Pas may want to entertain its aspirations to be a national party, but to be a national party means living with the realities of multiculturalism in a plural society, points out Farish Noor.
It has been observed by some that during the recent Eidul Fitri open house held by Pas, the number of non-Malays and non-Muslims who attended the gathering could be counted ‘on one hand’. That this deplorable turnout has been lamented by some Pas supporters is understandable, considering the fact that Pas has made many attempts to reach out to the non-Malay and non-Muslim voters of the country as part of its campaign to re-design itself as an Islamic party that is open to all.
Yet as it is with the case of the cosmetic shake-ups we have seen recently in Umno, the same can be said of Pas and its commitment to multiculturalism in Malaysia. Malaysians of all walks of life and ethno-religious backgrounds are now asking the same question: Which is the real Pas? The Pas that is represented by the moderate progressives made up of the likes of Husam Musa, Khalid Samad, Hatta Ramli, Dzulkefly Ahmad? Or the Pas that is led by conservatives like Mustafa Ali, Hasan Ali, Nashruddin Mat Isa and the like?
Judging by the Pas general assembly elections earlier this year, it would seem that the moderates in Pas have been effectively marginalised within their own party. Coming after five years of ineffective rule under the ineffectual leadership of former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia has reached a point where inter-religious and inter-communal dialogue, respect and accomodation is needed more than ever. Half a decade of Badawi’s leadership has dished us a sordid serving of ethno-nationalist discourse accompanied by the waving of kerises in public, an overheated public domain wracked with communal distrust, an agitated public where minority concerns are being articulated as never before and an overall lack of faith in the political leadership in the country.
In the midst of all this, we need to remember that the election results of 8 March 2008 were a resounding rejection of the misguided politics of the Badawi era, and a call for change and consistency. Pas hopped on the same Pakatan Rakyat bandwagon with the promise of reform and democratisation, and it was on that basis that it received the support of the non-Muslims of the country. For the umpteenth time, we repeat this claim: the vote swing in 2008 was NOT an endorsement of an Islamic state to be slipped in through the back door.
Yet, over the past one and a half years, what have we seen? Hasan Ali’s unilateralism in Selangor has cost Pas the goodwill and trust it took the party years to cultivate, and his deafening silence over issues such as the death of Beng Hock and Selcat lent the impression that the leaders of the Islamic party are more concerned about the sale of beer, courting couples and the bottom of Ms Beyonce Knowles than the political future of the country. Furthermore, some – though not all – of Pas’ leaders have also remained mum over recent controversies such as the ‘cow head’ protest in Selangor; and the treatment of minority groups such as the Ahmadis in Selangor as well. So in the midst of all this, it is hardly surprising if the Malaysian public is now asking, will the real PAS please stand up?
Pas should remember that in the current climate of Malaysian politics where the Umno-led Federal government is attempting a serious overhaul of its political praxis and discourse, it too needs to change and reform with the times we live in. Gone are the days when empty Islamic rhetoric and promises of paradise will win Pas votes. Moreover, Pas today has to live and work in a Malaysian society in which the Malaysian electorate are more connected, clued-up and informed than ever before, thanks to better information and communications technology.
One is reminded of the rumblings and grumblings within Pas in the early 2000s, when some of the more hot-headed members of the party were seen complaining about the non-Muslims and non-Malays of the country following the elections of 1999. In his book ‘Umno tidak relevan’ (2000), the Pas writer Hussein Yaakub then wrote:
“Keadaan ini jelas menunjukkan bahawa orang Cina tidak mempunyai pendirian tetap dalam politik dan mereka boleh ditarik ke sana ke mari oleh pemimpin-pemimpin dalam masyarakat Cina yang ada kepentingan peribadi di negara ini. Benarlah apa yang dikatakan oleh ahli perniagaan Cina bahawa masyarakat Tionghua lebih mementingkan keamanan dan perniagaan daripada segala-galanya. Ini bererti, orang-orang Cina memikirkan soal wang, cari makan dan kekayaan sahaja tampa memikirkan soal moral, maruah dan keadilan.” (pg. 120)
In the same book, Hussein Yaakub also registered the derogatory comments made by other Pas leaders immediately before and after the 1999 election. One leader, Haji Malik Yusof (Pas state assembly member for Tahan, Pahang), stated: “Saya melihat orang Cina tidaklah begitu terikat dengan kepartian sangat. Mereka hanya hendak aman dan boleh berniaga” (pg. 121). Few of these Pas leaders appeared to have considered the negative effects of their own comments, and the consequences on Malay–Chinese and Muslim–non-Muslim relations in the country.
Pas today has to realise that it cannot have its cake and eat it. Pas may want to entertain its aspirations to be a national party, but to be a national party means living with the realities of multiculturalism in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. No, a substantial section of the Malaysian public does not want to see public executions, floggings and amputations in public: we are more concerned about good governance and transparency and the rule of law instead. If and when Pas forgets this and starts going on its holier-than-thou moral bandwagon, it will invariably lose the support of many of us. And before Pas starts sulking in the corner, Pas’ leaders need to remember: it was not the Malaysian electorate that abandoned Pas, but Pas that abandoned us.