Winds of change in PAS too?

The leadership change in Umno has added pressure on PAS to come up with a strong political team in its own party elections in June which is likely to see contests for almost all major posts.


SHAH Alam MP Khalid Samad was on the Plus Highway heading for home when news came in confirming that Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin had won in Bukit Gantang.

Khalid, who had spent a long, hard week campaigning in the by-election, must have felt like he was riding home on cloud nine.

Alternative image: Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad has broadened his party’s appeal among the non-Muslims.

He was among the young Turks in PAS who had pushed hard for Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin to be the candidate in Bukit Gantang over a well-known ulama figure from the area.

Nizar, they had argued, would be more representative of the referendum they wanted on Perak politics.

But the former Mentri Besar’s win is not only about Pakatan Rakyat’s claim on Perak; it also has bearing on the PAS elections in June.

Major contests are shaping up for the party polls which will take place at the party muktamar from June 5 to 7.

The PAS rank and file have been more interested in the Umno elections than their own and the irony is that their party polls, like that of Umno, will likely see contests for almost all major posts from the deputy president down.

Only president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang is assured of being returned unchallenged.

The same young Turks who had pushed for Nizar’s candidature are now pushing Datuk Husam Musa to take on incumbent Nasharudin Mat Isa for the deputy president post.

Low profile: Although Husam is politically savvy, he does not believe in projecting himself.

Husam, 49, and the man widely regarded as the next Mentri Besar of Kelantan, has been mum on the matter even to his closest friends.

His philosophy about contesting posts has always been about what the grassroots want rather than what he wants.

But one of his friends noted: “He has not said he is interested. But he has also not said that he is not interested. That is a good sign.”

On the other hand, Nasharudin, 46, and better known as Ustaz Nasha, has confirmed he will defend the post which he has held for two terms.

“I work well with the president and I still have the energy to contribute. There are some complaints here and there but you need that to improve the party,” he said.

Referendum of sorts

The contest, if it happens, will see two rising stars who used to be in the same camp fighting each other. It will also be a referendum of sorts on whether the party should cooperate with Umno in a unity pact.

Nasharudin has been at the forefront of the group advocating a unity pact with Umno whereas Husam belongs to the group that is dead against having anything to do with Umno.

The two groups are quite well-matched.

Apart from Hadi, the pro-unity pact group includes hardliner ulama Datuk Harun Taib and Terengganu politician Datuk Mustafa Ali.

The group against the unity pact has the backing of Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and many of the young Turks.

The dispute between the two groups has been raging behind the scenes for the last one year, and things may just come to a head in June.

“As far as I know, no one in PAS would seriously want to tie up with Umno,” said Khalid who is also a PAS central committee member.

But, said strategist Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah, the elections this time will be about electing a performance-oriented leadership that can help the party come to power.

The 2005 polls saw the emergence of new faces and young professionals in the party hierarchy. These people consolidated their positions and roles in the party.

“The last few years have shown that it does not take an ulama to bring the party forward or to lead a multi-racial state. We saw how people like Nizar and even Khalid have raised the image of PAS among the non-Muslims.

“Whether they are ulama or professionals, leaders who have performed and shown potential will do well in the elections. But the principle of ‘leadership of the ulama’ will not change,” said Wan Rahim.

PAS members still talk about the partnership formed by the late president Datuk Fadzil Mohd Noor and then deputy Hadi. They are still in awe of the political savvy and religious credibility epitomised by the two men.

In that sense, Nasharudin has yet to live up to expectations as the No. 2. He has clung too closely to the coat-tails of Hadi rather than play a separate but complementary role to the president.

His potential challenger Husam, on the other hand, stands out in the Kelantan government.

However, Husam is a rather low profile type who does not believe in projecting himself although he has been politically savvy in handling his opponents in Umno.

It will not be easy for Husam because challengers often have a tougher time than incumbents in PAS politics. Besides, he will be fighting an ulama figure.

Contests are also anticipated for the three vice-president posts and the leadership of the Youth wing.

Third-term Youth chief Salahuddin Ayob will probably go for the vice-president post, thus opening the Youth leadership for contest. The two potential successors also happen to be the son and the son-in-law of two former PAS presidents. They are Mujahid Yusof, son of the late Yusof Rawa, and lawyer Sabki Yusof, Fadzil’s son-in-law.

PAS politics is different from that of other political parties. It is the only party that can honestly claim to be free of money politics and where people do not campaign.

The Temerloh division, one of the few divisions to have held their AGM, caused a stir recently with their nominations of names for top posts.

Temerloh nominated Hadi for president and Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Azizan Abdul Razak for deputy president even though Azizan is not really interested because he is too busy in Kedah. As such, some thought Temerloh was trying to send a message that they had lost confidence in Nasharudin.

“Temerloh is quite rural. If they feel that way, then Nasharudin may have trouble in more informed urban divisions of KL and Selangor,” said a division chief.

Wary of Umno

But the elections will be more than just about internal rivalry and issues.

PAS leaders are actually quite worried about the changes in Umno especially the ascent of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, his command of party politics, his administrative know-how and the team he has put into place.

They are aware he will be a much more challenging force to take on, he knows his issues and has pressed the right buttons so far. The next general election will not be as easy for them as in 2008.

And that is why their own party polls will have to produce a team that can match their arch rival when it comes to the crunch.