Friday, 3 October 2008

PAS's Progressive Leaders Making PAS a Party of Choice for Non-Muslim Voters

Read here article by Karim Raslan

Khalid Samad: Pulling Pas Mainstream


Karim Raslan

(Karim Raslan is a Cambridge University-educated lawyer, columnist and author. He is a founding partner of Raslan Loong, one of Malaysia's leading corporate law firms. Karim has spent most of his time in Indonesia, keenly observing the complex mix of culture, politics, religion and society in the world’s most populous Muslim country. His syndicated column "Writers Journal" - which has over 1.5 million readers across the Asia-Pacific - is published weekly by The Business Times (Singapore), The Star (Malaysia) and Sin Chew Jit Poh (Malaysia). It is also published on an ad-hoc basis in The Jakarta Post, Kedaulatan Rakyat and Suara Merdeka in Indonesia; The Nation (Bangkok); Philippine Daily Inquirer; South China Morning Post and Ming Pao (Hong Kong), and the Sydney Morning Herald.)

It is increasingly apparent that PAS, although being the smallest party in the Pakatan Rakyat, is assuming a place of moral and spiritual preeminence in the Opposition coalition.

As a predominantly Muslim and Malay party, its DAP and PKR partners are relying on it to shield it from the sectarian attacks that Umno is employing with increasing frequency.

Many non-Muslim Malaysians still distrust PAS, but a growing faction of reformists and progressives within the party augur well for its future. The leaders of this group, including Husam Musa, Kamaruddin Jaafar, Dr Zulkifly Ahmad and Dr Hatta Ramli are at the head of the the party's unprecedented 'push' into the west coast of the peninsular.

Their success will depend on whether or not they can retain PAS' traditional support base amongst lower income and rural Malays whilst also attracting the non-Malays.

The signs are promising, though, as epitomized by the MP of Shah Alam, Khalid Samad.

Khalid, who is also Deputy Commissioner for PAS Selangor, Samad is a fifty-one year old former petroleum engineer trained in the UK. His victory in Shah Alam was the culmination of a long and sometimes frustrating political journey: he has been a perennial candidate in all corners of the Peninsula was even suffered detention under the Operation Lalang of 1987. Khalid also happens to be the brother of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Sharir Samad, himself a bit of a maverick.

"One has a feeling that there is a seismic shift at work in mainstream Malaysia."

Famously, one of his FIRST actions after wining office was to visit the Catholic Church of the Divine Mercy in his constituency, which had endured a long struggle with the previous state government before it was allowed to be built.

The simple gesture was to have an enormous impact on the Christian community nationwide, many of whom had felt increasingly embattled and frustrated under Abdullah's rule.

Indeed, Samad credits his victory to a shift in non-Muslim voting sentiment in his constituency. Combined with a Malay swing, the 33% of non-Muslim voters in Shah Alam was able to turn a traditional Umno stronghold (with a 13,410 majority) into a 9,314 margin of victory for PAS.

Khalid explains: "We've been trying to break the racial barrier for some time now. We've always been trying to portray ourselves as multiracial. The results show that voters are willing to believe us."

"We're not just fighting for Muslim votes, issues and interests. We are taking on the interests and concerns of all Malaysians. PAS takes up issues of relevance to all communities such as issues of social justice which is in itself, a central theme in the Holy Koran. We aren't so exclusive in our focus."

Khalid is particularly critical of Barisan's handling of the Indian community: " BN has failed the Indian community. They never showed any seriousness handling their issues. Besides the community has had no alternative."

He is very much a man of the modern world, breaking traditional stereotypes Malaysians may have about PAS. Khalid even has an Internet following, and maintains a lively blog at

He is definitely at the center of both PAS' internal strategic discussions as well as the party's attempts to reach beyond the Malay/Muslim community.

Khalid’s sincerity and commitment to multi-racial living is especially important at a time when many establishment/Umno voices (especially those in Selangor) appear to have lost the art of engaging across the racial divide.

One has a feeling that there is a seismic shift at work in mainstream Malaysia. Basically, non-Malays are beginning to acknowledge that PAS (and PKR to some degree) could well end up being a better arbiter and protector of minority rights than Umno. While detractors of March 8th feel that the Opposition’s victories were due mainly to frustration with Umno and Barisan, it is clear that the Pakatan Rakyat is working very hard to secure victory on their own terms in the next elections, should it come to that.

It only remains to be seen if the new approach personified by Khalid and his colleagues will be accepted by PAS as a whole. Khalid's openness is not without its critics.

PAS like Umno has its extreme forces – who see this as a backsliding on the party’s Islamist origins and who prefer to pursue a Malay Muslim “unity” agenda with the latter.

There is also great division in the party over Anwar’s leadership of Pakatan Rakyat and his plan to bring down the Government through defections. Thankfully for Anwar, who sought and received PAS’ support after being hit by the latest round of sodomy allegations, Khalid’s group appear to be firmly behind his plans.

Nevertheless, the progressive within PAS have time, and not to mention the strong support of their spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat on their side.

Regardless of whether or not Anwar Ibrahim is able to topple the Barisan Nasional, with men like Khalid at the forefront the party is definitely going to be political force (this time with multi-racial support) for some time to come.

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