In Selangor’s touted Islamic city of Shah Alam, PAS held its important 55th Muktamar and elected its new crop of leaders, who turned out to be overwhelmingly incumbents.

Media reports have described the results as reflecting a tension between two camps in the party – the conservative ulama-led Islamists and the progressive, more liberal professionals, labeled the Erdogans.

They have portrayed the contests, especially the competitive deputy vice-presidency, as hinging on the party’s willingness to engage in dialogue and potential partnership with parties outside of the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, notably Umno, and tied this to the viability of the opposition alliance as a whole.

pas muktamar 55 general assembly 060609 05 A potential PAS alliance with Umno would forge a Muslim Malay majority and exclude non-Malays, who have been portrayed by some in favour of this alliance as gaining too much ground from the March 2008 polls and would irrevocably split the opposition alliance.

These characterisations of the dynamics in PAS are based on two simplistic assumptions that there is a clear continuum between conservatives and liberals within the party, and racial politics dominate the motivation of its members.

Both assumptions are flawed. As such, the framing of dynamics within PAS has missed its mark. It is no wonder the results are being described as “mixed”, because the lens to understand current party dynamics is inherently blurred. Refocusing is needed.

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