The PAS muktamar has ended. And so should any illusion that the party has not changed since the death of Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat in 2015.
If the 2015 muktamar has not convinced some people that Nik Aziz’s vision was buried together with him, then this muktamar should bring them to their senses.
Before his death, Nik Aziz tied his party to a pole found somewhere in the middle of Malaysia’s racially charged political landscape. This made sure party elders would not stray too much to the left or to the right while keeping its Islamic identity.
That string showed sign of tension when Nik Aziz took ill. When he died, it snapped. And like Cinderella fast reverting to her former self at the stroke of midnight, there was nothing to stop PAS from reverting to the PAS of the eighties.
This was the same PAS which for decades failed to provide Malay-Muslims with an alternative to Umno, placing Barisan Nasional far ahead at every general election. This is the same PAS that was easy prey for then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who portrayed the party as a bunch of mullahs out to impose their medieval understanding of God’s teachings.
In 1998, this image changed after Dr Mahathir removed his most potent weapon against PAS from Umno and government. During this period, the late Fadzil Noor and Nik Aziz placed PAS in the driving seat of Malaysian politics. The rest is history.
In the last two years, despite warnings from people who were born in the PAS incubator that the party has strayed, some in the opposition thought their strategy and psychology would work, and naively employed these hoping PAS would stop their march back into the eighties.
Dr Mahathir, on the other hand, knew well who he was dealing with. Right from the birth of his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), he didn’t mince his word about PAS.
In fact, Dr Mahathir is the happiest man following the outcome of this year’s muktamar.
For one, now that PAS delegates have spoken, Dr Mahathir cannot be accused of driving a wedge between PAS and other opposition parties. Especially when at one time, he was known to have deviced ways to break apart opposition parties, sometimes quite successfully.
With PAS now out of the scene, any talk that there is still hope to change the minds of Abdul Hadi Awang and his ilks, borders on political eccentrism.
The truth is, Malaysian politicians are ill-prepared, both politically and intellectually, to take on PAS and its claims to championing Islam. A static, decadent state of Islamic education, coupled with the quality of debate on the role of Islam, means Islam sells fast among the populace. This in turn gives irrelevant leaders a new breath of life if they carry the Islamic image.
Prime Minister Najib Razak understood this well, and wasted no time in embracing that image.
The job of taking on PAS has been left to Muslims and self-proclaimed liberals whose lifestyles cannot find a place among the majority of voters in this country. This too strengthens the position of politicians riding on Islam.
With PAS out, the opposition pact is still made up of strange bedfellows. Indeed, they are now joined by a set of politicians who have been kept too long in the Umno incubator, who have not, and probably still cannot, see the line between wealth and politics.
But this bunch is easier to deal with, because they don’t claim to speak on behalf of religion, neither are they trained in the art of quoting scriptures to drag God’s name into the sleaze that has become a part of modern electoral politics.
Abdar Rahman Koya is the editor-in-chief of FMT.