20 October, 2009

While PAS fiddles , its opportunities are running dry ...

In March 2008, the government of Malaysia, in power since independence in 1957, was rocked by a general election, losing its extraordinary majority in the election, you would assume that the opposition had won.

"Political tsunami" is how it summed up.

But BN candidate Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad’s huge sweep in Bagan Pinang by election will be touted as a reversal of fortunes for Umno and BN since taking its hardest hit during the 12th general election in March 2008.

The ruling party has suffered defeats in all but one of the by-elections it contested in since that general election. It only won the Batang Ai state seat in Sarawak and opted to stay out of the Penanti polls.

The opposition coalition known as the Peoples Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat), bringing together the predominantly Chinese-Malaysian left-leaning DAP, the multiracial PKR and the overwhelmingly Malay-Muslim Islamists of Pas.

Despite decades of rhetoric about building a united plural Malaysia, none of the political parties and political elite of Malaysia has done much in bridging the cultural, religious and ethno-linguistic gulfs between them. Hence the predominance of a mode of absolutist politics where no single party or leader can even begin to accept the idea of genuine difference and alterity in their midst.

It is for this reason that trivial matters like the sale of pork and alcohol have become so contentious in states like Selangor and why even the simplest of things like linguistic differences can make or break the fragile coalitions we see in the country.

Even though all the wings in PAS, except for the Dewan Ulama, have rejected the idea cooperation with its arch rivals, Umno-BN, key players within the conservative-nationalists camp of the party seem to think that the party can gain more by collaborating with Umno-BN than with its current everyone-is-equal Pakatan Rakyat partners.

PR’s victories in 8th March 08 GE (and subsequent by elections) were not because of PR’s strength in terms of cohesiveness but largely because of BN’s unpopularity and weakness.

The problems of conflicting ideologies between DAP & PAS with opportunistic PKR in between come to sharp focus and is subject to the severest of test when PR’s component parties actually sit down to rule and govern! And when they do so they are faced with problems such as the Kedah’s abattoir and Kampung Buah Pala controversies.

PR has raised expectations of its supporters in saying that it transcends “race, religion and culture” that it is showing it is not in position to gratify/fulfill. PR, and DAP in particular, should draw lesson from Pak Lah’s predicament. No matter how good intentioned, if one raises high expectations that one cannot fulfill/gratify, the multitudes disappointed will punish one at the next polls

R&B star Beyonce Knowles postponed a planned concert in Malaysia, the decision was prompted by criticism from the Pas, the country's largest opposition group, which has called for the show to be scrapped because it would promote "Western sexy performances."

"We oppose the holding of such concerts and we will take action to prevent such a concert from taking place in Malaysia," PAS youth chief Nasrudin Tantawi said, without specifying what action would be taken.

"This performance is not suitable for Muslims as her skimpy attire and behaviour onstage are immoral and lead to unclean behaviour," he said.

If PAS continues this line of action, they will continue to drive away non-muslim votes.

Umno and other BN parties have successfully taken advantage of PR’s lack of cohesiveness to paint the coalition as one which has too many ideological differences to take federal power.

In a move to calm fears among its supporters that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) was yielding to a resurgent Umno and its own differences, the coalition’s leaders announced dates for its inaugural convention in December where it hopes to unveil its common platform.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim played down the troubles that have plagued his own PKR and among the PR parties , and promised to reveal soon the coalition’s common platform.

And the discord between Azmin Ali and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who has taken six months leave to "focus on a common policy platform for the Pakatan Rakyat".

Zaid’s decision stems from infighting and his decision to visit Sabah, where local leaders are in open revolt over Azmin’s appointment as the Sabah PKR chief.

Controversies involving the Selangor PAS chief Datuk Hasan Ali had also affected the party’s campaign in Indian areas.

Hasan, who is also a Selangor executive councillor, had tried to ban the sale of beer in convenience stores in Malay majority areas, empowered mosque officials to act as moral police and also criticised the state legislative special committee, Selcat’s investigations against senior civil servants.

The new Indian party Makkal Sakthi, led by former Hindraf leader RS Thanenthiran alliance with the Barisan Nasional had resulted in PAS losing the support of the non-Malays in Bagan Pinang by election.

In its first by-election defeat in the peninsula since Election 2008, PAS’s Zulkefly Omar lost the Negri Sembilan state seat by 5,435 votes. Last year, Umno only won Bagan Pinang by 2,333 votes.

The Islamist party also lost all 19 polling streams. It won five in Election 2008, four of which are dominated by non-Malays.

PAS must quickly and sincerely abandon its bigoted religious stance if it ever hopes of regaining the trust and support of the non-Muslims

The pragmatic and middle-ground Barisan Nasional (BN) is likely to win back more non-Muslim support going forward if the Pakatan parties (especially PAS) continue to fumble and fight each other.

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