Do not underestimate PAS

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |  Modified:

“We were literally on our own and got help from NGO friends. We were not prepared to fight PAS because they are not our principal enemy and our actions were construed as being weak.”

– Mohd Nasir Hashim, PSM leader

COMMENT | My entry into oppositional politics was during the early days of the reformasi movement when PAS understood the opportunity of aligning with Anwar Ibrahim when he was ejected from Umno paradise.

Even in those days, there was a kind of dialectic going on between the grassroots of PAS and the leadership, who were obsessed with dethroning the old maverick while clinging on to their “pure” Islamic beliefs which has no place in mainstream Malay politics.

I say “no place in mainstream Malay society” because the gatekeepers of Islam have always been the Umno state and while Umno has often used PAS as the religious bogeyman against the non-Malays, the role of PAS in ensuring Malay-Muslim hegemony in this country has changed. The non-Malays are not the issue anymore but rather the continuation of Malay power through proxies of the Umno state.

Opposition political operatives and supporters should not underestimate PAS and fixate on Abdul Hadi Awang as some sort of Judas because the reality in that the fissures within PAS and the opposition were only camouflaged and not repaired when the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat was tenuously maintaining the peace in Pakatan Rakyat.

This meme that PAS is doomed in the coming election is a dangerous idea that feeds into the victim ideology of PAS – and the opposition for that matter – and could very well prove to be disastrous for Pakatan Harapan. PAS’ propaganda is far more sophisticated than Umno’s and Harapan’s and displays a keen understanding of how Malay society works. If anything, PAS has evolved - not ideologically - when it comes to courting the Malay vote, having learnt much from its partners since becoming mainstream.

Some opposition analysts think that PAS was crippled when Amanah broke away but my thinking is different, especially when speaking to PAS grassroots-level organisers. While a political party needs a robust dialectic within it to remain relevant, PAS is now free to define (centrally) its own version of moderation without having to rely on non-Muslims (or Muslims who are simpatico to non-Muslim politicians) input to craft a narrative which resonates with their ever-growing base.

While Amanah is struggling to define itself as a moderate Islamic party and giving way to the other political power blocks in the opposition, PAS and its supporters know exactly who they are. PAS is playing up the “humiliation” of the PAS outcasts who have to beg “arrogant” non-Muslim powerbrokers for a seat at the table. This propaganda is targeted not only at the base but a section of the oppositional Malay polity who are bewildered by the changing political landscape of the opposition.

Indeed, with Mahathir becoming the captain of the Harapan ship, this has revived old narratives that served PAS so well in the past. This idea that Mahathir is the great pharaoh who wants to control Islam and pervert the implementation of Islamic law, has rejuvenated the PAS base and raised the hackles of a voting block within the Malay community who view the return of the old maverick as something disastrous for...

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