‘PAS leaders now more inclined towards Umno’

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KUALA LUMPUR: The top leadership of PAS is becoming more inclined towards working with Umno, claimed a veteran leader, raising the possibility that the Islamist party is inching closer towards leaving its partners in Pakatan Rakyat.

Former vice-president Ahmad Awang said there is a strong perception among the grassroots of this trend, despite repeated assurances from party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang that PAS is committed to Pakatan.

Ahmad’s claims come amid heated internal debate and infighting in the country’s largest opposition party, which is poised to hold its party elections in June.

In previous reports, PAS leaders have admitted that the elections would see a final showdown between pro-Pakatan and Umno-friendly factions for control of the party.

The winning faction will determine the party’s direction from this year until the next general election, including whether it will still be in Pakatan.

There is also strong external pressure for PAS and Umno to unite, the latest being from former chief justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad, who wrote a piece in Utusan Malaysia on Sunday in which he urged both parties to set aside their differences and “focus their efforts on saving the Malays and the position of Islam”.

Ahmad said the perception among party members is based on the behaviour and attitude of PAS leaders, including Abdul Hadi himself, who recently made headlines by playing the race card to justify opposing local government elections.

“All this Malay this and Malay that, it is very Umno. Our principle has always been to emphasise Islam. And we had a slogan called ‘Islam for all’. So why are we going back to talking about race?” said Ahmad in an interview with The Malaysian Insider.

Another sign of this trend is how its former deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa was able to continue to promote the idea of a unity government between PAS and the ruling party without censure from the party leadership, he said.

The death of PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat could strengthen this trend given how Nik Aziz was fervently opposed to PAS working together with Umno, added Ahmad.

“The leadership, including the syura, must deal with this perception, which is strong among PAS members,” said Ahmad, referring to the powerful council of elder Muslim scholars who steer the party’s direction.

“They must come out with a statement that they either are opposed to or acknowledge this. If the syura can these days come out with statements all the time, why not come out with a statement on this critical issue?” said Ahmad, a former syura member.

Pakatan architect

Ahmad, 79, is a former party information chief and Perak PAS commissioner. He was instrumental in bridging the ideological gulf between PAS, PKR and DAP in Perak after the 12th general election in 2008 to form the Perak Pakatan Rakyat government.

During the election, DAP was not part of the Barisan Alternatif coalition which included PAS and PKR.

As Perak PAS commissioner then, Ahmad could have accepted Perak Umno’s overtures and got the party’s assemblymen to support Umno and form a government with the Barisan Nasional (BN) leader.

Instead, he chose to work with DAP, a party which he knew opposed PAS’ struggle to implement hudud, the syariah criminal code.

Until today, he maintains it was the right decision despite the strained ties of late between PAS and DAP over Kelantan’s intention to implement hudud.

For him, the DAP is a more trustworthy partner than Umno. He believes that given time, both parties can work out their differences over hudud.

“Umno does not believe in hudud. They are just trying to dupe us into thinking that they are,” said Ahmad of Umno’s offer to back a bill in Parliament last year which would have allowed Kelantan to enforce hudud.

The bill, which was staunchly opposed by DAP and non-Muslim BN component parties, was supposed to have been tabled by a PAS MP from Kelantan. In the end, PAS abandoned the plan but it may be brought back this year.

Ahmad said only one Umno minister, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, had come out to say that Umno would support the bill.

“Jamil Khir’s support was not backed up by the prime minister. So if we had tabled the bill, there was no guarantee we would get it through Parliament.

“Then Umno would say that they supported the bill but Parliament defeated it,” said Ahmad.

But in consequence, Umno would have been successful in persuading some PAS members that it is a better partner than DAP and strengthened the unity government sentiment in PAS.

Umno, Ahmad said, is only interested in being nice to PAS because it is weak. He drew parallels between Umno’s gestures now and in 1969, when it brought PAS into Perikatan (Alliance), the precursor to BN.

Ahmad was active in PAS then and even joined the government and became an officer in Pusat Islam (Centre for Islam).

“But when Umno saw PAS’ influence increasing in the villages and in Felda schemes, they felt threatened by us. So they kicked us out.”

PAS was eventually booted out in 1977. Ahmad was transferred from Pusat Islam to the education department.

“I was effectively put in cold storage,” said Ahmad.

Special treatment?

When he was vice-president, Ahmad said, he was one of the few ulama (religious scholars) who would consistently speak up against any attempts to cooperate with Umno.

The perception that the leadership is open to the idea of working with Umno, Ahmad said, has also been fuelled by the party’s reluctance to act against Nasharudin.

Ahmad asked why disciplinary action has not been taken against Nasharudin even though he is now known to have close relations with Umno leaders, such as president Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

During his time as deputy president, Nasharudin consistently advocated for the party to work with Umno. He was defeated in the 2011 PAS elections by Mohamad Sabu, a long-time party activist known for his strong ties with Pakatan and, like Ahmad, his hostility towards Umno.

After Nasharudin was no longer active in PAS, photographs began surfacing of him and Najib together at religious functions. He remains a PAS member, however.

Though he may be missing from PAS functions, Ahmad said Nasharudin still wields some influence among the senior leadership. In comparison, another Umno-friendly leader Datuk Hassan Ali was sacked from the party in 2012.

“So why has no action been taken against Nasharudin?”

Ultimately, Ahmad said Nasharudin’s case reflects a big undercurrent in PAS and a sign that there could be a tectonic shift in store for the party in the next few years. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 24, 2015.