All battles lead to June as Pas’ ulama defend coveted post against professionals

Zubaidah Abu Bakar

There are increasing allegations about leaders within the professional faction hatching a plan to topple party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang due to dissatisfaction with the party No. 1’s leadership style. Mohamed Sabu, Hadi’s deputy, has refrained from issuing any public statement over allegations against him.

Zubaidah Abu Bakar, The Rakyat Post 

IF reports of a “clash” and “war of words” in the media along with the political chatter in PAS are to be taken seriously, the Islamist party, a fixture of the political mainstream since 1951, is now crumbling.

Those who do not follow PAS’ evolution would think the party is in a deep leadership crisis because of a growing divide between the ulama-backed group, or “conservatives”, and the professionals, or “progressives”, in the run-up to internal elections in June.

But those who do follow developments in the Islamist party, will see the skirmishes between these two groups as something common, its intensity rising in the prelude to every party election, although the past couple of internal elections have seen the two groups competing fiercely for posts, including senior positions.

The truth is such labels are simplistic as there are ulama who are progressive and professionals who are conservatives. They co-exist in PAS, making the party what it is today — a more inclusive national party.

Coincidentally, the progressives, mainly comprising those most closely aligned to Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the Pakatan Rakyat alliance, are professionals holding senior posts for the past three terms.

With internal elections just months away, along comes a hot debate yet again, on whether the top leadership post should be occupied by a non-ulama.

Only that it appears to be more intense these days, making it uncharacteristic of PAS, it being an Islamic movement.

There are increasing allegations about leaders within the professional faction hatching a plan to topple party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang due to dissatisfaction with the party No. 1’s leadership style.

A group of pro-ulama grassroots leaders held a demonstration in front of the party’s headquarters in Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur, making accusations of a plot to oust Hadi.

An audio recording of two minutes 10 seconds’ duration, allegedly of a conversation over the toppling of the party president, also recently went viral over social media.

War in cyberspace has started with name-calling aplenty and this will only intensify soon.

Those who had been linked to the alleged conspiracy have denied involvement, while the leader in the centre of this so-called plot, Mohamed Sabu — Hadi’s deputy, whose voice sounded similar to the voice in the audio recording — had refrained from issuing any public statement over the allegations against him.

He has said he would only explain to Hadi and, if required, to the committee investigating the allegations.

Mat Sabu, as he is popularly known, had defeated two ulama leaders to win the deputy presidency in 2011, making him the first non-ulama to hold the No. 2 post ever since the party adopted the “Kepimpinan Ulama” (leadership by ulama) policy in the early 1980s.

Then, two ulama candidates — incumbent deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa and Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man (now vice-president) — failed to secure enough support for the party’s No. 2 post.

Tuan Ibrahim was subsequently elected as vice-president in 2013, but the other two vice-presidency slots were won by Datuk Husam Musa and Salahuddin Ayob, both of them non-ulama.

In the 2013 elections, Kelantan Deputy Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, a representative of the ulama class, also lost his bid for the deputy presidency to Mat Sabu.

PAS, as confirmed by its secretary-general Datuk Mustafa Ali, is in the midst of investigating both claims, which party insiders believe could have been due to the open spat over the handling of the recent Selangor Menteri Besar issue by Hadi and suspicion over the ulama faction’s interest to have political co-operation with the party’s nemesis, Umno, in the name of Muslim solidarity.

Some PAS leaders also believe the rising tension between the two factions is due to intense rumours being fanned by Umno to weaken PAS, in Umno’s efforts to win back lost Malay support to the nationalist party.

Just like during the run-up to previous PAS elections, pro-Umno- backed media are having a field day focusing on the “ulama-professional” split in PAS.

Currently under the tutelage and the leadership of the ulama, the party’s purists are strongly defending their stand that PAS should be led by an ulama because it is an Islamic movement.

This is also in line with PAS’ adoption of the “Kepimpinan Ulama“.

Some young ulama, in their quest to ensure the ulama leadership is retained in the party, are campaigning against the professionals whom they regard as having compromised too much of the party’s Islamic agenda to accommodate allies in Pakatan Rakyat.

The group’s stand in taking firm action against the “mastermind” of the plot to overthrow Hadi and their challenge to Persatuan Ummah Sejahtera Malaysia (Pasma), the party’s off-shoot and a non-governmental organisation with a leaning towards consolidating Pakatan Rakyat and to set up a new political party, indicated that the ulama were determined to “cleanse” the party and reserve the top leadership posts exclusively for them.

At the recent Multaqa Ulama SeMalaysia, a conference convened by the Majlis Syura Ulama, Datuk Ahmad Yakob, the Dewan Ulama (cleric wing) chief reportedly said that the setting up of Pasma was a ploy to tarnish the image of Pas.

The Kelantan Menteri Besar had urged the Majlis Syura Ulama and Central Working Committee to take disciplinary action against party leaders and members involved in Pasma to ensure these “destructive elements” do not take advantage of the party’s Islamic struggle.

The conference ended with the ulama, who form the backbone of PAS’ top leadership, pledging their undivided loyalty to Hadi, and reinforcing their commitment to drum up more support for their president.

Their pledge of support was meant to tell the opposing faction that they are taking every effort to ensure that the party’s card carrying members remain loyal to the party leaders and policies, as well as comply with the directives issued by the Majlis Syura Ulama and decisions passed by the president.

On the other hand, it is clear as daylight that political survival is the priority of the professionals, also labelled by the ulama group as being pro Anwar — bagging themselves labels such as the Erdogans and Anwarinas since they are seen to be more loyal to Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim than Hadi.

The focus of the professionals is in ensuring the PAS struggle suits the prevailing political situation, one that requires the party to soften its hardline stand on issues deemed sensitive to the multi-racial structure of the country.

For the delegates voting in June, they should be clear on what it is that the party needs from the leadership.

There is no necessity to remind them that Islamic politics is all about upholding fairness and harmony based on Islamic teachings.

An ulama who is politically savvy or a non-ulama, provided he has sound knowledge of Islamic teachings and qualified Islamic scholars around him as advisers, are both qualified to lead.