Making sense of PAS’s move

DAP national chairman Karpal Singh should be commended for reiterating that his party is not in favour of PAS’s proposition to implement the hudud, and for calling a spade a spade. The same, however, cannot be said of Pakatan Rakyat supremo Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who has been reported as saying that at the personal level, he is supportive of the hudud.

Thinking Malaysians should therefore probe deeper into what is the real basis of the working relationship between parties in Pakatan Rakyat. Ideological coherence is definitely not the answer. While all fingers point to marriage of convenience as a plausible explanation, we should not forget that the DAP had on more than one occasion requested a separation. Nevertheless, since the political climate prior to the run up to the 12th general election in 2008 was stacked against Barisan Nasional, PAS and the DAP had decided to put aside their differences by omitting PAS’s Islamic state agenda in their 2008 election manifesto.

PAS’s partners in Pakatan Rakyat must be wondering how long this ad hoc alliance will last, now that the former’s spiritual leader is insisting that hudud be implemented come what may. This is indeed mind boggling as PAS had decided in its recently concluded muktamar that the party is now struggling to set up a welfare state as opposed to an Islamic polity.

While political pundits have offered various explanations for this sudden turn of events, we have yet to stumble upon a satisfactory answer. Why is PAS endangering Pakatan Rakyat’s chances of winning the next general election by resorting to an old strategy that has been proven to be ineffective among moderate Muslims and non-Muslims? It could well be that PAS has come to a realisation that the party’s image as an Islamic party has been bruised by its decision to embrace the welfare state agenda; but by going back to its original struggle to set up an Islamic polity, the party risks alienating moderates who had supported Pakatan Rakyat candidates in the last general election. This is the central dilemma that PAS has to deal with.

PAS’s identity as an Islamic party is pursued sub condicione – on condition that its pursuit does not jeopardise the party. In the course of articulating its goal, we have witnessed how PAS’s stand vis-à-vis hudud has become more vague. The PAS ideology which was manifest becomes latent. More importantly, a permanent gap opens up between official aims and PAS’s behaviour. The relationship between aims and behaviour never completely disappears; it attenuates. The correspondence of PAS’s behaviour with its official aims is constantly reaffirmed by its leaders – amongst the many courses of action possible to achieve its official aims, those which are compatible with its stability will be selected.

For instance, the recurrent pattern we find in the relationship between PAS and DAP – the split and reconciliation is better understood as the result of articulation, rather than a substitution of aims. On the one hand, PAS’s original aim of implementing the hudud is constantly evoked as it is the basis of the party’s identity, but on the other hand, the chosen courses of action guarantee organisational stability without taking credibility away from the notion that PAS is still “working” towards its original aim. By invoking hudud, PAS hopes to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of its supporters. The implementation of hudud will continue to influence PAS, to play an essential role both in its internal processes and in the relationship between PAS and its environment for a long time. We are nonetheless left to wonder if its invocation of hudud this time around is a mere façade.

Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk
Senior Lecturer and Chairman
Political Science Section
School of Social Sciences
Universiti Sains Malaysia