|From Malaysia Today Posted by kasee|
|Wednesday, 02 April 2008|
|The Malaysian Insider
KUALA LUMPUR, April 2 – Just how far is Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) willing to go to win over Malaysia’s political middle ground? Pretty far, judging by some of its actions since March 8.
Party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang sounded like a true-blue reformer at Stadium Melawati in Shah Alam on Monday night; MP Khalid Samad did what no other Muslim politician has done before and spoke to Christians in a church and Kedah MB Datuk Azizan Abdul Razak assured Sikh leaders that longstanding issues over temples in the state would be resolved.
Just how far is Umno willing to change to meet the demands of a more discerning middle-class? Not very far, judging by events since the party and its partners in the Barisan Nasional coalition were stunned in Election 2008.
The party is in full swing blame-mode, looking for individuals to blame for its rejection, rather than examining why Indians, Chinese and urban Malays were willing to give their votes to a collection of political novices. There is a legitimate concern that the party is going to become more nationalistic and narrow-minded as it seeks to regain its secure footing in Malaysian politics.
An Umno division leader from Johor told The Malaysian Insider: “There is a danger that we could miss the opportunity to reform, with the focus being on party elections. But it is difficult to talk about being relevant to Malaysians when we are debating our relevance to Malays.’’
There is a greater danger of Umno becoming more like the PAS of old – a party straitjacketed by dogma and a conservative spine. If it does go down that path, it will have a difficult time convincing Malaysians who have voted for change that it is worthy of their support.
There was a time when every reference to PAS was coupled with its plan to set up an Islamic state and its fixation on hudud.
When Anwar Ibrahim began cobbling together the PKR-PAS-DAP alliance he made it clear to PAS leaders that they should drop the Islamic state platform if they were serious about winning non-Malay support. They did so and left it out of their election manifesto, encouraged also by PAS election strategist Husam Musa who felt that the party would be confined forever to the sidelines if it only appealed to Muslims.
It is still too early to say if the more moderate approach by PAS is driven by political expediency or will it be part of a permanent and genuine desire to reshape the party and reach out to all Malaysians.
But the success of the political experiment has somewhat liberated PAS. Ironically, because of their strong religious credentials, their politicians seem willing to take chances which the more “progressive’’ Umno politicians were unwilling to do.
So when Khalid Samad visited the Church of Divine Mercy and thanked the congregation for supporting him, he was breaking new ground. Even Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would have been afraid to step onto church grounds lest he is accused by his party of being a supporter of Christianity. When he agreed to attend the Christmas celebrations last year, his officials were pleased that the function was in a hall next to the Archbishop’s residence.
In contrast, Khalid seemed at ease as he assured the Catholic audience that PAS would be fair to all religions. He noted that Parti Islam SeMalaysia’s name conjured up fear and frightening images among non-Muslims. But in 18 years, the PAS government in Kelantan had not discriminated against non-Muslims, he said.
For the Christian community which has felt that its space and freedom of worship were being eroded under an increasingly arrogant Barisan Nasional, those soft tones by Khalid have been reassuring.
Also pleased was the Sikh community in Kedah. For years, they have complained about the status of temples in the state. Now, the new Kedah MB Azizan Abdul Razak has assured the Sikh community that he would personally resolve land-status issues. Azizan belongs to the conservative religious class of the party.
The leader of that class is Abdul Hadi Awang. He has called Umno politicians infidels, and has made even the younger members of the party cringe with his fire-and-brimstone style. Yet, look at how he has been happy to play second-fiddle to Anwar and tone down his rhetoric.
Last night, he told 25,000 people that the PKR-DAP-PAS coalition would focus on reforming the judicial system, abolish the Internal Security Act and several other legislation, make the Anti-Corruption Agency independent and revamp the Election Commission. Missing was any reference to the Islamic state.
What PAS has succeeded in doing over the past 12 months is convince even its long-time critics that it is a more palatable option to Umno’s arrogance and its narrow-minded approach to religious and race issues. If PAS can move further to the middle ground and be a responsible member of the People’s Pact, it will be able to win over more non Malays.
On Saturday, the MIC branch in Simpang was dissolved and 110 of its members quit the party to become members of the PAS Supporters Club.
Bukit Gantang MP Roslan Shaharom, speaking at a temple, said the welfare of the former MIC branch members and members of the Indian community would be taken care of.
“We will take care of you because any problems affecting the Indian community will also affect members of the other communities,” he said. More than 95% of the Indian voters in this constituency voted for him.
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