In religious contest, PAS Youth chief sees a win for Malaysians

Zurairi AR, MM

Umno and PAS must remain separate entities in order to deliver healthy competition in protecting the interests of Muslims in Malaysia, PAS Youth chief Suhaizan Kaiat said.

In an exclusive interview with The Malay Mail Online this week, Suhaizan claimed the rivalry between the two parties on Islamic issues serve to benefit not only Muslims here, but all Malaysians.

“This competition is actually good… Umno has its own capabilities because it is in the government, they can make way for Islamic products such as Islamic banking. Meanwhile, PAS is in the opposition, so we can focus more on education,” Suhaizan said.

“When the two of us compete with each other, for me, it is the public who will benefit from it.”

According to Suhaizan, Islam can only flourish when there are active debates and discussions around it, and so far the public’s comprehension towards the religion is on the rise thanks to public discourse stemming from both parties.

The Johor native also rejected calls for Umno and PAS to combine for the sake of Muslims, as suggested by delegates from both parties at their respective annual congresses last month.

“In theory, when we unite there will no longer be healthy competition. We will become complacent,” Suhaizan suggested.

“When we are separate, we will be mutually critical. PAS criticises Umno, Umno criticises PAS. For me that is a good thing.”

Suhaizan also admitted that both parties will lose out should they combine forces, since they would both break their own coalitions either with Barisan Nasional (BN) or Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

In addition, the move will consequently break the parties themselves, as there will always be members who would not agree with such a move, he said.

Islamic issues have dominated Umno’s general assembly last month, with the nationalist party trying to capture portions of the Malay heartland alienated by PAS’ move to the centre.

This comes as the Islamist party has gradually shed its conservative religious image for a more moderate approach to broaden its appeal, in a gradual approach starting from 1999.

Suhaizan, 40, who was formerly a Johor PAS wing chief, won the tight race for the top post against Federal Territories chief Kamarulzaman Mohamed and another contender Zulhazmi Sharif, after Temerloh MP Nasrudin Hassan vacated the chair to fight for a central working committee spot.

Together with his vice-chief Khairil Nizam Khirudin, 34, the two are seen as bucking the trend of ulama — Islamic clerics — dominating the wing’s top posts, unlike in the previous term.

Suhaizan suggested that Umno has fallen back on Islamic issues to garner support from Malay voters, after their racial sentiments have failed to capture votes in both the 12th and 13th general elections.

The Muar-born politician also refuted that this would be a start towards both parties trying to out-Islamise each other.

However, he claimed that since the support of non-Malays have swayed a bit towards PR, Malay votes might be the deciding factor in any elections now and as a result are up for grabs within the two parties.

“Any political party sees (Malay support) as essential. Therefore, any segment in Malay interests must be fulfilled… Not just religion, but also culture, education,” he said.

“We just hope Umno is sincere in bringing religious issues. Anybody who wishes to return to Islam, bringing Islamic agenda, highlighting good Muslim leaders… we welcome it.”

As for PAS itself, Suhaizan said that the only way forward for the Islamist party to capture more votes is to continue its inclusiveness rather than returning to its insular nature, which had previously fostered suspicions among voters.

“In affairs regarding politics we must be inclusive because we want to approach the public… (To be inclusive, PAS must) give good national policy suggestions,” he said.

“PAS Youth itself is steadying itself in the way to become government-in-waiting. To be the government-in-waiting, we must be ready in our knowledge, experience, expertise in laws, industrial fields, education, culture, and so on.”

The Islamist party has opened its doors to non-Muslim members, with its PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP) currently led by Hu Pang Chow, its first non-Muslim candidate to run under the Islamist party’s green-and-white banner.

In Election 2013, Hu contested against incumbent Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong, MCA’s Youth chief, for the Ayer Hitam, Johor parliamentary seat but lost by a majority of 7,310 votes.

PAS had previously fielded a non-Muslim candidate Kumutha Rahman, also from PAS Supporters’ Club, in Election 2008, but she was obliged to run under a PKR ticket then.

PAS had since amended its constitution to upgrade its supporters club to a party wing, thus allowing its non-Muslim members to contest directly under the PAS banner.