Pengkalan Pasir: the turning point

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Tomorrow, 6 December 2005, the Pengkalan Pasir voters will be going to the polls to decide who they want as their new State Assemblymen. There are three contenders, one each from PAS and UMNO, and the sole independent candidate, Ibrahim Ali.

The seat was a PAS seat until the recent death of its State Assemblyman; so you could say that PAS is defending its territory while UMNO is trying to wrest the seat from it. If PAS loses the seat to UMNO, it would be reduced to a single seat majority in the Kelantan State Assembly. Either way, PAS still does not have a clear two-thirds majority anyway. So it does not matter one bit whether it is one or two seats more that it has over UMNO.

What is crucial, however, is the message the Pengkalan Pasir voters will be sending to both PAS and UMNO. Pengkalan Pasir, which comes under the Parliamentary constituency of Pasir Mas, is the stronghold of local warlord and UMNO rebel Ibrahim Ali. For every three votes Ibrahim Ali will be getting, one will come from the opposition supporters and two from UMNO. This means the votes that Ibrahim Ali garners will reflect the sentiments of the UMNO supporters (with some ‘protest’ votes from PAS, and maybe keADILan as well).

If the Pengkalan Pasir voters give the seat to PAS, then that will most likely mean PAS can retain the state come the next general election in two or three years’ time. If, however, the voters hand Pengkalan Pasir to UMNO, then PAS has to seriously consider whether they will still be forming the state government after the 12th General Election. You could say, in a way, Pengkalan Pasir is a trial exam to determine whether you have any hope of passing your finals.

The sad thing is Pengkalan Pasir will not only determine the fortunes of PAS but that of its partner, keADILan, as well. Like it or not, keADILan walks in the shadow of PAS. If PAS sneezes, keADILan catches a cold. Not a nice situation to be in, I know, but that is the reality of the whole thing.

Once upon a time, keADILan walked tall as the lead partner in the opposition coalition, Barisan Alternatif (BA). That was back in 1999 when the party was first launched and the coalition created. In the 1999 general election, keADILan managed only five parliament and four state seats (increased to five with the win of Lunas in a by-election exactly one year later). But that did not matter as it was a new party then and only about seven months old when it faced its first election. So you could say it did quite well in spite of that (and it did garner more than half a million votes). What did matter though was that the opposition coalition, at that time consisting of four political parties, garnered about 46% of the total votes cast, gained control of two state governments, and had a strong representation in Parliament which gave Barisan Nasional (BN) a headache and a run for its money.

1999 was supposed to be the beginning of a series of successes. Thereafter, they would add more states to the list of those under opposition control and probably even deny BN its two-thirds majority in Parliament and allow it to rule with only a simple majority.

Yes, that was the plan. Then the Islamic State issue surfaced and everything got messed up.

PAS, which had tried, but failed, to introduce Islamic laws in Kelantan after the 1990 general election did the same thing in Terengganu after the 1999 general elections. Why they did this when they clearly know that they tried it a decade before that and failed (plus the federal government had warned them that it would be blocked if they tried) is most puzzling. They were doomed to fail from the word ‘go’, yet they did it anyway.

PAS, which never consulted or obtained approval from its other partners in BA, failed to get Islamic laws implemented in Terengganu, just like how they failed ten years before that in Kelantan. But the aftermath to that move was that BA practically broke up when DAP left the coalition in disgust. The voters too lost confidence in PAS and the following general election in 2004 proved this. DAP, which was no longer in BA, held its ground, while BA saw a drastic slide.

The message from the voters is very clear. They do not want to live under an Islamic State and be subjected to Islamic laws. You may not be too happy with this, but that is what the voters are saying whether it makes you happy or not.

Let us see what happens tomorrow. We have only a day to go before we will know the result of the Pengkalan Pasir by-election. Some say PAS must lose this by-election so that it learns its lesson. If PAS wins it may forget itself and become arrogant. It will imagine itself invincible. A defeated PAS would become a humbled PAS, they argue. And we need a PAS that is humbled so that it knows its place and becomes aware that it cannot do as it pleases but instead has to take into consideration the wishes of the voters.

Well, if PAS does lose the Pengkalan Pasir seat tomorrow, it may have long term repercussions on the party. PAS’ defeat in Pengkalan Pasir may be a prelude to its exit from the state two or three years from now. However, if it wins, it not only has a good chance of retaining Kelantan, but it might even be able to retake Terengganu as well.

That is how crucial Pengkalan Pasir is to the opposition, keADILan included whose fortunes are tied to PAS under the umbrella of BA.

Anyway, PAS has to remember one thing: is it not the opposition that is screaming that the government does not respect the wishes of the rakyat? We accuse Barisan Nasional of all sorts of things. BN is this, BN is that, BN is arrogant, does not practice democracy, and so on and so forth. In short, BN does what it likes and does not care what the people want.

When PAS pressed ahead with its Islamic State proposal did it too ask the people first? Did it take into consideration the peoples’ or voters’ wishes? PAS did not even ask its other partners in BA, let alone the voters. It assumed that since the voters had voted for the opposition in 1999 therefore it agrees to an Islamic State. Can we argue that since the Chinese voted for MCA then they too agree that Chinese can be stripped naked and made to do ear squats in the nude? Since the Chinese voted for the ruling party, this means they agree with anything and everything that the ruling party does.

Not true. We might have voted for you, but this does not mean we have given you a signed, blank cheque to do as you please. We voted for you based on your promise as charted out in your Election Manifesto. Once you win, and if you deviate from your Manifesto, then we will kick you out come the next election. And that is what happened in 2004.

But why is it Malaysians, Muslims included, are so opposed to an Islamic State and Islamic laws? What is it that they find so revolting about the word ‘Islam’? Well, as much as I hate to admit it, Islam is a victim of bad PR. It is suffering from an image problem. And this is the result of acts by Muslims themselves. For example, many Muslims, in particular those in PAS, support terrorist groups who they view as fighting a Jihad or holy war. (Or, if they do not openly support these groups, they at least do not condemn them). So Muslims, especially those from PAS, are perceived as militant or extreme. This, unfortunately, not only gives PAS a bad name, but Islam as well is viewed negative.

If you do not agree with this statement, then consider this: PAS organises demonstrations in front of the Thai Embassy to protest the killing of Muslims in Southern Thailand. Well and fine. It is all about human rights after all. But an equal number of Buddhists and Muslims are killed in Southern Thailand. Why only protest the killing of Muslims?

That is what makes PAS appear to be in support of militancy and extremism even though this may be far from true. And PAS supporters being photographed at PAS organised functions wearing Bin Ladin T-shirts certainly does not help matters much. It sends out the wrong signals.

Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon in the valley of Mount Arafat on the 9th day of Dhul Hijjah in the 10th year of the Muslim calendar. What the Prophet said was:

Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.

Well, if we go around hurting people, then they will hurt us in return. And if we support (or do not condemn) those people who go around hurting others then we too would be perceived as cruel, militant and extreme.

And, unfortunately, PAS too is viewed such. This is the reality of the situation. And this is why PAS’ Islamic State proposal has been rejected by the voters.

Muslims need to clean up their image. PAS too needs to clean up its image. BA needs to be restored to what it was. DAP must return to BA. Only then will we see a repeat of 1999 or maybe even an improvement over it. Until then, it remains a mere dream.

Let us hope the Pengkalan Pasir voters give PAS another chance tomorrow. The future of the opposition depends on it. And, if they do, let us hope PAS never again ignores the wishes of the voters, which is they do not want an Islamic State. Of course, I personally have no problems with PAS trying to set up an Islamic State in Malaysia as long as PAS has no problems if it never forms the government.