Kelantan for 23 years. PAS has been a thorn in the flesh of the ruling UMNO party for fishing in the same voter reservoir of Muslim Malays, especially in rural areas. Being seen as more caring for the poorer Malays and not corrupt like UMNO, the party pushed UMNO into a competition in terms of religious credentials which has entrenched the ethnic and religious divide in the country, bringing it ever more often to dangerous levels.
PAS-president Abdul Hadi Awang (68), a Muslim cleric and in office since 2002 is standing for re-election in the upcoming party convention in June. But for the first time in four decades, he will have a challenger, and ironically, the difference comes after Hadi Awang’s very firm stand on the implementation of Islamic criminal punishments (hudud) which threatens PAS’ partnership in the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat. Though the supporters of hudud say that it will be applied only to Muslims, the non-Muslim coalition partners in the (mostly Chinese-Malaysian) Democratic Action Party (DAP) oppose it strongly. Reasons for concern are certainly justified: There are quite a number of mixed marriages who may be effected. And the hudud punishments, normally described as not easy to execute because of a demanding number of male witnesses, e.g. for extramarital sex, obviously find willing supporters, e.g. Muslim medical doctors who say they are prepared to perform the prescribed hand amputations on thieves.
But the hudud-debate has also increased the internal split PAS between hardliners who are prepared to a rift with DAP and those who support the opposition coalition and the common fight against UMNO. So, the challenger of president Hadi Awang is another cleric, Ahmad Awang (79), who is promptly being attacked as secretly supporting the DAP, whereas Hadi Awang declares it a duty of every Muslim to fight for hudud.
At the same time, the PAS strategy of enlarging its voter base to non-Muslims by establishing a special branch for them, the PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP), is creating additional irritations. If the publicly known figures are correct, the DHPP has 40.000 members out of about one million normal PAS-members. Though 4% look negligible, the DHPP members can make a difference in the constituencies where PAS cannot win a majority alone and where the opposition coalition depends on PAS to win the seat. Giving up this potential would destroy years of effort to strengthen the party’s credibility among non-Muslims.
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.
Partyforumseasia: Nik Abduh (full name: Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz) combines religious credentials and family ties for a promising political career in Malaysia’s Islamic party PAS. Son of the spiritual leader and long term chief minister of PAS stronghold Kelantan Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the 43 year old Nik Abduh has studied in Nadwatul Ulama (Lucknow) and Darul Uloom (Deoband) in India as well as at the Al Azhar University in Cairo. Whereas these institutions do not necessarily prepare their students for political practice, they may encourage them to go into politics with a religious motivation. And since religion plays an important role in PAS and Malaysia in general, Nik Abduh seems to be cut out for a top leadership role and possible succession of his father as spiritual leader of the party.
Nik Abduh’s political credentials are also impressive. He is deputy chairman of the PAS Youth Wing and defeated a formidable competitor in the May 2013 election, Ibrahim Ali, leader of the Malay rights and supremacy group Perkasa.
In the run-up to party elections in November, the coalition issue with Pakatan Rakyat seems to be controversially discussed among members and candidates. Some say that Nik Abduh and other leaders in his age group are against Anwar’s supporters, called Anwarinas. But Nik is also being quoted with a clear preference for PAS remaining in the opposition coalition.
Less reassuring for the Malaysian Non-Muslims may be Nik’s activities in the religious field like a sticker campaign “Love Rasulullah” (the messenger of God) when the reputation of the Prophet Muhammad seemed to be under attack. Or his clear stance against Shiites and Liberals. But his second name Abduh is possibly referring to the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh, a liberal reformer and key founder of Islamic Modernism.