A need to resolve differences

By Baradan Kuppusamy (The Star)

THE seizure of beer from a convenience store last week by officers of the Shah Alam City Council has evolved into another political squabble between Pakatan Rakyat allies DAP and PAS.

Although Pakatan leaders are trying to play down the issue, the differences between the two political parties are fundamental and remain unresolved.

At the same time in Penang, DAP member and Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi is caught in another controversy with PAS leaders and Muslim NGOs after calling one Muslim leader an extremist for wanting to promote Syariah laws.

Such outbursts stem from the fact that the DAP is a non-religious organisation committed to defending and preserving the secular Constitution while PAS is purely Islamic and dedicated to promoting Islamic Syariah laws.

While these and other differences between the two allies are numerous and deep-rooted, it does not mean that their shotgun marriage is in danger of breaking up any time soon.

Nevertheless, the DAP is increasingly having a tough time explaining to its supporters and the public the many controversial actions PAS has taken – from demolishing a pig slaughterhouse in Kedah and the appointment of councillors in Penang to the seizure of beer from a store in Shah Alam.

As the head of the Local Government portfolio, DAP CEC member and Pandamaran assemblyman Ronnie Liu has bravely ordered the beer returned but in the process has stirred anger in PAS and even among some PKR leaders like Kulim-Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Noordin for allegedly “interfering in Islamic affairs”.

Liu has explained the issue is about legal jurisdiction, and not religious, and argued that no licence is required for outlets to sell bottled and canned beer.

Therefore, he says, the raid on the outlet is beyond the legal purview of the Shah Alam City Council.

However Datuk Dr Hassan Ali, the PAS commissioner for Selangor argues, and rightly so, that the Selangor Syariah Enactment forbids Muslims from buying or consuming alcoholic drinks.

But Dr Hassan is stretching the law to argue that the sale of beer should be banned in outlets located in “predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods”.

There are no legal provisions, both in the civil and Syariah laws, to define a “predominantly Muslim” neighbourhood and nobody is yet clear on how the rights of non-Muslims, even if they are a minority, is to be accommodated if beer sale is banned in selected areas.

This is the dilemma for the DAP, a Chinese-based, secular political party, allied with a purely Islamic party.

No amount of mediating by PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim or Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim could resolve the fundamental ideological differences between the two.

Khalid is set to announce comprehensive “new” guidelines on the sale of alcoholic drinks in Selangor today, rules under which the sale of beer is expected to be significantly curbed.

Some outlets are expected to be barred outright from selling beer or any alcoholic drink.

Whatever the case, there is no middle ground in such an emotive issue as it is impossible to completely satisfy either the Islamic side or the secular groups.

This unresolved dichotomy is a serious setback for unity in the Pakatan coalition and one that needs urgent attention because as PAS pushes for greater Islamisation of society, the DAP is set to resist.

Unless amicably resolved, their marriage of convenience will not last and eventually a time will come for a parting of ways. It has happened once before and can happen again.

Thus far, Anwar has used his charisma and skills to patch over their differences. But there is one too many bushfires erupting between the two for even a man of his skills to resolve.

While the PKR does have its own rebels, nevertheless it has managed to contain divisive religious debate among its members. The occasional hiccups in the PKR are usually about sharing the spoils of victory.

It is the differences between the DAP and PAS that need resolving and one solution Anwar has proposed is for all parties to agree on a common platform based on common universal values .

But for PAS, such a platform based on “human rights and secular values” is un-Islamic and an anathema and it has said as such to its political allies.

PAS is big and growing in size. It is laying claim to national leadership and is unbending on its core values.

The DAP, on the other hand, has reached its political zenith.

It is for the DAP to decide where to draw the line between cooperation with a political ally and defending its secular agenda.