PAS shows its ambitions
The party today signalled that it is ready to move into the national sphere of power but not everyone in PAS seems ready for the compromises that will be needed to make it happen.
PAS’ annual party meetings or muktamar have not been the same since the day they tasted power in Kelantan.
But the opening ceremony of their muktamar in Shah Alam yesterday outdid all previous gatherings.
It was a well-choreographed show aimed at announcing to all that they are a party waiting to come to power.
Their detractors may insist they are daydreaming but their supporters are convinced that PAS is the government-in-waiting.
The glitzy display of their multi-million ringgit party complex in Putrajaya, complete with flashing lights and dramatic mist from dry ice, almost stole the thunder from the president’s policy speech.
The proposed complex is set to rival Umno’s PWTC headquarters and features a grand hall along the scale of Umno’s Dewan Merdeka.
The opening ceremony was loaded with messages and signals.
For instance, the party conferred awards on two leading lights of the Malay literary world, Datuk Hassan Ahmad and national laureate Datuk A. Samad Said, who are more usually associated with the ruling establishment.
Asked whether his friends in Umno would be upset with him over the award, Samad nodded: “Yes, I think so but I am apolitical”.
The party’s agenda was crystal clear: it was to tell mainstream Malays that even iconic Malay figures like Samad and Hassan were alright with PAS.
Even its choice of venue at the indoor Malawati Stadium is a sign of the times. Gone are days when the party had to squeeze into its cramped, kampung-style Taman Melewar premises. But it was president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s policy speech that was most interesting.
After months of controversy during which he had been identified with the group that is said to be pushing unity talks with Umno, Abdul Hadi stated very clearly that PAS would continue to work closely with DAP and PKR to achieve its power objective.
“He spoke clearly of cooperation with Pakatan and he spoke the language of change,” said DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong who was at the opening.
Abdul Hadi’s speech yesterday was also a far cry from those made when he had just assumed leadership of the party. The radical and strident tone were gone and yesterday’s speech was targeted at people outside the party as well as the PAS fraternity.
Or as one foreign media representative noted, it was the “speech of a Prime Minister-in-waiting”.
In other words, it was a reminder to his sahabat or friend Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim that PAS, and not PKR, will assume the Premiership when and if the time comes.
He also indulged in a fair bit of Umno bashing, positioning his own party as the more moral and authoritative party to lead the Malays and Muslims. But at a packed press conference minutes after the opening, Abdul Hadi let loose a shocker.
He suggested to reporters that he had not totally rejected the idea of a unity government and even went as far as to say that DAP and PKR were not against the idea.
DAP and PKR leaders were naturally upset to hear about it – two contradictory messages from the same person in the same day.
Moreover, how can PAS hope to strengthen its ties with Pakatan parties while entertaining thoughts of a unity government with Umno? Few had any answers to Hadi’s flip-flopping.
But as one senior PAS politician noted, Abdul Hadi’s speech this year met with lukewarm response from his own party faithful who had packed the stadium to the rafters.
Members look forward to the president’s speech every year and they show their support or approval with ringing cries of takbir! and Allahuakbar! (God is great!). This time, there were just a few cries of takbir! and Allahuakbar! throughout Abdul Hadi’s one-hour speech.
Few could interpret the implication of the lacklustre response. Some said it was because the audience did not find it inspiring or that they did not agree with what he had to say.
Others said it could be a reflection of the way PAS was changing because al-though it is not the culture of PAS members to applaud, some in the audience clapped during the opening ceremony.
PAS is in the throes of political change and not everyone in the party is adapting very well to the compromises that need to be made.
More signs of the inner conflict rippling in the party is likely to emerge today when the delegates begin their debates.