PAS’ political soul-searching contains oppression

‘In terms of decision-making power, they are but negotiators who concede more than they win.’

COMMENT | PAS loves power. Don’t get me wrong; PAS does not love power more than your next politician. They are willing to play the game of sacrificing your principles, trade your horses for benefits and they understand that a route to power is always better than none at all.

PAS loves the sensation of power. As a state government, they are no stranger to controversies in flaunting the wealth of their positions. Buying expensive cars is a must, increasing salary is an option and feeling sorry for enjoying these is not a necessity.

You cannot blame them. Nobody wants to be in the opposition forever. For the longest time, they have failed to find a reason to overcome the animosity with Umno, the last political hegemon. Only on the eve of 2020 did the opportunity come knocking at their door: A Malay-Muslim government.

With 18 seats in Parliament, they became infinitely valuable to Bersatu and Umno’s tug-of-war, and they could finally call themselves the “kingmakers”.

State power is nothing compared to federal power. The salary is a few folds higher, the allowances and benefits more comprehensive, and the aura, the smell and the feel of prestige overcome you.

But comfort comes at a price for a small party like PAS. They make the kings, but they are not the kings. In terms of decision-making power, they are but negotiators who concede more than they win.

The wandering world of power

All former opposition parties have to go through this uncomfortable transition in government.

Three months after joining the government, PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man admitted that PAS is now a different party. The rapturous days of pursuing Act 355 to allow for partial implementation of hudud are over. The fire of activism has extinguished.

Tuan Ibrahim may have spoken too soon. The “forced moderation” has started to threaten the identity of PAS. Without something religious to fight for, they are fading into irrelevance.

More and more Malay supporters are starting to recognise that PAS did not make the government more Malay, or more Islamic. These are functions that could be fulfilled by Umno and Bersatu. After all, what voters needed was a symbolic reassurance that their rights are not threatened. Very few want a total Islamic transformation of the country – something even PAS might not necessarily want.

As time passes, PAS supporters no longer harbour hopes for PAS leaders at the federal level to pursue Islamic policies the way they campaigned before. None of PAS leaders’ policies or statements in federal government are Islamic in nature. Forced moderation and mundane administration have taken over.

Therefore, the only hope is at the state level. Kedah’s Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor was eager to carve out a name for himself. By the end of 2020, his state’s local council demolished a 50-year old Hindu temple in Taman Bersatu, Kuala Kedah. It was considered a safe target for political mileage because he had grounds of illegality, which on a religious freedom perspective is oppressive, but on a purely political calculus, made sense to him.

When the arguments got heated with minority leaders, Sanusi managed to fit in a casual racial slur of being “drunk on the toddy of popularity” – an awkward and insulting self-proclaimed “metaphor”.

The long line of petty but oppressive fights

Sanusi’s recent cancellation of Thaipusam as a religious holiday follows from the lineage of picking petty but oppressive fights against the minorities. The arguments he made were factually incorrect (mixing 2014 with 2017) and logically unsustainable (MCO ruling out any celebration, thus no point of a holiday).

This approach of reasserting their identity will continue. A few days ago, PAS vice-president Idris Ahmad was publicly pushing for an anti-LGBT taskforce. He said that the current laws were not tight enough to prevent “toxic lifestyle (promoted) openly through social media”.

PAS’s women’s chief Nuridah Mohd Salleh went even further by calling this an “act of love” to “save LGBT” from gender confusion. The contradiction is too obvious when it came in only a few days after the prime minister’s commitment to hate speech.

More and more, we will see patterns of PAS leaders advocating for the oppression of minority groups, and worse, sustaining its justification on flimsy and inconsistent reasons. This is PAS finding its place in the political landscape, which at its most powerful, it is struggling not to look weak.

I am convinced that these are still political posturing and nothing more. In that sense, we could be comforted, because at least we know the oppression is not sincere.

But how comforted can we be when the politics come at a real human cost?

By : JAMES CHAI (legal consultant and researcher at Invoke) – MALAYSIAKINI

*This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Stringer.

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