Sunday, May 19, 2013

Beleaguered PAS Has Much Soul-Searching to Do

Now that the dust has settled on GE13, its time to ask some tough questions about the Pakatan Rakyat party that went backwards at the election: PAS.
Because amidst all the triumphalism of the Pakatan-friendly media, which acts as though the Opposition won GE13, and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who is criss-crossing the land telling everyone that he did actually win, the poor showing by PAS has received little attention.
That absence of critical analysis no doubt suits the Islamist party, but it won't last. Sooner rather than later, president Abdul Hadi Awang and his leadership team will have to answer the simple but painful question: what went wrong?
Because rather than being the kingmakers at GE13, the Islamist party went backwards, posting a net loss of two federal seats, down from 23 at GE12 to 21 this time. It lost the Malay heartland state of Kedah, which it won in 2008, following a spirited campaign by BN to highlight PAS' poor leadership during the past four years.
And crucially for Anwar's east Malaysia strategy, PAS utterly failed to impress voters in Sabah and Sarawak, not winning a single seat in either state while PKR and DAP won three federal seats in Sabah and six federal seats in Sarawak.
Considering the momentum that went with Pakatan Rakyat at GE13, the performance of PAS was nothing short of disastrous.
So we know where it all went wrong, but more telling would be to answer why it went so wrong.
The first factor (and the one PAS won't want to acknowledge) is that after the Malay protest vote of GE12, those voters came back to Umno. They were impressed by the honest way Najib spoke to them and were appreciative of benefits such as 1Malaysia people's aid.
But the real problem goes right to the heart of what PAS is doing in such a disparate coalition as Pakatan Rakyat. Day in, day out it spoke of bringing its Islamic agenda to Government but at every turn it hit a wall in the form of DAP and to a lesser extent PKR. Its supporters could see their agenda forever watering down for the sake of the coalition Government.
No, there would be no hudud; PAS on its own couldn't stop DAP's campaign for the use of the word "Allah" in the Malay Bible and it was forced to constantly retreat when it tried to introduce even minor Islamic rulings at a state level. It even had to back down on khalwat (close proximity) enforcement in Kelantan.
This robbed PAS of its key point of differentiation from the other parties. If it was powerless to promote Islamic values in Government, then why vote for it? Its involvement in Pakatan Rakyat had rendered PAS impotent.
Then there is the way the party is run. On the one hand it is expert in marshalling its highly focussed million-strong membership base, the biggest of any Pakatan party. But within the party the power struggle between the Ulama and the moderates was never really resolved.
The party president talked like an Islamist, but the conservatives could never forgive Hadi for the fact he supported Anwar's leadership, forgave Nurul Izzah Anwar for declaring that Malays are free to choose their faith, and generally gave in too easily to the liberal consensus.
Ahead of its muktamar later this year PAS members need to think about what they want their party to be. Is there any point staying in Pakatan Rakyat, or should they go it alone and use their balance of power to force concessions from BN? It's a nice idea except those concessions wouldn't include hudud while Najib is Prime Minister.
It also needs to decide whether it wants to be a conservative or liberal Islamic party – something that has to date proven impossible.
In the coming years political scientists and historians will ask if PAS' poor performance was the difference between Pakatan Rakyat winning and losing GE13? At the moment no one can say. But what is clear is that PAS was the surprising disappointment of Pakatan Rakyat.

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