Ulama hold sway in polls Analysis By Joceline Tan The Star 3 june 2011
The power of the ulama will be clearly seen at the PAS muktamar, which will elect the new party leadership today while allies of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim struggle for survival.
FOR a while, it seemed like the PAS muktamar, which takes off today, was about to start on the wrong foot.
A circular emailed to the press corps specified the dress code, something which had not happened before.
Male reporters were told not to wear short pants and Muslim females had to don the tudung. Non-Muslim females were required to wear scarves and dresses and short skirts were not permitted.
Social networking sites began buzzing. Most women reporters wear slacks or jeans to PAS events, but a scarf?
Reporters know that appropriate attire, including covered heads for women are de riguer in a mosque or surau but this is only a political event, the annual general meeting of the party.
The exchange in cybersphere centred around whether this was a prelude of things to come for the non-Muslims in the pious world of PAS.
Two days later, another email went out.
Scarves were “encouraged” for non-Muslims but the dress and shirt part stays. That sounded much more sensible.
Bare-headed female reporters have rankled conservative PAS members at a number of muktamar.
Two years ago, one delegate went on stage to deplore the mixed-sex seating among the media, saying it was not a majlis maksiat (event for vice activities) and even a kain buruk (piece of rag) would have sufficed if the women did not have a proper tudung.
The man was from Penang and, suffice to say, he will never be forgotten. Such issues are the last thing the party needs at this time. PAS will be electing a new line-up of leaders to take it into the general election.
To its credit, the party has not postponed the polls till after the general election. That itself is a sign of the discipline and cohesiveness of the party.
It is confident the party can withstand the contests. Even DAP panicked and postponed its national election following in-fighting in the Selangor and Perak polls.
Another reason for PAS to pat itself on the back is that its party polls are free of money politics and ugly campaigning.
President Datuk Seri Hadi Awang was returned unopposed but every seat down the line is being contested.
There is a three-way fight for the deputy president’s post and there are six candidates for the three vice-president seats.
The conservative ulama have re-emerged as a powerful voice and are reasserting their role and control in the party.
They are determined to put an ulama in the No 2 spot as well as among the three vice-presidents and 18 central committee members. There have been concerns that the party has strayed from its original path. The ulama feel too many compromises have been made in the name of coalition politics.
They are unhappy their goal to establish an Islamic state cannot even be openly stated in the Pakatan Rakyat declaration of cooperation for fear that it would alarm supporters of the DAP.
They feel the party should not make any apologies for its Islamic state objective if it wants the continued support of Muslims.
A key figure in this group is Datuk Harun Taib, the head of the low-profile but influential Dewan Ulama.
Harun suffered a stroke last year but he has recovered and become even more outspoken than before.
The ulama group rarely likes to be too obvious when it comes to politics. A great deal of politics is about projecting one’s self and ego, which is anathema to the ulama culture.
But Harun has established himself as the undisputed leader and spokesman of the conservatives in PAS in the last one year.
He is quite likely the most active leader that the usually low-profile Dewan Ulama has had in years and also the most political ulama in the party after Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
No one has spoken out as openly as Harun on behalf of the ulama fraternity.
He said the leadership of PAS should be people with a background in religious studies and who truly understand Islam as the ideology of the PAS struggle.
Nik Aziz, on the other hand, is seen as leaning towards the Erdogans, the group that wants to take PAS towards a more open form of politics and who are seen as allies of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar has been quite a big issue in the PAS election. The controversies hanging over the PKR leader have made many in PAS uncomfortable about his leading role in Pakatan.
But more than that, the conservatives are not confident that Anwar has the willpower to defend their Islamic state agenda against the objection of the DAP.
Although the party has defended Anwar on the basis of the Islamic Qazaf ordinance, which requires four witnesses to prove a sex crime, many of them are privately resentful that the party has spent the last three years defending him on sex-related issues.
The result of this is that the Erdogans have been put on the defensive and are struggling in the polls. This is a huge contrast to the last polls when the Erdogans had been unreserved in their support for Anwar.
This time, they are upset about being described as Erdogans.
Even the choice of holding the muktamar at the former party headquarters in Taman Melewar is seen as a move by the party to reassert its own identity and independence in the coalition.
The Taman Melewar property has undergone a RM2.5mil transformation and will be the party’s national training centre or Markaz Tarbiyah.
The muktamar will be the first big party function there.
This is the backdrop against which the muktamar and the party election is taking place.
Voting will take place today and the results will be known tomorrow.
The power of the ulama has never been more evident and the outcome of the election is bound to redefine PAS’ role in Pakatan.