KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 – What surprised many observers and reporters familiar with Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang was how angry the PAS president was in his speech. That anger, just like the content of his speech, does not bode well for PAS and the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in Selangor. Three days ago, Hadi’s policy speech was filled with openness and benevolence towards all, his supporters and his critics. In contrast, his remarks at the end of a fractious assembly yesterday was about how he would ensure that PAS follow its own tune when dealing with policy and governance issues even though it is part of a coalition.
Instead of trying to forge a consensus between PAS’s two rival factions, the conservatives and the progressives, Hadi defended the puritanism that has influenced the way conservatives in his party operate. “Even though we are a pact, PAS is not a hotel or a bridge (where you cross to get somewhere else). We cooperate with DAP and PKR but have different ideologies. We are not one party.” Although he did not explicitly say it, Hadi gave enough hints that PAS would accept the Selangor menteri besar’s post if that was the choice of the Selangor Sultan.
“PAS is not after the menteri besar’s post. But there are Islamic principles we must follow, when there is a ruler that is in charge of Islam and the Malays. We cannot just keep silent.” Hadi was referring to his decision to send the names of three Selangor assemblymen to the Selangor palace. Among the three was a Selangor PAS assemblyman. His decision was supported by the party’s powerful council of elder Muslim scholars, the Shura, but it was against the wishes of his elected central committee. The central committee had sided with PR ally, PKR, and wanted the name of PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to be sent along with that of her deputy, Azmin Ali.
Hadi had said in the past that PAS will accept the decision of the Selangor Sultan. “It was quite an emotional speech. It’s as if he was keeping all this pressure inside and it suddenly exploded,” said a PAS central committee member after the assembly ended. The PAS leader, who requested anonymity, said unlike Hadi’s policy speech, the winding up remarks were like a rebuke against his critics in the central committee. “He didn’t acknowledge any of us except maybe one,” said the CC member. Hadi pointedly said that he had the right to make unilateral decisions that contrasted with the central committee’s. He also stressed that the party had to be guided by Quranic principles and prophetic traditions as interpreted by the Shura Council.
This was in contrast to the argument by CC members that religious reasons had to be paired with logic and rationality. Some PAS leaders, such as Muslim scholar Nasrudin Hassan, welcomed the speech. “He aims to strengthen us internally so that we have our own stand when we deal with PR. This will help us to defend ourselves against claims that PAS kow tows to other parties in PR.” Another PAS senior leader said that the tone of the speech meant that the rift over the menteri besar crisis was not going away soon. “It could go on till next year and influence our party elections,” said the leader who also requested anonymity.
But in the immediate term, if Hadi holds fast to his decision to accept a PAS Selangor menteri besar, it could bring PR to the brink of a break up. “If it is a PAS menteri besar, then he (the menteri besar) will likely face a vote of no confidence from PKR and DAP,” said a DAP leader who requested anonymity. This is because it would be against the understanding forged in the PR presidential council that the Selangor MB’s post goes to PKR. And if a PAS menteri besar faces a vote of no confidence at the Selangor assembly’s next sitting in November, it could trigger state-wide elections.
The party that has the most to lose in that scenario would likely be PAS itself. The party’s leaders realise this. During his speech at the assembly, PAS vice-president Datuk Husam Musa said that out of the 15 Selangor seats the party holds, nine have small majorities. Husam warned that a state election at this juncture would be disastrous for the party. About eight of those PAS seats have big populations of non-Muslims. If PAS goes into an election where they do not have DAP or PKR support, they would likely lose this very crucial voting bloc. “I think PAS does not realise that it was the people who put the PR where it is. They trusted PAS because they thought PAS could offer something better. But if this (an election) happens, that trust would be gone,” said the DAP leader.