A spoke in the Pakatan wheel
The triumph of the conservative faction in the PAS elections will put the brakes on the Pakatan Rakyat’s advance on the political landscape.
In the end, the ulama sentiment in PAS was too powerful.
PAS members wanted the party to return to its original aims, where the ulama is dominant and forms the party’s centre of gravity.
They felt that the moderates had taken the party too far out of their comfort zone and that it was time to pull in the reins.
The strong pro-ulama mood propelled Nasharudin Mat Isa to a third term as PAS deputy president.
Nasharudin, who had to fight off accusations that he was too close to Umno, took 480 votes against 281 votes by Datuk Husam Musa and 261 votes by Mohamed Sabu or Mat Sabu.
The conservatives who had backed Nasharudin won but they do not exactly form the majority in the party.
They are obviously uneasy with the way the moderates in the party were pushing the party forward and partners like the DAP and PKR.
And if that was not clear enough a message to party leaders, speakers who took to the stage during the debate session drummed home the point that Islam and the ulama leadership will determine the future course of the party.
The general tone of the debate this year was strident, aggressive and combative.
It was a different story from the forward-looking and expansive policy speech of their president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang during the opening.
It did seem like the captain of the PAS ship had been talking about one thing and the passengers were thinking of something else.
Party people are unhappy with many of the political and social development around them which they feel have compromised their religion.
One speaker from Penang, Tapiudin Hamzah, lashed out at the media, suggesting the mingling of men and women in the huge press corps covering the mukmar had contravened their norms.
He said the women did not respect the party leaders because they did not wear head scarves and suggested that even a kain buruk or rag over their heads would have been acceptable. And all this was not said in jest but with great seriousness.
“Ini bukan majlis maksiat (this was not an event for vice activities),” he said.
Those who thought that PAS has become more inclusive and who had bought into the slogan that “PAS is for all,” are about to have a rude awakening in the next few years.
The pro-ulama mood continued at the level of the contests for the three vice-presidents and the 18 central committee seats.
Pahang ulama Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man swept in with 871 votes, followed by party activist Datuk Mahfuz Omar and former Youth chief Salahuddin Ayob.
Of those who made it to the central committee, half are ulama or figures aligned to the conservative group.
And as some pointed out, at least 11 faces in the new team are perceived as anti-Anwar Ibrahim.
However, former Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin made it to the very top of the list.
He is not exactly a rising star; his success was largely a result of the party’s commitment to retaking Perak.
Support for Perak
Midway through the debate yesterday, there was a dramatic display of support for Perak when headbands and armbands with the slogan Bubar DUN Perak (Dissolve the Perak Assembly) were distributed to everyone.
Then, to the rousing strains of the Star Wars theme song, leaders and delegates donned the bands, some around their heads, others on the arm.
The election outcome is also seen as an indirect blow to Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
Several Kelantan big-guns aligned to Nik Aziz lost, chief of whom was his “political son” Husam.
The others were vice-president candidate Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah and central committee candidates Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan, Datuk Anuar Tan and Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah. All are state exco members in the Kelantan administration.
Shortly after the results were announced, Nik Aziz suddenly left the muktamar.
Some thought he had taken the news badly and gone to the hospital. Actually he decided to return to his hotel to rest because he was due to speak at an evening ceramah.
Nik Aziz, despite his Mursyidul Am or spiritual leader status, may increasingly find himself an isolated figure in the party against the ascendant Terengganu faction led by Hadi and his right-hand man Datuk Mustafa Ali.
Another big name casualty in the central committee contest was Khalid Samad, the Shah Alam MP who shot to fame when he visited a Catholic church in his constituency and who has shone in Parliament.
He was one of the most outspoken persons among the moderates and he paid the price for that.
The new scenario is bound to see a shift in ties between PAS and its Pakatan partners.
The most damaging spin against Nasharudin’s campaign is that he is a political adventurist who will take PAS into Umno and that he will be another Nakhaie Ahmad, the highest ranking PAS leader to have ever crossed over to Umno.
Such allegations have been quite unfair to Nasharudin because he has neither the charisma nor energy to do that. At most, he will be a friendly face for Umno.
The party has also made it very explicit that Umno is their prime enemy and they will check him if he tries to steer them towards Umno.
What is most likely to happen is that the group behind Nasharudin will use their Umno ties as a bargaining tool in Pakatan.
This group distrusts Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, they do not want him as the Prime Minister and neither do they wish to be subservient to the secular agenda of DAP.
Many of the more informed delegates agree that Nasharudin has not really performed as a No. 2. He spends too much time overseas and clings too much to the coattails of Hadi.
Even at the present muktamar, he was following Hadi like a faithful shadow rather than striking out to mingle with delegates and members.
The fact that he did well shows the degree to which delegates hold on to the party policy of “leadership by the ulama”.
Nasharudin secured only 480 votes against his challengers’ combined total of 542 votes, a sign that the party is split down the middle on the issue of cooperation with Umno.
Maintaining an ulama in the No. 2 post, whatever his shortcomings, was more important than retaining one of the top performers in the party.
PAS members would be peeved if they knew that a number of Umno leaders had reacted to the election results with glee.
They think the outcome would work to Umno’s advantage.
Same old story
DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong who authored an academic thesis on PAS described the latest development in the party as “the same story with different actors and people playing different roles.”
“For instance, a few years ago, Nasharudin was regarded as one of the agents of change. Today, he has become part of the conservative establishment,” he said.
He noted that PAS, in the last 10 years had struggled with the question of whether it should cooperate with another party, who it should cooperate with and, most of all, the compromises it will have to make.
“It is evident they want to respect the ulama and keep the party intact,” said Liew.
PAS will assume a more conservative outlook after this, or at least, over the next two years.
But it will not go backwards as some have suggested. It will also not go very far forward without the ideas, energy and networking of the reformist group whose powers have been checked.
Basically, the party is still trying to find a balance between its Islamic ideals and the imperatives of politics.
It has very clear objectives for the near future – a spanking new headquarters in Putrajaya, capturing the Federal Government and claiming the post of Prime Minister.
The only problem is that not many people believe the party can achieve that under the new team.