Malaysiakini : “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
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
I was speaking to a PAS grassroots activist who helpfully showed me
the kind of propaganda that PAS puts out which was impressive in its
sophistication. Most of it was done by instant messaging and it was
quite brutal in the way how it clearly defined the PAS struggle. This is
no waffling narrative.
Some in the PAS intelligentsia tell me that with Mahathir in the
picture, what they are “promoting” is it a choice between Umno and the
great Mahafiraun. So if you do not like Umno and you do not like
Mahathir, and you are troubled by how the opposition has “putar belit”,
then the logical choice is PAS, who has remained steadfast in its vision
of what it wants Malaysia to be.
But what about the opposition narratives of PAS being a handmaiden to
Umno, you ask? Well, Muslim solidarity trumps ideology and because of
the political and religious interests of its base, it is always easier
to believe that Umno is ceding ground instead of PAS assimilating into
Umno. Besides, the PAS faithful are more used to hating the old maverick
rather than anything the current Umno potentate has done. While the rest
of the opposition voting block is obsessed with 1MDB, opposition
operatives and their supporters have been careless in their rhetoric
against the Malay community, which has benefitted the propagandists
PAS has been very adept at using the Umno hegemon with the Rohingya
issues, the conversion issue, the hide and seek, hudud amendments, and
this has played well with not only with their base but also many in the
Malay polity who have for years been brainwashed with racial and
religious propaganda. In fact, one of the themes besides victimhood in
PAS propaganda arsenal is the siege mentality that is the favoured tool
of the Umno hegemon.
of how a PSM political operative claimed that when it comes to
politics, PAS is even more vicious than Umno (see the quote that opens
this piece). The problem here is that people underestimate the political
cunning of PAS. They underestimate the mood of the working-class Malay
polity that PAS has a direct link with now, especially in the urban
areas because PAS has become mainstream.
But most importantly, it is easier to believe that PAS is "finished"
instead of viewing this political cult as a crucial piece on the
chessboard. Their brand of Islam has been normalised in the urban areas
and thus they can demonstrate the narrative that PAS cannot be involved
in running successful states is a myth. Of course, they did not run it
on their own but we are talking about propaganda here and not reality.
what I believe is PAS’ value to the Umno hegemon - “Hence, PAS’ value
to Umno is their role in weakening the opposition and spreading around
Islamic memes that ultimately destabilise the already weak secular
foundations of the opposition. This late in the game, when the
opposition has already let the enemy in the gates, it is pointless
finding common ground, especially when the opposition is juggling so
many disparate alliances.”
PAS is optimistic not because it is sure that it can ride the
so-called Malay tsunami. PAS is optimistic because it understands that
it is playing a game in which even if it loses to Umno or Harapan, it
wins because of the value it has to the Umno state and depending on how
"badly" Umno wins, PAS stock would rise.
By pushing this narrative that it does not need to win elections or
that it only need God to win elections, this plays well with a growing
number of disenfranchised within the Malay community and absolves them
if they lose.
This is not the time to dismiss PAS. Every piece in the political
chessboard is important, and while PAS may not be king, it is more than
just a pawn.