By: Zamani Arhaimi
Many would not have believed it, many thought it could not occur, but lo and behold, after suffering its most ignominious and humiliating defeat in the general elections, Parti Islam Semenanjung or PAS seems headed for an early burial. Sure, many will argue that the party is still strong, it still commands Kelantan; albeit with a slim majority and the ultimate fear that defections within its shrinking ranks will result in it losing power altogether.
But the report card over the last five years leading to last March elections showed a glaring sign - an F in all avenues. What has befallen this once mighty adversary that would have struck awesome fear if not acknowledgement among the Malay ranks? What had made a party that won more popular votes among urban Malays than UMNO in 1999 seeming self-destructive? What happened that has caused the downfall of PAS and the growing concern among its leaders and belief among its youthful new members that unless they drop their radicalism approach towards Islam, they could be wiped out in 2008 or 2009, when the next elections will be due.
Several contrasting views have been debated of PAS' sublime failure. The most glaring is its over-confidence after the 1999 elections and its over-reliance on one petty issue to keep its ship afloat - the Anwar Ibrahim saga. During the tumultuous period which was actually caused not by public outcry over Anwar's dismissal (though people like Delimma and Pillai will argue otherwise); it was actually the after effects or aftershock caused by the regional financial and monetary crisis that nearly killed us (if Anwar had in fact become PM we would have been); the opposition clearly read the wrong signals from the voters. What they thought to be a shift in Malay heartland belief towards them actually was an anger over the presiding economic meltdown that left some without a future to look forward to. Many thought that the government was to blame for this, and that the unorthodox approach of then PM Mahathir Mohamad's financial uppercut and peg of the Ringgit to the US dollar had actually caused their hardship.
PAS failed to see that the anger would subside, that reason and the welfare of the people, especially the deprived, impoverished and needy would still be the main agenda of the revolutionary policies. Instead, it harped on its winnings, boasted of a green wave sweeping the East Coast and engulfing Mahathir's home state Kedah. They wagged the Anwar issue for too long, rarely on anything else for that matter, and at the end of the day, had came out worse in terms of management of Terengganu. That the devious Mahathir had an ace up his sleeves was overlooked. PAS bathed in its resounding victory in Terengganu (it wiped out UMNO totally from parliament) as if it had won the elections proper.
Then came the pitfalls associated with being in the limelight. Case by case criticism from the public towards PAS' mismanagement or lack of skilled management in Terengganu began to surface. First it was the wanton award of land to party supporters and contributors. Then the rape of Hulu Terengganu logging and forest rights without so much as a whimper by PAS' nominees. And suddenly we began to realise that this party that had once promised its followers and supporters a heavenly kingdom in the hereafter has failed miserably once given power. Greed, corruption and infighting among the elected reps suddenly began to spill out into the real world. Then its respected President passed away.
With the death of Tuan Guru Fadzil Noor, people like me suddenly realise that our path in PAS are no longer clear. Fadzil's belief in rejuvenating the party with young Turks had suddenly been replaced with a more conservative and even fundamentalistic approach of the old and boring PAS which is synonymous with current President Abdul Hadi Awang. Add to this the indirect opposition from Fadzil's northern state that also included Nik Aziz's Kelantan towards Hadi; and PAS suddenly appear more fragile than before.
Its insistence and utter failure to constitute Hudud as a form of compulsory law in Terengganu ended any good tidings it might have retained with the DAP. Without non-Muslim support, which is crucial in multi-racial Malaysia, you could have guessed back then that PAS' roar would be reduced to a mere whimpering meow in 2004.
PAS derided from its original aim to provide Malays and Malaysians with an acceptable alternative to UMNO. Instead it began to pronounce its own intentions to setting up of the Islamic State, thereby compounding itself to the misery it is now in. Having heard of the same thing over the last 30 years, even stalwart PAS believers began to doubt if anything could be done to actually prove PAS can do it. that it failed only makes the job easier for UMNO.
Young aspiring PAS members were not given prominence, instead the party heads decided to forge even closer together and slamming the door on what they term as 'dark' elements among the young PAS members. To the golden generation the new approach of knowledge, openness and even willingness to acknowledge some of UMNO's credits are like fanning the fires of Allah's hell. The ship that we thought would take us to Neverland suddenly broke a bow, lost its rudder and began swirling aimlessly like the Odyssey lost in tranquility. As a result cracks began to appear, and Malaysians in general began to see the real PAS emerging - the old approach that has been rejected time and again.
With the economy regaining pace it soon became clear that we could weather the storm, and that things would actually look even better, stronger for the country. And then came the killer punch, Mahathir putting the finishing touches to his coup de tat by actually stepping down. It was a blow even to Anwar's followers who were howling like mad wolves that Mahathir was intent to die in the premiere chair. And the man PAS could not attack on religion became Malaysia's 5th PM, and with Pak Lah's inauguration, the end was imminent, crystal clear. We began to worry, began to voice our concerns over the leaderships' ineptness at adapting to this new challenge. Instead we got the same barrage of tirades that we knew we were done for.
PAS' shocking loss in Terengganu came about because of two reasons, the first being PAS' failure to actually manage the state. Secondly is the cunningness of UMNO, making salient but clear strides into PAS' territory. They even had a BN Backbenchers' retreat in Tanjung Jara back in 2003 that all of PAS missed. It was apparent we were losing, and at an alarming rate at that.
People talk of boredom of hearing the same thing all over again every time. And into this boredom we add calamity. Two potent contentious prerequisites that sunk PAS, and appears to sink in even more today. PAS is dying a slow death, and it needs something credible to really kickstart and head it back up the ladder. Its relevancy and ultimately survival depends on it.
(Next : Part 2) - What steps need PAS take to lead itself out of this rut
- Zamani Arhaimi