KOTA BHARU: The confidence that PAS displays of its ability to attract more non-Muslim support hides underlying tensions that continue to plague the Islamic party that must be tackled if it wants to be a powerhouse in Malaysian politics.
PAS' 56th Muktamar kicked off at the weekend with Mursyidul Am Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat warning members against harbouring any thoughts of a unity government or cooperation with Umno, in his opening speech for the Youth, women and ulamak wings.
The issue, which has plagued the party since 2008 when it was revealed that Umno had offered to form a unity government, continues to cast a pall over PAS. A party insider said a group of leaders continues to be fascinated with Umno, prompting Nik Aziz to speak out strongly against it.
It was no surprise that the issue of PAS losing Malay votes dominated the muktamar. This prompted Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad, central working committee member Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and even secretary-general Datuk Mustafa Ali to set the record straight on the party's position on the issue. One leader said questions pertaining to the issue were cleverly orchestrated by the pro-Umno faction which wants to create insecurity amongst the members by playing on the Malay unity theme.
In driving his point home, Mustafa said there was a rise in both Malay and non-Malay votes for the party in the 2008 general election as compared to the 2004 general election.
"The reality is there is a rise in votes but the percentage of Malay votes is lower than among the non-Malays.
"It is not that we didn't get the Malay support, but we now want to increase the number of Malay votes. We want even bigger support," said Mustafa.
Dzulkefly said there is no reason to be afraid of losing Malay support while getting non-Malay support. "This is Umno's tactic to try to get into the minds of our people," he said.
The recent addition of the non-Malay supporters wing was also a point of contention. While the PAS leadership believed that it is on the right track by including the new wing and is set to field non-Muslim candidates under its banner at the next general election, there is a sense of discomfort amongst the grassroots.
"I worry about the non-Malays fighting for seats. Also they are not attuned to our culture," said a delegate from Kelantan. When pointed out that even the existing members jostle for seats, he replied: "Yes, they also fight but then they are usually able to solve the problem by consensus. I worry that these new people would not be able to do the same."
Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who was responsible for forming the non-Muslim supporters wing, said that he had anticipated resistance because the party took a bold step with the inclusion of the new wing.
"If you want to make change then you have to take the risk. The formation of the wing was agreed to by the leadership.
"We can't keep doing the same thing for 50 years. I am the third generation of PAS and I want to see change," said Mujahid, who is the son of the late party president Yusof Rawa.
PAS treasurer Dr Hatta Ramly said the formation of the new wing does not mean that the party has lost its focus on the Malay support base.
"Long thought has been put into the formation of the wing. As early as 10 years ago we spoke about direct membership for non-Muslims into the party but the current format is the one that suits all," he said.
Kelantan PAS deputy commissioner II Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah had voiced his reservations about the new wing by drawing an analogy of a husband paying more attention to his new wife while neglecting the first wife.
Party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang acknowledged in his winding-up speech that there seems to be friction in the party, but assured members that the housekeeping exercise is ongoing. He also reiterated his commitment in rejecting the unity government deal with Umno.
"Islam is the saviour of the Malays. A narrow Malay-centrist agenda cannot save the Malays," said Hadi, stressing the need to educate the people on Umno's spin on the issue.
He told members to continue to stick together despite the changes in the party that may have caused discomfort to some.
"We are on board a strong ship called Islam. Some of us may not agree with what is happening but there is also no need to drill a hole in this ship," said Hadi.
Overall, the annual assembly gave a sense of PAS' growing confidence, and the mood is that the best is yet to come for the party which will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year. As the leadership works on the housekeeping process, it looks hopeful that the spirit of consensus building and compromise will prevail. While PAS will always have its share of conservative and liberal leaders, it needs to strike a balance between the two forces to allow both sides to co-exist and complement each other.
While they have captured the imagination of non-Muslims, PAS struggles to broaden its Malay base. PAS is said to command 40% of the Malay support and its leadership and think-tank have to come together to work out a formula that would help increase Malay support, especially in the Malay middle ground which does not subscribe to any party ideology but is issue-driven instead. It must also find ways to counter bad press that its members say it has been receiving.
The PAS leadership also needs to stop reiterating its sincere commitment to Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Repeating its commitment too often raises the question of who PAS is trying to convince — itself or its coalition partners? What PAS can do instead is to provide stronger leadership in the coalition in the wake of a weakened PKR, which has been hit by defections. There is also room to solidify its relationship with DAP which has become warmer over the past two years.
More importantly, PAS, which shares the PR dream of capturing Putrajaya, needs to work out its position on the Islamic state with its two secular partners. Interestingly, PAS' national unity bureau under the leadership of Mujahid is now setting out to engage Christian voters, who make up a valuable constituency.
There isn't much time for PAS to get its house in order if it is serious about capturing the targeted 60 parliamentary seats in the next general election. If PAS can adapt and manage the post-March 8 political climate successfully, then the fruit is for its picking.-The Edge