After reaching dizzying heights, PAS stands at a crossroads


Lokman Mustafa, The Ant Daily

Whilst studying in a boarding school near the fishing village of Sura Hujung, Dungun in the late 1980s, I first got to know about Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) as the old mosque behind my hostel was a place for members of the Islamist party to carry out various activities.

It was then that I sometimes bumped into Datuk Mustafa Ali, now the secretary-general of PAS. Mustafa was the state assemblyman for Wakaf Mempelam.

In nearby Marang, a fiery preacher Abdul Hadi Awang was already making a name for himself. His Friday morning lectures would attract hundreds, if not thousands of listeners. Hadi’s popularity ensured that the Rhu Rendang state seat remained in his grasp since 1986.

Back then, PAS was still considered a non-mainstream political party which could only win a few seats against the might of Umno. In Kelantan, however, PAS managed to form the state government with the help of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s Semangat 46 through Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (APU).

Nevertheless, ever since many young urban executives, disillusioned with Umno due to the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the government, joined its ranks in the late 1990s, PAS’ role in the national political arena has grown by leaps and bounds.

Alas! Such a surge in membership has also brought other implications.

Consisting of members from various academic backgrounds, PAS still features an array of clerics or ulama such as Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man and Datuk Ahmad Yaakob (the present Kelantan Menteri Besar) as its leaders. But at the same time, the professional faction from PAS has boasted names with the likes of Khalid Samad, Datuk Husam Musa, Hanipa Maidin, Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli and so on.

However, a dilemma-stricken PAS now stands at a crossroads.

Previously, in the 1970s and 80s, PAS was locked in a tussle for political dominance with arch-rival Umno in the Malay heartland. Today, the Islamist party spends more time battling its ‘inner demons’.

Clockwise: Hadi Awang, Mustafa Ali, Khalid Samad and Husam Musa

The cleric faction is whacking the professionals (or pro-Pakatan Rakyat) at every opportunity.

In addition, the former seem to have warmed up to the idea of forming partnership with Umno in a bid “to safeguard the Malays and Islam” compared to a continued co-existence in Pakatan Rakyat.

Should PAS walk away from Pakatan, it will not be the first time cooperation between opposition parties has been dealt a serious blow. During the last decade, DAP left Barisan Alternatif which was an alliance it established alongside PAS, Parti Rakyat Malaysia and Parti Keadilan Nasional.

Nevertheless, Barisan Alternatif’s achievements were less remarkable compared to the success PAS has tasted with Pakatan Rakyat, which also comprises PKR and DAP.

Since the formation of Barisan Alternatif, and later Pakatan Rakyat from 1999 until present, PAS has produced five menteris besar including the late Tuan Guru Nik Aziz, the late Tan Sri Azizan Abdul Razak (Kedah), Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang (Terengganu), Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin (Perak) and Datuk Ahmad Yaakob (Kelantan).

In contrast, DAP has only one chief minister in Lim Guan Eng (Penang), while PKR, two in Selangor, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim from 2008 to 2014 and now Azmin Ali.

Would a continued participation in Pakatan Rakyat bring detrimental effects to PAS and dilute its Islamic struggle?

The cleric faction probably thinks so, arguing that PAS does not want to be held back by DAP or PKR in carrying out its hudud or the Islamic penal code agenda.

But then again perhaps PAS, once dubbed “parti kampung”, is uncomfortable with its current progressive image and longs to return to being a party with a sizable following exclusively in the states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.

At this juncture, PAS must determine its next course of action.

The solution to the dilemma lies with its president Hadi Awang, who has to decide whether to continue with Pakatan or go back to being a predominantly Malay-Muslim conservative party.

After reaching dizzying heights, perhaps Hadi feels the pressure to clip the wings of PAS’ professional faction. But will he be able to keep PAS intact?