“The special skill of the politician consists in knowing what passions can be most easily aroused, and how to prevent them, when aroused, from being harmful to himself and his associates… Moreover, since politicians are divided into rival groups, they aim at similarly dividing the nation, unless they have the good fortune to unite it in war against some other nation.”
– Bertrand Russell, ‘Sceptical Essays’
DAP’s Liew Chin Tong asks, ‘Will PAS be able to retain Kelantan?’ and my response – and the response of anyone interested in where the opposition is heading – should be, who cares?
If Kelantan falls to Umno, it would be just another con they have managed to pull on PAS. If PAS retains Kelantan, it just means that Umno has just another tool in its box. If Amanah with the rest of its ‘Malay’ parties manage to wrest control from Umno and/or PAS, then the opposition will have won a state whose polity is steeped in Islamism that continues to plague Malaysian politics.
When DAP political operatives argue that the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat was a “positive” factor for PAS, what they really mean was his pragmatism was a positive factor for opposition political parties who were desperately trying to further the ‘PAS for all’ narrative. Nobody talks about the fact that the internal schism within PAS was always threatening to boil over and they were many in PAS who were looking forward to the day when they were not constrained by any form of pragmatism.
And let us not forget the Umno sleepers within PAS who were working with their Umno handlers to ensure that Kelantan remained a bastion of Islamic hegemony, and I would argue, to deliberately curtail any form of secular ideas blooming in the resurgent opposition pact.
The people of Kelantan are as secure in their identities as the average Malaysian, which is to say they are only secure when they are not challenged or provoked. When Liew claims, “The uniqueness of Kelantan includes the strength of its people to reject the ridiculous ‘Chinese bogeyman’ fear-mongering tactic created by Umno”, I literally burst out laughing.
Maybe the ‘PAS for all’ propaganda induced some kind of collective amnesia, but the reality is that Umno used the ‘PAS bogeyman’ to scare the crap out of every non-Malay citizen of this country. And here’s the god-honest truth – because PAS was the only stumbling block to Umno/Malay political hegemony (after a brief romance with BN), Kelantan was economically destroyed by Umno and the PAS forces that Tok Guru could not, or would not, rein in.
Umno did not have to use the ‘Chinese bogeyman’ tactic because the DAP made it very clear (especially in those days when PAS and DAP were the only relevant oppositional game in town), that they wanted nothing to do with PAS and its Islamic preoccupations. This idea that the Kelantanese are some sort of innocents untouched by Umno bile, is extremely naïve – something I find hard to believe considering some of the other stances Liew has taken which I have been in support of – but also condescending to the people of Kelantan and especially to PAS.
All those years when PAS was propagating the ‘mahafiraun’ narrative, they were also promulgating the meme that DAP was anti-Islam. This of course changed when Tok Guru’s pragmatism won out and the gains made by PAS in heretofore inaccessible areas, (made the political machinery of PAS happy) but were never really a concern for the average Kelantan voter.
Furthermore, the ejection of the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim from Umno paradise and the deep roots of his Islamic institutional double life – which many people seem to forget – rejuvenated PAS and provided an influx of fresh talent into the Islamic party. Anyone who was there in the early days of reformasi movement would be cognisant of this.
So, this idea that communal politics is not a factor in a state which never really had a contending non-Malay power structure (but) was not immune from the race politics on the federal level is wrong-headed.
Umno simpatico in PAS
When I argued that there could be no seat negotiation with PAS. I alluded to the two new narratives of PAS:
1) “Ever since the passing of Tok Guru, the Umno simpatico elements of PAS have redefined the party and the discourse to ensure that their Islamic dreams come to fruition. They have changed the ‘mahafiraun’ narrative that sustained PAS all these years to another more accessible, politically expedient narrative where PAS positions itself as the moral police of the Umno hegemon, counselling Umno for the betterment of the Muslim polity.
2) “They are pushing the narrative that by ‘cooperating with Umno’ they are in fact saving the soul and destiny of the Muslim/Malay community and establishing a ‘true’ Islamic state that would entail legalising the criminal code of syariah.”
However, why is this even a concern of the DAP? The reality is that PAS and DAP have agreed that the bridge is truly burnt. Carrying water for Amanah just plays into the hands of PAS propagandists, who would use articles like these to galvanise their base.
Or is it just jitters now that Bersatu and PAS have had their closed-door powwow. How exactly is the opposition going to function effectively with different groups holding each other’s hand while simultaneously slapping away the hands of certain other opposition parties? That was torturous to write.
PKR’s Azmin Ali, (our very own Frank ‘House of Cards’ Underwood) has effectively sealed the deal with PAS, blessing the union of Bersatu, PAS and PKR, the holy trinity of Malay oppositional politics. Meanwhile, DAP and Amanah are left out in the cold or at the very least attempting to explain (as in the case of the DAP) why a partner (PAS) in the coalition they belong to will lose their stronghold.
Does this really inspire confidence or even make sense?
The most important thing I have learnt from the PAS political operatives I have spoken to – besides their dislike for nearly every piece I have written about them (“why so unfair”) – is that they are very aware of their strengths and weaknesses in Kelantan. Unlike most of the opposition political parties elsewhere, they have taken steps to ensure victory by laying the groundwork done by committed grassroots cadres. This of course includes whatever stratagems Umno and PAS are cooking up, while the opposition wonders if PAS is able to retain Kelantan.
I have no idea if “political pundits have taken PAS’ strength in Kelantan for granted” but I do know that many intelligent PAS watchers understand that even if Kelantan falls to the opposition, there would be a whole new set of problems for an oppositional alliance which is struggling with secularism and mired in outmoded strategies dealing with the anxieties of heartland Malays.
This kind of question from DAP just makes the political landscape more toxic and is nothing but spin, which does nothing for the opposition but lull partisans into a false sense of security. What I think is of interest to opposition supporting members of the public, is ‘Will the opposition be able to retain Selangor?’
If the opposition does not start asking the right questions soon, Umno will not win “as badly” as some political pundits predict.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
Source : @ Malaysiakini