PAS’ days may be numbered

Raja Petra Kamarudin

The outcome of the Pengkalan Pasir by-election is by no means an indication that Barisan Nasional is poised to recapture Kelantan. In fact, state Umno liaison committee chairman Annuar Musa said on 16 December 2005, it would be tougher for the ruling coalition as PAS was expected to go to great lengths to defend its sole state.

He said, contrary to popular belief, Umno would face a tough battle ahead and strategies to win back Kelantan should be devised now. “They will hit us given half a chance,” Annuar said at a special gathering of the party’s state election directors and deputies.

Barisan’s Hanafi Mamat defeated PAS’ Hanifa Ahmad and independent candidate Ibrahim Ali to win the seat with a 134-vote majority. This resulted in PAS being reduced to a single-seat majority in the 45-seat state legislative assembly.

In a frank three-hour speech, Annuar said it was his toughest by-election yet, and there were lessons learnt which could be used to prepare the coalition for the next general election. Annuar said the state Umno had matched PAS in terms of party discipline and solidarity but further hard work was needed to keep the momentum from the recent victory going.

“As the state leader, I am prepared to go through fire to ensure the party can meet its objectives,” he said.

Annuar said Pengkalan Pasir was the first by-election in which voters had been given so much information. “The trick was to differentiate rumour from fact and to remain on course towards meeting the benchmark set by the party leadership despite attempts by others to mislead the people,” Annuar said.

That was what a mainstream news agency reported on 17 December 2005.

As much as I hate having to say this, I think PAS’ days in Kelantan may be numbered. And I did say so a couple of weeks ago, a day before the Pengkalan Pasir by-election. I said then that if PAS loses the by-election, then it may be hard-pressed to retain Kelantan come the next general election. The loss of Pengkalan Pasir would, more or less, be the beginning of the end for the Islamic party.

What Annuar Musa said above could be a Red Herring of course. He could be trying to lull PAS into complacency by painting a scenario that PAS is pretty strong and Umno would be hard-pressed to wrest Kelantan from it. This is called the art of misinformation or disinformation, which Umno is quite good at.

PAS ruled Kelantan until 1978 when it lost the state to Umno in the state election that was called ahead of the general election that year. By 1986, PAS was left with only one Parliament seat and was practically wiped out, forcing the resignation of its President who later joined Umno. In 1990, PAS rebounded when it recaptured Kelantan with the help of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (and some say the Kelantan palace as well) and has been in control of the state ever since. It is apparent no party can keep Kelantan forever. One party takes it for awhile, and then the other takes it back. Clearly, it is Umno’s turn to take back the state (logically speaking, since PAS in currently in control) and Pengkalan Pasir may be that signal for the PAS boys to start packing their bags.

But whether it was PAS losing the state to Umno in 1978 or UMNO losing it back to PAS in 1990, one thing is very clear: that particular party in power lost the state not because the other side was strong, but because it (the party in power) was weak.

It was not a strong Umno that took Kelantan in 1978 or a strong PAS that took the state back in 1990. It was a weak PAS in 1978 that lost Kelantan to Umno and a weak Umno that lost it back to PAS in 1990. (Actually, it was not PAS on its own but a PAS-Semangat 46 coalition that took Kelantan in 1990. Nevertheless, it was still because of a weak Umno that had been split into two with the creation of Semangat 46).

Umno Kelantan is not strong. It has not been so since 1990. And it will still not be so come 2007 or 2008 when the next general election will be called. But then, neither is PAS. The problem, however, is that while Umno realises it is weak, PAS on the other hand does not think it is weak as well. It thinks it is strong. It thinks it lost Pengkalan Pasir because of fraud. It thinks without the element of fraud it would have won.

Sure, there certainly was an element of fraud. I did not say there was not. What with 200 dead voters who came home to vote and 20 more postal votes than registered postal voters. But if you are strong, then it would be difficult to rig the election — and even if they did, it would not harm you that much. But when you are a borderline case, then it is so easy to tip the scale through fraud. All it needs is a slight push to change things.

PAS won Pengkalan Pasir with a thin majority in 2004 and then lost it again a year later, also with a thin majority. If you have a strong lead, then how much they cheat you would still win. After all, how much can they cheat? They cannot cheat all the way. They can cheat only to a certain extent. Maybe they can bring in 20 busloads of ‘phantom’ voters or stuff the ballot box with 200 ‘doctored’ postal votes. But would these 1,000 additional votes harm you if you have a clear majority? It is only when it is a 50:50 situation that 100 or 200 votes can tip the scale.

PAS needs to get out of this rut. It needs to break away from this borderline situation and surge far ahead of Umno. Only then will Umno be powerless to rig the elections. But if PAS remains in this 50:50 situation, then Kelantan is as good as lost to Umno.

But why, in the first place, is PAS in this dicey situation? Why can’t it get ahead of Umno instead of being just neck-to-neck? Kelantan is 97% Muslim. PAS is an Islamic party. What is it that a predominantly Muslim population finds so revolting about PAS? Why can’t PAS sell to the 97% Kelantanese Muslims? What’s so wrong with the product that PAS is trying to sell to the Kelantanese voters? And we are not yet even touching on Terengganu, Pahang, Kedah and Perlis where the situation at the moment appears totally hopeless for PAS.

Yes, questions and yet more questions. But do we have the answers?

PAS needs to do some soul searching. It has to ask itself, if it cannot sell to the 97% Malay-Muslims of Kelantan; those Malay-Muslims who are perceived as more religious compared to the Malay-Muslims of the other states; then how to make any headway in the other states? The Malay-Muslims in white skull caps on their heads and prayer beads in their hands are not buying whatever it is that PAS is trying to sell to them. Do you expect the Malay-Muslims in Selangor or Johore to buy it?

PAS, in particular the supporters on the ground, have to understand that just because a large percentage of Malay-Muslims reject whatever it is PAS is trying to sell does not make these people godless. You cannot go around labelling these Malay-Muslims as Munafik or Murtad just because they do not subscribe to an Islamic State.

My wife, a Chinese, has no reservations if two-thirds of Malaysia’s Parliamentarians vote to turn Malaysia into an Islamic State. She does not wear a tudung. She wears jeans and T-shirts. She does not rob banks either, so she is not frightened if the punishment for robbery is your hands get amputated at the wrist. But she believes that PAS should not push for Malaysia to be turned into an Islamic State for the sake of its political future. It is not about religion at all. That is not the issue as far as she is concerned. It is about politics, and PAS is a political party, not a missionary (dakwah) movement, notwithstanding the fact PAS’ political platform is Islam.

Like it or not, Islam cannot sell, at least not yet. Even if it can, it is to only to a small segment of society. But getting that small segment of society to stand behind you will not help put you in power. You need a larger segment of society to subscribe to your ideology. So you need to sell a new product that the majority wants. And we must be able to differentiate between wants and needs. Sometimes, what we want may not necessarily be what we need. You need a car to get to work. But you don’t need a Porsche to get to work. You may want a Porsche though, although you don’t need it. There is a great difference between wants and needs.

True, Muslims need to comply with Islam. And Syariah law is something Muslims need to comply with. But what they want is something else, which may not quite be what they need.

Let me put it this way. Let us say PAS is a company manufacturing and marketing a certain product. And it is competing with many other companies also selling similar products, though of different brands. Do you force the consumer to buy your product or do you design your product to suit the consumers’ demands and taste? A successful marketing company surveys the consumers’ wants and designs their products to the taste of the consumer. No company forces the consumer. The consumer is boss. The market decides what it wants. It cannot be forced to buy something against its wishes.

PAS has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of real-politics. It must be made to understand that it is trying to sell itself to the voters. And the voters have specific tastes and demands. And there are many other political parties that are prepared to structure its marketing plan to the tastes and demands of the consumers. PAS, however, is very rigid in its marketing plan and is instead trying to force the consumer to change its taste.

It is no point trying to educate the consumer unless you are inventing something new. Sony sold its Walkman because it was something new and there was no similar product on the market. Philips sold its laser disc players because it was something new and there was no similar product on the market. And the same goes for all those other new fangled gadgets as well. However, once Sony jumped on the bandwagon and came out with a better product and a better marketing plan, it displaced Philips and outsold the inventors of the laser disc players.

Therefore, it is not who invented the product that succeeds but who comes out with innovation and a better marketing strategy.

In this context, PAS ‘invented’ Islamic politics, just like how Philips invented the laser disc player. But Umno ‘reinvented’ or innovated Islamic politics and came out with a more effective marketing plan called Islam Hadhari, just like how Sony did with laser disc players. So, Umno’s Islam sells, not PAS’ Islam, just like how Sony’s laser disc players sell instead of Philips’.

When we talk about PAS’ Islam, Islamic State, Syariah law, and so on, people think we are talking about Islam. No, we are not talking about Islam. We are talking about politics. And we are talking about politics because PAS is a political party that ‘fights’ in a political arena. Now, if PAS is prepared to get out of the political arena, concentrate instead on just propagating Islam, and forget about trying to win the election, I will be the first in line to support PAS’ Islamic State agenda. But then, how far will they go when Barisan Nasional controls more than 90% of Parliament?