Disengaging PAS — Kua Kia Soong

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AUG 12 — The disbanding of Pakatan Rakyat on 16 June 2015 after the DAP declared it could no longer work with PAS is a sad day for all Malaysians who have hopes for a viable alternative to the Barisan Nasional.

The DAP is now willing and able to work with the man who has been responsible for privatising practically all of Malaysian industry and destroying whatever semblance of democracy we had in his 22 years in office…all because of the stated need to “save Malaysia”.

What is the new political economic analysis?

This is a significant political turnaround for the DAP. We used to have to be saved from Tun Mahathir Mohamad. Now we are told we need to ally with Mahathir to save Malaysia? Some answers need to be provided by the DAP leadership to these crucial questions:

What is the political economic analysis that justifies this new strategy for the democratic forces in this country?

Is the “new enemy” of the Malaysian people Najib or is it PAS’ Islamic state?

Who else besides Mahathir have been identified as the saviours of Malaysia?

Which part of UMNO has suddenly become democratic and “with the people”?

Is Najib the sole oppressor of the people?

Is the DAP announcing the end of class oppression in Malaysia behind this new call to “save Malaysia”?

Or are we at war with another country?

Engaging with PAS against UMNO hegemony

For the sake of the young Malaysian activists, it is worth reviewing this history of the Opposition’s engagement with PAS.

PAS is perhaps the largest party outside Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. From its establishment in 1951, it fused Islamist and Malay nationalist ideologies and entrenched itself as one of the country’s strongest opposition parties. Except for a short period from 1974 to 1978 when PAS joined the governing Barisan Nasional coalition, the party has otherwise been in opposition at the federal level for the entirety of its history.

PAS’s electoral base is in Malaysia’s rural and conservative north although in recent years it has been attracting the urban middle class as well. The party has governed the northern state of Kelantan since 1990 and has also, in the past, formed governments in Kedah and Terengganu. The party currently holds 21 of the 222 seats in the federal House of Representatives and has elected parliamentarians or state assembly members in ten of the country’s 13 states.


Recently, we have seen PAS attempting to legislate ‘hudud’—an Islamic criminal justice system—in the states that it governs. According to PAS, such laws would apply to all Muslims and would not apply to non-Muslims. However, legal experts have pointed out that there will be cases that are not so cut-and-dried and hudud law will infringe the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality of all Malaysians before the law. Nevertheless, enactment of PAS’ hudud law will require a two-thirds majority in the Parliament as it involves constitutional amendments. This has all along been the argument by PR coalition members to justify their engagement with PAS.

But let us step back thirty years to see how this engagement with PAS started…

The 1980s saw the party’s ideological shift away from Malay nationalism towards a puritanical brand of Islamism. It had all along held a commitment to the ideology of an Islamic State. On 10 October 1985, I wrote an article in The Star entitled: ‘PAS’ PRESENT PERFECT STANCE’. It was over an important policy speech by then PAS Vice-President Haji Abdul Hadi Awang who had declared that:

“The question of privileges for the Malays will not arise under Islamic law.”

It immediately evoked the predictable response from UMNO that PAS was “traitorous to the religion, race and country…selling out the birthright of the Malays.” The Prime Minister Dr Mahathir said the Attorney-General would have to determine if the speech was seditious. Even the Home Minister indicated that his Ministry was studying the speech. Not only was the Sedition Act invoked, some quarters maintained that Hadi’s speech was tantamount to treason. The only voice of reason emanated from the former Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn who said:

“The Sedition Act should not be invoked too easily just because people express views which do not conform with established views…the authorities should not stretch the provision of the law to make every non-conformist statement seditious or the law itself would fall into disrepute. There is the political aspect which involves the rights of the people to express their views. If it is blatant, one has to be careful in invoking the Act as it involves the freedom of speech.” (The Star, 20 September 1985)

So what has changed?

Without a doubt, PAS’ policy statement on equality of all peoples before Allah was a game changer. At a stroke, PAS had undermined the communalist ideology of UMNO which had dominated the Malay community for so long. The contrast with Dr Mahathir’s call to UMNO members at the time to “defend their special rights by holding fast to the spirit of nationalism” could not be starker.

Seeing an opportunity to engage with the leaders of such a large Malay-based party and to combat the racist ideology of UMNO, it was not the DAP but the leaders in the Civil Rights Committee (CRC) of the Chinese Associations who initiated a dialogue with the PAS leaders in 1985. During the 1986 general election campaign, leaders of the CRC went round the country calling on the Chinese electorate to vote for the Opposition, including PAS. In 1990, quite a few of these civil rights activists led by Lim Fong Seng the Chinese educationist joined the DAP in order to strengthen the Opposition Front.

At the 1990 general election, the DAP forged a successful coalition with Semangat 46 and PRM under ‘Gagasan Rakyat’ while S46 had in turn forged another coalition with PAS under ‘Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah’. While the Opposition had failed to defeat the BN, the attitude of Malay voters toward the DAP had changed positively because of its alliance with S46, PRM and indirectly, PAS too. In fact, the realization of this Opposition Front and the hope of a multiracial challenge to the Barisan Nasional had been the main reason for the entry of civil rights activists including myself into the DAP in the first place.

Who is our main political enemy?

During my association with the DAP between 1990 and 1995, I observed their constantly shifting attitude toward PAS depending on the way their “Chinese ground” shifted. The debates within the party leadership over relations with PAS and Gagasan Rakyat revealed this muddled mindset of the DAP leaders.

Events following the 1990 general election, especially the poor showing by S46 led predictably to the DAP leadership reappraising their relationship with Gagasan Rakyat. Thus while S46’s other alliance with PAS had not posed a problem during the 1990 general election, by the time of the 1995 general election, the DAP leaders had started having second thoughts about any link at all with PAS claiming that their “Chinese ground” had been shaken.

Nevertheless, the civil rights activists argued that BN was still our main enemy and any policy or tactical adjustment should not detract from the task of weakening the BN through the six-point objectives of Gagasan Rakyat, namely:

To uphold the Federal Constitution;

To uphold democracy and human rights;

To uphold justice and the independence of the judiciary;

Defend the socio-economic rights of the people;

Oppose atrocities, corruption and abuse of power;

Strive for inter-ethnic harmony. 

Agreement to these objectives did not change the ambivalent attitude of DAP leaders over engagement with PAS. During the subsequent leadership conference, a prominent DAP leader (who rose and rose irresistibly in the party leadership ranks) actually stood up to declare that, in his view, “PAS is our main political enemy”! He was visibly getting a load off his chest after hearing the appeal to be clear in our minds as to who was our main political enemy.

Consequently, DAP decided to pull out of Gagasan Rakyat in 1995 apparently because they did not want to have a tainted association with PAS, even though their association that had not posed a problem in 1990.

DAP with PAS in Barisan Alternatif (BA)

The impetus for the formation of BA was the Reformasi movement after the 1998 arrest and subsequent conviction of former UMNO deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. The Reformasi movement had set new political forces into play and on 24 October 1999 PAS, DAP and Parti Keadilan formed an electoral alliance and issued a joint manifesto.

In the 1999 general elections, the BA cooperated to ensure only one candidate would contest in each constituency. PAS managed to capture the states of Kelantan and Terengganu and increased its parliamentary seats from 7 to 27. DAP increased its share from 7 to 10 but with two of its most prominent leaders, Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh losing their constituencies. This disappointing performance for DAP was again blamed on the DAP’s alliance with PAS. Keadilan took only 5 seats while the Barisan Nasional retained a 77% absolute majority with 148 of 193 seats.

With the disappointing results in the 1999 general elections, DAP once again began to review its alliance with PAS and shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York by Islamists, the DAP announced its withdrawal from the Barisan Alternatif on 21 September 2001.

The split led to infighting between the opposition parties in the 2004 general election, resulting in many seats having multiple contestants. Nevertheless, it was a lesson to be learnt by the Opposition and by the 2008 general election the main opposition parties had realigned themselves to avoid three-corner contests in that election.

On 1 April 2008, the leaders of PKR, DAP and PAS announced the new official alliance of Pakatan Rakyat and it led to the political tsunami at the 12th Malaysian general election. Together the three parties won 89 of the 222 parliamentary seats, its biggest electoral victory yet.

DAP with PAS in Pakatan Rakyat

After the political tsunami of 2008, DAP did not have any problems being in the same coalition with PAS and PKR given their overwhelming support from the Malaysian electorate in the 12th Malaysian general election. In fact, during GE13 in 2013, there is a video in which the DAP Secretary General accepted PAS’ own commitment to the Islamic State while abiding by the common platform of PR.

Why and when did the latest fallout between DAP and PAS start? Did it predate the asinine ‘Kajang Move’ when we saw the former Menteri Besar being openly maligned by lesser DAP leaders for being inept and corrupt by lesser politicians as the justification for his ousting as Menteri Besar? Was the PAS President consulted about this irresponsible political move? The Kajang Move showed not only contempt for the voters in Kajang but also insensitivity toward the PAS leadership who was a part of the PR coalition.

What Malaysians saw during the 2014 Selangor Menteri Besar controversy was the contempt shown toward the PAS president not only in not being consulted from the start about the former MB’s alleged misconduct and the consequent “Kajang Move” but also in being set upon by DAP’s Rottweilers. There was clearly a dearth of leadership in Pakatan Rakyat that allowed lesser party leaders to be publicly insolent toward the president of a component party in the PR coalition.

Before long, the DAP top leaders entered the fray with the DAP Secretary General calling the PAS President “mad” among other things in the ongoing spat between the two PR parties. The coalition was formally declared disbanded by the DAP on 16 June 2015, citing their inability to work with PAS.

New Hope for the Opposition Coalition?

It is certainly a sad day for Malaysians who have hoped for an alternative to the BN and who have carefully nurtured a working relationship with PAS since the Eighties, to see this Alternative Coalition wrecked by total lack of sensitivity to coalition principles, human relationships and dearth of leadership.

This is a significant political turnaround by the DAP. Their current readiness to work with the erstwhile oppressor and autocrat of Malaysia requires a more responsible political economic analysis by the DAP leadership to justify this volte face. They also owe the Malaysian people an analysis of class oppression in Malaysia today and how this ties in with their new agenda to “save Malaysia”.

The DAP leadership is now banking on their token Malay entrists and the former PAS “New Hopers” to get by. No doubt the DAP will be complacent to rule Penang but succeeding to drive PAS out of PR is undoing more than thirty years’ work engaging with PAS to build the Alternative Coalition.

Let us hope that this latest episode will not drive PAS into the arms of UMNO and undo the positive work of the last thirty years, which includes PAS Youth’s Unit Amal providing excellent stewardship support at so many Bersih rallies…

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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