Flogging a dead horse

It is a very clever long-term strategy that PAS is adopting. It knows that just on Malay support alone it can win some seats, or even states. But it can never form the federal government. To form the federal government it needs the support of the Chinese, the Indians, and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

This is what The Star said today in its column The Star Says………..

Voters’ right to know what’s on offer

THE issue of hudud laws in an Islamic state has acquired greater relevance since unprecedented Opposition gains last March. But instead of greater clarity and understanding, things have become murkier.

The differences have exposed fissures in Pakatan Rakyat, as its squabbling leaders generate more heat than light. To help clear the confusion, let us be clear on some main points.

First, Malaysia is not and was never meant to be an Islamic state. It is a Muslim-majority nation with Islam as its official religion, and freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution.

An Islamic state is ruled by Islamic scholars implementing Islamic law as the nation’s sole or principal legal system. If Malaysia were already an Islamic state, there would be no need to make it one, nor any need for further debate.

Second, a nation’s laws affect all who live in it regardless of faith. Muslims may be directly affected by hudud laws, but non-Muslims would at least be indirectly affected by sharing geographical and social spaces in the country. Even foreign workers and tourists must observe a nation’s laws, and cannot claim immunity just because they are not citizens.

To deny such realities is to be so naive as to be unfit for public office, or so deceitful as to deserve no electoral support.

Third, PAS and its Pakatan partners must fully inform the public about what hudud precisely entails, after agreeing on that themselves, if they respect the democratic principle of citizens making informed choices at elections. Anything less is tantamount to seeking power by stealth.

By bickering over the subject and then fudging it, PR leaders have abdicated their responsibility to those they claim to serve and represent: Malaysians. And yet their disagreement is no surprise, since a third of Pakatan insists on hudud, another third on rejecting it while the other third just hopes the controversy will go away.

But it is not going to go away, particularly when PAS is bent on actualising hudud when it wins federal power. This is all the more reason for greater clarity and transparency now, so that people can know what is being sold to them.


Yes, that was what The Star said today in its editorial column. And we must remember that The Star is owned by MCA and is therefore a Barisan Nasional mouthpiece — just like the other Umno-owned mainstream newspapers and television stations like Berita Hairan, Utusan Meloya, the Dire Straits Times, TV Tiga-suku and whatnot.

Umno does not have any issues to use in the Kuala Terengganu by-election. The PAS candidate is a five-term State Assemblyman and has no ‘baggage’ like the Umno candidate, Wan Farid Wan Salleh. Even when PAS got wiped out in 2004 and all the top PAS leaders hit the dust, Wahid Endut still won the Wakaf Mempelam state seat. This shows Wahid is practically invincible and can win even when his party got massacred. Therefore, we can assume he is well liked by his constituents.

In Terengganu, it is partly about the party and, sometimes, mainly about the personalities. For example, the late Member of Parliament for Kuala Terengganu, Razali Ismail, garnered the PAS votes even though he was an Umno candidate. His wife (now widow, of course) and the wife of the one-time PAS State Assemblyman for Bandar, Azmi Lope, are sisters. So, based on family ties, those PAS supporters aligned to Azmi voted for Razali. Personality came before party.

Azmi Lope won the ‘Chinese’ Bandar state seat in 1999. Earlier, in 1990, Ustaz Harun Jusoh, also from PAS, won that seat.  In 2008, the Bandar seat went to MCA. And although the other three state seats — Wakaf Mempelam, Batu Burok and Ladang — were won by PAS, the Parliament seat of Kuala Terengganu went to Umno, basically because of the ‘Chinese’ Bandar seat. Therefore, it was the Chinese who gave Razali Ismail the win, no doubt about that.

The Bandar seat will also be the determining factor in the 17 January 2009 by-election. If PAS can’t win the votes from the Bandar constituency, even if they can retain their votes from Wakaf Mempelam, Batu Burok and Ladang, they will have a hard time trying to win the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary constituency. Say what you like, the Chinese are going to determine who will be the next Member of Parliament for Kuala Terengganu, not the Malays.

So, what else can MCA do other than flog a dead horse called Hudud? This is the only issue they can use. There are no personal issues against the candidate. He is spotless, squeaky clean, and a likeable character. Running him down is a non-starter. In fact, it is counter-productive and can backfire badly. So they have to run down his party instead. And the Hudud issue is the only ‘weapon’ they have in which they can use against his party.

But why are MCA and The Star the ones who are playing up the Hudud issue? The Barisan Nasional candidate is from Umno, not MCA. Should not Umno instead be playing up the issue? Surely the Chinese would believe Umno more than MCA — seeing that the Umno chaps are ‘fellow-Muslims’ while the MCA chaps are ‘kafirs’, and therefore would understandably be ‘anti-Islam’. If the ‘fellow-Muslims’ from Umno whack the Islamic State and Islamic laws, it would be more credible than coming from the ‘kafir’ Chinese of MCA.

Yes, Umno demands that PKR state its stand on the Islamic State and Hudud. MCA, in turn, demands the same thing from DAP. But while they demand this from PKR and DAP, Umno and MCA are maintaining a deafening silence as to their stands on the Islamic State and Islamic laws.

Umno knows that if they were to openly oppose the Islamic State and Hudud, while this may sway the Chinese voters, it would, however, antagonise the Malay voters. Not everyone supports PAS. At best about 40% of the voters support the opposition. The ruling party would have about 40% support as well. Then there are the 20% uncommitted or atas pagar (fence sitters) voters. Their task would be to win the hearts and minds of the 20% fence sitters, half of them Chinese and the other half Malay.

If Umno were to whack the Islamic State and Hudud, they may successfully win over half the 10% fence sitters, the Chinese, but they will send the other half, the Malays, into the arms of the opposition — plus some of the 40% ‘committed’ may also swing to the opposition as well.

The Chinese represent only 11% of the voters in Kuala Terengganu. Therefore, 89% are Malays. 60% of the Chinese voted for Barisan Nasional in the last election while 40% went to the opposition. If Umno tries to sway the Chinese by using the Islamic State and Hudud issue, they may get another 10% of the Chinese votes, but they will lose much more in terms of Malay votes. Why swing 1 Chinese vote and lose 10 Malay votes in the process? The nett effect will be lesser votes for Barisan Nasional.

So, Umno is steering clear of the Islamic State and Hudud issue. It does not dare state that it is opposed to the Islamic State and Hudud — as this can be interpreted as Umno is opposed to Islam. It therefore leaves this matter to MCA and The Star to handle. Then it would be the Chinese ‘kafirs’ from MCA and not the Muslims from Umno who are ‘anti-Islam’.

But MCA would not dare do anything so sensitive if not sanctioned by Umno. What if the Muslim NGOs suddenly organise a demonstration to protest MCA’s perceived opposition to Islam? Will Umno agree with the Muslim NGO’s or will it instead stand behind MCA? If Umno does not back MCA, then they would be leaving the Chinese party out to hang. But to back MCA would only give an impression that Umno is also anti-Islam.

It is actually quite a gamble that Umno is playing. Sure, MCA and The Star may yet be able to sway the Chinese on the Islamic State and Hudud issue. But it runs the risk of losing even more Malay support. Thus far, however, PAS has not played up this issue or tried to point out that MCA, the sleeping partner and nominee of Umno, is anti-Islam and therefore this makes Umno anti-Islam as well — since no way MCA can whack Islam without Umno saying so.

PAS would prefer to not use these issues as election fuel although they can if they wish to. PAS knows it can go to town on the matter and gain much mileage with the issue. Last night's arrest of 21 anti-Israel protestors in Kuala Lumpur is one case in point and can 'prove' that Umno is anti-Islam. But PAS would rather win the election with Chinese support. And they are going to great pains to win the hearts and minds of the Chinese rather than by demonising Umno with regards to its stand on Islam.

PAS is looking at things beyond just the Kuala Terengganu by-election. No doubt it wants to win this by-election. But it wants to do so with Chinese support rather than just Malay support and with the Chinese voting against them. 11% is not really that large. If PAS campaigns on the platform that Umno is anti-Islam it can win more Malay votes than the Chinese votes it loses. But in the long-term PAS would lose. If it can win the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat with Chinese support, the message PAS can send to the rest of the country would be: if the Kuala Terengganu Chinese who know PAS better can support the party, why not the Chinese from the rest of the country?

It is a very clever long-term strategy that PAS is adopting. It knows that just on Malay support alone it can win some seats, or even states. But it can never form the federal government. To form the federal government it needs the support of the Chinese, the Indians, and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. Therefore it has to first win the Kuala Terengganu parliament seat, which has only 11% Chinese and Indian voters, before talking about the rest of the country, which has a higher percentage of non-Malay voters.

It is risky for PAS, of course, because it is banking on non-Muslim support to win when it can increase its support from the Muslim voters by playing up the ‘Umno is anti-Islam’ issue. But if PAS wishes to look beyond Kuala Terengganu, then this has to be the way to go. PAS needs to win the trust of the non-Malays. And Kuala Terengganu is a good place to start. And if it succeeds in Kuala Terengganu on 17 January 2009, then it can begin to set it sights on taking PAS to areas where the Chinese are even more the kingmaker. And thus far it appears like this may happen.