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NST Online » Columns
2008/03/31
OPINION: Moderation the key to success for Pas?
ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR
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Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat says non-Muslims and non-Malays now accept Pas’ Islamic governance
Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat says non-Muslims and non-Malays now accept Pas’ Islamic governance

Pas plays down its Islamic state goal in favour of a political ideology that is acceptable to the country’s multi-religious population. It says it is now the party for all, writes ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR


Nasharuddin Mat Isa says Pas leaders now face the greater challenge of accommodating the needs of all races
Nasharuddin Mat Isa says Pas leaders now face the greater challenge of accommodating the needs of all races
Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad says Pas upholds the rights of marginalised people of all ethnic groups
Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad says Pas upholds the rights of marginalised people of all ethnic groups
PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat was bemused when a group of Indians greeted him with "Ampun Tok Guru" when he met them at JKR 10, the menteri besar's official residence in Kota Baru.

The group was on a "familiarisation visit" to the Pas-ruled state.

They had journeyed in two buses from Perak. Most were seeing Nik Aziz in person for the first time.

Many had never even been to Kelantan before, and had only heard negative things about the state since Pas took control in 1990.
The party official relating this episode said the group knew next to nothing about Pas and its leadership.

It was certainly not the group's intention to offend Malay rulers; they simply did not know how to address Nik Aziz.

There have been several quirky incidents like this since Pas launched its outreach programme to non-Muslims soon after the 2004 general election. The "moderation strategy" adopted by the party's so-called young Turks, trained in secular and religious disciplines and led by party deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa, has to some extent succeeded in broadening Pas' appeal among non-Muslims.

Nasharuddin said: "It's the beginning of a new perception of the party.

"We have been strategising since the 2004 general election, and the just-concluded general election results show that it's paying off."

The party has invested resources and time in expanding its support among Chinese and Indian voters, while keeping a grip on the Malay belt and its traditional strongholds.

Analysts said Pas had made a remarkable recovery from its disastrous performance in 2004, as it adopted a moderate stance and shifted away from its fundamentalist rhetoric.

The young Turks rose to top positions in last year's hotly-contested party polls, and their decision to reach out to non-Muslims through programmes organised by the party's national inter-racial committee is working.

The party's insistence on setting up an Islamic state was rejected by voters in 2004, when Pas only won five parliamentary seats and saw its impressive gains in 1999 slashed in Terengganu, Selangor, Kedah, Perlis and Perak.

The party's conservative ulama had to absorb a painful lesson. A series of post-mortems after the elections concluded that Malaysians, including Malays, could only accept Pas if it changed its conservative ways and transformed itself into a party for all.

The motto "Pas For All" was adopted for promotion to all races.

Since then, Pas has stepped up programmes designed to woo non-Muslims and the Malay middle ground, two blocs of voters who gave significant support to Pas in the 1999 general election but swung back to Barisan Nasional in 2004.

On March 8, Pas was rewarded with a big win in its heartland of Kelantan, which it had been holding by a one-vote majority in the state legislature, a new power base in Kedah, and a share in the tripartite governments of Penang, Perak and Selangor. The party claimed 23 of the 222 parliamentary seats.

Nasharuddin said: "Pas leaders now face the greater challenge to accommodate the needs of all races."

In his victory speech on polling day, Nik Aziz said: "The people who are not Muslim, the Chinese, the Indians and other minorities now accept our Islamic governance despite BN's promises of development."

Further reassuring non-Muslims, party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said Pas would interpret its victory on the Islamic principle that everyone is equal.

"We are brothers and sisters. There should be no more dividing people along racial lines."

Pas think-tank head Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad said Pas now fully understood the need to articulate its political ideology in terms acceptable to the multi-religious population.

It played down the Islamic state goal in favour of a manifesto titled "A Trustworthy, Fair and Clean Government: Towards a Nation of Care and Opportunity".

The early launching of the manifesto soon after the dissolution of parliament also attracted support.

The party's social and political engagements have been extensive.

Many Pas supporters' clubs among Chinese and Indian communities have sprouted.

Dzulkifli said: "This has been consoling and reassuring. We have been able to counter the negative stereotyping and bad image by engaging directly with all communities and stressing a substantive approach to our Islamic principles and teachings, rather than becoming entangled in debates on semantics that our enemies would like to drag us into.

"We have turned our image into a more progressive Islamic party with middle-ground appeal while not losing our traditional support.

"We have also been relentless in the fight for democratic rights and against draconian rules and laws.

"We continue to uphold the rights of marginalised people of all ethnic groups and political persuasions, including the Indian community."

A sizable factor in the party's election results was its candidate line-up, comprising a mix of religious scholars, professionals and party activists of both genders.

The party's think-tank had worked hard to give Pas a friendlier and more amenable face to make the most of the growing anti-establishment sentiment.

Dzulkifli said: "We now stand tall to humbly say that Pas is, indeed, for all."
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