From P Ramasamy
I quite agree with Ibrahim M Ahmad that PAS is not invincible (FMT May 20, 2023).
With the mix of right thinking and strategy, Malay political support can be shifted away from PAS, especially in the Malay heartland.
As it is, PAS does not have 100% support in the Malay heartland, as there is still some support for Umno, PKR and Amanah in such areas.
However, their collective support is not as strong as that which PAS enjoys.
PAS has over the years captured the religious imagination of the majority of the Malays.
The question is how to wean away support from PAS.
Challenging them on the basis of Islam might not be the right way as it is difficult to undo the party in religious terms.
The more religion is used to challenge PAS, the more radical the party might become.
A different cultural strategy needs to be adopted in challenging the political salience of PAS.
In this regard, the current approach used by Umno, PKR, and Amanah might not be sufficient to wean away Malay-Muslim support.
They might be seen as having compromised Islam by their political cooperation with other secular political parties.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s version of Islam might sound liberal compared with PAS’ more conservative Islam.
In other words, it is difficult to defeat PAS on the same plane. Therefore, a counter-hegemonic strategy is needed.
Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote in the 1930s that defeating capitalism by focusing on class contradictions and class struggles was not sufficient.
Alternatively, there must be a focus on the cultural dimension with the aim to defeat the reigning ideas.
Gramsci’s theory of hegemony is interesting in a sense that it calls for an alternative thinking on the ways and means to defeat capitalism.
In short, he said that the defeat of capitalism must start with the cultural angle of demolishing the ideas, thinking, and ideologies that serve as glue to the capitalist system.
For Gramsci, cultural counter-hegemony must precede the class struggle itself.
If not the old ideas will come back to reassert the dominance of the capitalist system.
In Malaysia, it is not even about the relevance or irrelevance of class struggle, but more about defeating ideologies that stand in the way of national unity and interracial harmony.
In this regard, the divisive religious approach of PAS is anathema to national harmony and national unity.
Since it would be difficult to compete and confront PAS on the religious dimension, there is a need to rethink how best to go about challenging the cultural and religious hegemony of PAS. Especially in the east coast of peninsula Malaysia, ostensibly the area of PAS politico-religious domination.
Ibrahim suggests that the unity government bring more investments into the Malay heartland, to uplift the socio-economic status of the poor Malays.
This is important as poverty is one of the many reasons why Malays support PAS. This does not mean that some sections of affluent Malays do not support PAS.
I suggest that since PAS is not an invincible juggernaut, there is a need to think of the right mix of material and cultural strategies to undermine the Malay support of PAS.
However, such strategies must also address long-term solutions for the country as a whole.
Putrajaya has two departments to counter the Islamic challenge of PAS or the opposition in general.
However, unfortunately, these departments are merely engaging in the political propaganda of propping up the Anwar administration rather than thinking outside the box to develop and sustain a cultural strategy to take on PAS or the opposition.
P Ramasamy is Penang deputy chief minister II and a FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.