Remaking Malaysia: Is it a dictatorship, guided democracy or psy-war at PAS?

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on September 24, 2018 - September 30, 2018.
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AT its recent congress, the PAS youth wing, or Dewan Pemuda as it is known, rejected a motion to support political cooperation with Umno.

Instead, the wing wants the party to “maintain informal cooperation”, although it is no secret that the PAS leadership wants something “extra” for cooperating with traditional rival Umno.

Anyway, the message from the youth sort of set the tone for the PAS general assembly, or muktamar as they call it, that was held a day after the youth congress.

Delegates at the muktamar hotly debated or spoke at length on the issue, raising doubts and expressing concerns. After all, the leaders had earlier said they wanted to know the opinions, sentiments and feelings of the members.

Nevertheless, moments before PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s winding-up speech, the muktamar unanimously approved a motion to give a full mandate to the leadership to decide on future collaboration.

Well, that was as good as endorsing cooperation between PAS and Umno, which is what the leadership had always wanted. At least that’s how I see it.

So, why bother to seek the opinion of the grassroots? And am I right in saying that the PAS youth’s resolution came to nought?

Once again I sought the help of long-time PAS watcher Mohamad Sayuti Omar to help me read the situation and this is what he had to say:

“The youth’s resolution can be seen as representing the voice of the other wings as well but the fact that the motion on PAS-Umno cooperation was brought to the muktamar indicates that a merger is on the cards — merely confirming all earlier speculation that PAS had kept denying.”

To Sayuti, the opening and winding-up speeches by Abdul Hadi were clear as to what the PAS chief wanted and in which direction he was steering the party. “There is an element of dictatorship at PAS,” Sayuti observes.

If “dictatorship” is a harsh word to use, perhaps a phrase coined by the late P Ramlee in his comedy Tiga Abdul is more appropriate — “demokrasi terpimpin”. That’s Malay for “guided democracy”.

Remember a video clip from not too long ago? The one that showed a delegate at a muktamar criticising some PAS leaders and having his microphone snatched away by a party security officer? But that’s a different story. (By the way, the video clip has made a comeback on social media.)

Anyway, it was obvious which group Abdul Hadi was focusing on when he delivered his winding-up speech — yes, the doubters in the party.

He spoke of how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had forgiven even his enemies. He reminded delegates of the loyalty shown to the prophet by his companions. And he told PAS members not to fear being duped. I would say that was clear enough.

And his deputy Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, who spoke earlier, allayed “concerns about PAS being friendly, working together and even defending people accused of being corrupt” by assuring the delegates that the party “will guide them to the right path”.

So, where does PAS go from here? What’s its next step?

As Sayuti sees it, the motion giving the leadership the mandate to do what it deemed right will be endorsed by the Syura council to legitimise efforts to foster ties with Umno.

“I expect the cooperation will happen. Of course, there are members who will not be happy but the majority of PAS members who are already indoctrinated and are loyal to the president will support it,” he says.

The question is, what form will the cooperation take? Will it be a formal collaboration, a merger or a pact? Details are sketchy at the moment.

Whatever its form, Umno, on its part, will welcome it all the same as the move is seen as a lifeline for a party that has lost political power and is at its lowest ebb.

Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, accompanied by top party leaders, travelled to Kuala Terengganu to attend the opening ceremony of the recent PAS muktamar — something seen even by Umno members (some of them, at least) as “kowtowing” to the political rival.

PAS is seen as having the upper hand in whatever negotiations are taking place with Umno despite forming the government in only two states — the same number as BN/Umno — and party membership dropping by almost 80,000.

Nevertheless, with the development at the PAS muktamar, Zahid is now talking about Umno and PAS in an opposition coalition. That would mean both parties remain in their current form/state.

But Umno is also said to be wanting to form all kinds of pacts and to clinch deals with Pakatan Harapan parties while talking to PAS on cooperation — as if, or should it be “obviously”, some sort of a “game”, if it can be called that, is being played.

I wonder what Abdul Hadi makes of all that. And what does he think of former Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein going to Putrajaya to meet Tun Mahathir Mohamad?

Still, expect the “game” to continue. This, despite Umno MPs Datuk Mustapa Mohamad and Datuk Anifah Aman quitting the party, which has not only further weakened Umno’s presence in parliament but also the party.

At the time of writing, the political fraternity was abuzz with speculation and questions, the biggest being: Has the Umno exodus begun?

 

Mohsin Abdullah is a contributing editor at The Edge. He has covered politics for more than four decades.

 

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