As time PAS-es by

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WHAT happened in Shah Alam over the weekend has a “retro” ring to it. It casts my memory back dozens of years, to my early teen days in a quiet village.

Back in the days of “kapal layar” (Alliance) and “bulan bintang” (old PAS emblem), I often wondered if PAS were needed at all.

It seemed to be preaching what we were already practising, and I could see that the party had the same target group as Umno: the same kampung folk who tilled paddy fields and tapped rubber for a living and whose kids wore no socks to school.

As Malays, via Umno and its Alliance partners, were already in government, why was there a need for PAS? Was it right to drag Islam onto the political stage? Was PAS only confusing kampung folk by mixing up revealed knowledge and human invention, aka politics?

Clearly, all that PAS leaders wanted to do was only to impress upon the Malays that religion (Islam) should take precedence over nationalism (Malay-ness) in political matters.

Surely Umno couldn’t disagree with that, though it was loathed to parroting PAS for “political reasons”. After all, the argument was just a variation of the same theme: Malay and Muslim rights, in whatever order.

But although PAS appears redundant to some Malays, the party has had an enormous impact on Umno’s policies. Over the years, the Umno-led federal government has introduced many measures that could be construed as a quiet Islamisation of the state. Would that have happened without PAS breathing down Umno’s neck?

What PAS failed to do, however, was to explain to its constituency adequately about Islam’s universality and fitting it into the Malaysian context.

So while Islam became a potent tool for whipping up political emotions, the bulk of PAS supporters remained parochial and oblivious to the wider issues of the country in all their complexities.

Until about 10 years ago, PAS seemed to be stuck in that rut. Its leaders had little to contribute to the debates on the real sectors of the economy, for instance. PAS was all but temporal, and that it was happy to assume the role of Umno’s conscience — in a kind of symbiotic relation.

Hence, despite their penchant for lobbing barbs at each other, PAS and Umno are more similar in their political beliefs and outlook than their members care to admit. That’s why Umno and PAS could continue their love-hate relationship indefinitely. That’s why, without their governance issues, PAS could easily be part of Umno, or Umno part of PAS.

Umno’s massive failure at the last general election appeared to have emboldened those who thought PAS was ready to cut loose from their unique relationship.

It coincided with the emergence of a professional breed on the upper tiers of the party ladder. The presence of doctors, engineers and lawyers was instrumental in widening PAS’ appeal to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The professionals generally are more articulate and under their influence there appeared a real chance of removing the parochial streak off the party. PAS was now finding eager ears outside its traditional constituency.

It started a more earnest liaison with DAP, albeit within the framework of Pakatan Rakyat (PR). (Wasn’t it just a few years back that PAS members were calling Umno supporters infidels and wanted nothing to do with them?)

And there was a chance that ordinary party members were ready to let these professionals have a bigger say in determining the party’s future direction. There was talk that PAS was ready to challenge Umno for the leadership of Muslims, Malays and others. It meant, no more talk of unity government with PAS playing second fiddle.

But after all the votes in Shah Alam were counted, political analysts and observers surely need a recalibration of their reading of the party.

For me, I will hang on to my decades-old belief — PAS and Umno are the two sides of a coin. One side may have been soiled or enveloped in patina but it still belongs to the same coin.

I will believe that a new PAS has emerged after it helps PR formalise its cooperation into a concrete coalition.- The Edge Daily