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Outburst by Nik Aziz shows the seriousness of split in party

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 20, 2009


KUALA LUMPUR, June 20 — People who know Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat well say the spiritual leader of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is slow to anger and hardly displays any public demonstration of rage or irritation. That is why his public lashing of the party’s newly-elected deputy president, Nasharudin Mat Isa, over his plans to push ahead with unity talks with Umno has stoked widespread debate.

Nasharudin has been the party’s most aggressive advocate of a possible alliance with Umno to form a unity government. Proponents of the plan argue that a pact between the two parties will protect the constitutional position of Islam and ensure ethnic Malay political dominance severely dented after the March 2008 general election.

Earlier this week, Nik Aziz, who is also Kelantan’s Mentri Besar, directly attacked Nasharudin and asked him to leave the party if he remained intent on pursuing a pact with Umno.

That public rebuke prompted 10 of the party’s 23 elected lawmakers to throw their backing for the PAS spiritual leader, suggesting that Malaysia’s most influential religious-political organisation may be headed for a serious split.

Several PAS leaders and its political allies in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), which is headed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, say that talk of a break-up in the party is misplaced.

Nevertheless, the spat is of major concern because it has brought into the open the ideological divide that has long be-devilled PAS – what path to take in its ultimate goal of wresting power at the national level and turning Malaysia into an Islamic state.

Said a senior official of PKR with close ties to the PAS leadership: ‘This is a fundamental issue that the party needs to address for the (opposition) coalition to become stronger.’

PAS, PKR and the Democratic Action Party are in the Pakatan Rakyat alliance, which hopes to capture federal power by the next elections due in 2013.

The PAS faction aligned to Nik Aziz believes that the implementation of a new Islamic political and moral order will have to be an organic process. And he believes it can be implemented only when Muslims and the country’s sizeable non-Malay population are ready for it.

His faction is known as the Erdogan faction, after Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seen by some in PAS as a liberal Muslim.

In Kelantan, where Malay-Muslims make up 95 per cent of the population and has been ruled by the Nik Aziz-led state government since 1990, the government has yet to implement Islamic criminal law.

Nasharudin, on the other hand, is part of the ulama (cleric) faction that includes party president Abdul Hadi Awang and new secretary-general Mustafa Ali. They are more nationalistic in their views and are strong proponents of Malay-Muslim political hegemony in Malaysia, say senior PAS leaders.

PAS has long relied on rural conservative Malay constituency for its support. But the steady urban migration among ethnic Malays has emboldened PAS leaders and made them think the party can take on Umno in the years to come in the fight for Malay ground.

In the meantime, this ulama faction is not averse to cooperating with Umno to ensure Malay political dominance.

The strategy makes political sense, but selling it to the party’s rank-and-file would not be easy.

‘The PAS grassroots remain very anti-Umno, and the fiasco in Perak has shown that Umno can’t be trusted,’ said a PAS leader aligned to Nik Aziz, referring to the controversial ouster of the Pakatan-led state government in that state.

Already, this week’s outburst by Nik Aziz has forced Mustafa to backtrack on the plan to pursue any pact with Umno.

Mustafa declared that any talks with Umno will be carried out only jointly with members of the opposition coalition, a condition the ruling party is unlikely to accept. – The Straits Times

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