By Wan Saiful Wan Jan for The Star iPad edition 25 May 2011
PAS party election will take place next week. As one of the oldest parties in the country and supposedly the most experienced in Pakatan Rakyat, this could have been an opportunity for PAS to prove that they are truly a party for all Malaysians. But it seems like PAS is heading towards a more conservative era.
The youth wing will not see any contest for the post of Youth Chief. Four people qualified to contest but three pulled out. That means Nasruddin Tantawi, an individual wrapped in conservatism, will remain as Youth Chief for the next two years. I was told that he received the most number of nominations.
The three other candidates who qualified to contest for Youth Leader withdrew after the nomination was closed. If they wanted to withdraw, they should have declared so as soon as they received the first nomination. That would enable party branches to nominate someone else who will contest. Now precious nominations have simply been wasted. This is akin to a silent conspiracy to guarantee victory to the incumbent.
Their withdrawal is utterly immoral too. If it was done in a general election, PAS members would be the first to accuse them of being bought by UMNO. But, just like any other political parties, when immorality happens internally, members tend to sweep it under the carpet by giving various excuses.
A fellow PAS member said that with Nasruddin’s uncontested victory, the Wing would cement their image as a protestor against Valentine’s Day celebration and rock concerts. Substantive work – developing policies on the economy, national unity, education, healthcare, taxation, etc – would remain in the hands of PKR and DAP.
In a recent TV interview, during break the interviewers asked me why I have no confidence in the PAS Youth leadership. I responded with a question – if they were to invite younger representatives from Pakatan Rakyat to their TV programme, who would they invite? They mentioned names like Rafizi Ramli, Nik Nazmi, Tony Pua, Zairil Khir Johari, and Hannah Yeoh. And I told them that they have just proved my point. None of the names they mentioned is from PAS.
The reality is, PAS Youth have completely failed to produce visionary youths who can lead a national debate. Under Nasruddin, the Youth Wing has descended into a midget Dewan Ulamak. The irresponsible withdrawal of the three candidates means this would continue.
At the national leadership level, competition between the conservative ulamak (religious scholars) and the more progressive professionals, commonly dubbed the Erdogans, is real. But the conservatives are more dedicated, more committed and better organised. They campaign vigorously and their strategy deserves respect.
Ironically, the ‘professionals’ are unable to honour the label people commonly associate with them. They are not acting professionally, they are not organised, and they do not have a clear strategy how to win in the party election. Most certainly by calling them “Erdogans” we are insulting the Turkish Prime Minister.
The real Recep Tayyib Erdogan is a man with a clear conviction. He was initially an important member in the conservative movement led by Necmettin Erbakan. But he quickly realised that conservatism would not propel Turkey forward. He therefore took a brave and bold decision to stand up against Erbakan, his mentor and party leader at that time. Erdogan led his followers out of Erbakan’s conservative movement to form the new AK Party with a more liberal and market oriented vision. He even demolished Erbakan politically, while continuing to respect the man as a former teacher.
The key point here is, the true Erdogan is a committed reformist who is unafraid to break ranks from a backward agenda. But the so-called ‘reformists’ in PAS have failed to even outline what reform they want to bring to the party. If they really want to bring reform, they should start speaking up now.
Nevertheless, the most worrying aspect for me is the trajectory PAS members are taking. It seems that the party as a whole is moving towards becoming even more conservative than before.
Take the post of Deputy President for example. The pressure is now on Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man to contest, despite him already saying he is not interested. Tuan Ibrahim is seen as a safe bet for the conservatives who have more or less given up on the incumbent Nasharuddin. The conservatives are against Mohamad Sabu because he is not seen as one of them.
The impotence of PAS’ progressives together with the continous campaigning by the ulamak faction is gradually creating a more conservative-Islamist PAS. This is a worrying trend. If this trajectory continues, PAS may well become a liability to PKR and DAP, and worse, a threat to modern and liberal Malaysia.
The key is in the hands of delegates to the PAS Muktamar. They can vote for party leaders who will take PAS backwards, or they can vote for change.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.IDEAS.org.my)