Tackling the serious issues facing the nation requires a progressive political front that is underpinned by the spiritual freedom needed to deal with complex challenges, writes Ronald Benjamin.
Pas’ insistence on tabling private members’ bills to implement hudud in Kelantan would not only reinforce the ethno-religious divide in this country but also lead to a catastrophic defeat for Pakatan Rakyat in the next general election.
Pas’ insistence on tabling the bills in Parliament will be used by the Barisan National to frighten non-Muslims in the next general election. It would paint a grim picture of what Pas is capable of, if Pakatan Rakyat is given the mandate to rule.
Umno’s ambiguous non-committal response clearly reveals that it intends to press on the soft spot that is Pas, known for its goal of setting up an Islamic state; Umno understands that this issue could break up Pakatan Rakyat.
Pas has basically fallen into a trap of its own ideological zeal, completely divorced from the aspirations of common Malaysians. The issues here are not merely about the democratic right of PAS to implement hudud in Kelantan, but how this affects the equality of citizens before the law and the implication of having two sets of laws in the criminal justice system.
This episode also shows that the Pakatan Rakyat parties have not made substantial progress in resolving the Islamic State conundrum; instead they have made use of each party’s political strength for electoral gain. It is obvious that the polemics on hudud is taking place in a context where Umno’s political leadership is weak, controlled by right wing extremists who are trying to enhance their dominance over the Malay masses by wooing Pas in the name of Muslim unity.
Whether or not Pas succeeds in implementing hudud in Kelantan, it will have created an environment of distrust among the Pakatan parties such as the PKR and the DAP. Questions will be raised about Pas’ real motive in being a part of Pakatan Rakyat.
Pas is basically trying to recapture its lost identity in Pakatan Rakyat, whose common policies do not appear to have connected with the party’s Malay-Muslim cultural and ideological identity. Although Pas does have progressive voices in its ranks, its power structure is controlled by the conservative ulamas. If it wins big in the next general election, it would certainly introduce the hudud at the federal level knowing that it has to provide a clear distinction between their Islam and the Umno brand of Islam.
The question now is whether the DAP and the PKR’s discourse on this issue will be hijacked by Pas, whose only aim in politics is to create an Islamic state.
The DAP and the PKR should seriously consider terminating its relationship with Pas, which is basically controlled by its religious elites, and come up with a new alliance to salvage Malaysia: a centre-left coalition that is secular but not anti religion. This coalition should incorporate progressive forces such as Party Socialist Malaysia and even those BN parties that are moving away from conservative ethno-religious-centric politics.
This coalition should work towards reducing the class divide and empowering the bottom 40 per cent of Malaysians, the low-income category. It could do this by ensuring corrupt-free governance under which the common rights of citizens take precedence over ethno-religiosity that has a damaging polarising effect on Malaysian society.
The question is whether the PKR and the DAP are able take up the challenge to forge a partnership of progressive forces without Pas? Can the PKR and the DAP break from an elitist-driven political leadership and work with the grassroots?
A change in their political approach is vital because of the serious issues that Malaysia is facing such as religious intolerance, corruption, deteriorating education standards, abuse of power, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Tackling these issues requires a progressive political front that is underpinned by the substance of religion and the spiritual freedom needed to deal with complex challenges.