Ulama likely to dictate Pas’ future

BATTLE ROYAL: The ulama’s firm hold on traditional party ideals may be the key to wrest leadership from the Erdogans

While the main consensus among many quarters in the party is that Pas is capable of being on its own with its original brand of religious politics, the progressive faction has alternately reminded party members that they should focus on the bigger picture, as part of Pakatan.

Syed Umar Ariff, NST

ONE of the significant expectations among analysts is that the upcoming Pas muktamar will be the last to be attended by Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat as the party’s spiritual leader.

A succession plan to replace Pas’ grand old man, who leads the syura council, is still lopsided towards favouring names, such as his deputy, Datuk Dr Haron Din, and party information chief Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man.

Party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang may, however, not be the choice candidate to replace Nik Aziz because of an unwritten rule that a spiritual leader should be gentle in his approach, contrary to the 66-year-old’s perceived firebrand persona.

“Nik Aziz is not in the pink of health and his stepping down as the Kelantan menteri besar, a post he had held for almost 23 years, is a sign that he may soon pass the baton as spiritual leader as well.

“It is also likely that his replacement will be among the council members,” said Associate Professor Dr Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

This comes as no surprise as the council, which was set up by former party president Yusuf Rawa more than 20 years ago, has always been traditionally consisted of ulama.

Asmuni Awi, who is Pas’ legal bureau chairman, said the appointments could only be made by representatives from the ulama council and central committee members with sound religious credentials.

“Appointments will usually take place after the muktamar. But there is neither a fixed schedule for the matter nor a time limit for a member to hold office.”

As members are appointed and not elected, the exclusivity of the council, which is the party’s foremost decision-making body, has ostensibly rooted Pas’ struggle for an Islamic state and the overall implementation of syariah.

When it comes to the contest for the top leadership in the muktamar, this correlates with the inclination that deputy president Mohamad Sabu does not have what it takes to take over from Hadi to lead Pas.

Hadi was appointed to the council because of his religious credentials and close rapport with the late Yusuf, other than by the virtue of him being the president which also, conservatively, is a position that belongs only to a worthy ulama.

This has certainly raised the competition’s intensity as Mohamad prepares to face the ulama representative in Kelantan, deputy menteri besar Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah.

Mohamad is seen as the top leader of the so-called Erdogan faction, by his position as Pas’ No. 2 and his removal through the electorate would signify a consolidation of support for the ulama, while solidifying a conservative leadership stance with Amar as Hadi’s right-hand man.

In 2011, the previous Pas muktamar saw Mohamad defeating Nasharudin Mat Isa. Surprises came in droves when the Erdogan faction leaders — Datuk Husam Musa, Salahuddin Ayub and Datuk Mahfuz Omar — won all three vice-president posts.

This has eased the formation of the opposition Pakatan pact, following the waning of the conservatives’ influence, which had largely deterred any possible cooperation with PKR and, chiefly, DAP.

Along the years, voices of dissent from the ulama have echoed against the approach taken by the new leadership, which they claim to have steered Pas out of path of the party’s original struggle.

Detractors from its political partners who opposed the setting up of an Islamic state and the contentious issue of hudud law, for example, have been dealt diplomatic responses.

“We can only agree to disagree (on the hudud issue),” said Salahuddin, as quoted in the past, thus resulting in the party’s stance on such issues being locked in a conundrum.

This has greatly frustrated the ulama, especially those from Pas’ ulama council, who believe that their role is to tailor and oversee the realisation of the party’s spiritual objectives.

Even Hadi, as among the foremost ulama leaders in the party, was forced to toe the line — as he is the only ulama in the top leadership, other than agreeing with the prospects of an alliance — and made Pas appear subservient to its political allies’ whims and fancies.

A vehement call for change and the return of the ulama leadership reverberated among the rank and file, which was sparked by the dwindling of Malay votes in the recent general election.

This has prompted ulama council chief Datuk Harun Taib to make the call to review and improve Pas’ tahaluf siyasi, or political cooperation, during the party’s meet in Kota Sarang Semut, Alor Star, Kedah, a couple of months ago.

He believes that Pas is not benefiting from the cooperation and had once even suggested that a motion to reconsider Pas’ role in the opposition alliance to be tabled at the muktamar.

Such sentiments are weighing heavily among the delegates who are ultimately responsible for the party’s future and the call to realign Pas’ direction is being considered to address inconsistency in political ideals.

Universiti Utara Malaysia political scientist Dr Muhammad Fuad Othman said Pas members were taking a leaf out of Umno’s book, which had adopted a rather Malay-centric approach to win back the community’s vote.

“Going back to basics is considered the best way for Pas to re-ignite its stand as an indomitable party.”

However, should Mohamad retain his position, then it is foreseeable that the ulama are losing their clout in steering the party, perching their hive in the syura council in constant odds with the party frontliners.

Pas will most likely work towards a more liberal approach, which did not prove to be effective in garnering support from its main voting base, which forms the largest electorate in the country.

Nevertheless, despite suffering another degree of the probable loss, the Erdogans’ current adoption of the tahaluf siyasi may well be in favour of the secular allies, who fear that should Pas go ballistic on Islamisation, Pakatan will lose more votes in the next general election.

The three-day muktamar, which commences tomorrow, is set to be the platform for party members to air their grouses pertaining to the party’s position in the alliance.

It will be aired live on the party’s website and a slip of the tongue may be costly and further erode the pact’s loose unity or land the party into hot water.

While the main consensus among many quarters in the party is that Pas is capable of being on its own with its original brand of religious politics, the progressive faction has alternately reminded party members that they should focus on the bigger picture, as part of Pakatan.

With pundits placing their bets on the ulama winning the race to dictate Pas’ direction and cooperation in Pakatan, their political worth is at stake