Mohamad vs Mohd: Why should anyone care about the PAS elections?

This was the response from a Selangor-based national PKR leader when told that Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah would be the sole challenger to Mohamad Sabu (pic, right), PAS’s incumbent deputy chief.

This article, however, is not meant to deride Mohd Amar, who is Kelantan deputy menteri besar, or in anyway lobby for Mohamad.

But the reflexive response from the PKR leader, who requested anonymity, is an indicator of what is at stake in the upcoming PAS party elections later this month.

The 58-year-old Islamist party is the largest component in Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in terms of membership. It also has hopes of replacing Umno as the party that represents Malay-Muslims as seen in its slogan “PAS ganti Umno”.

If PR manages to one day rule the country, PAS as the dominant Malay-Muslim party will have a crucial voice in determining government policies and the country’s direction.

So, the PAS deputy president is expected to be a leader with intelligence and charisma who is comfortable on the national stage and also with all Malaysian communities.

Who fills the post of deputy president and the make up of the party’s central committee will also determine whether the party goes back to becoming inward-looking and conservative or whether it continues to reach out to a larger pluralistic audience.

Also of importance is whether the new leadership continues to stay the course with PR, seeing as how there have been rumblings after the May 5 elections from certain leaders who wanted PAS to reconsider its relationship in the coalition.

Mohd Hisomudin Bakar of the independent think tank, Ilham Centre, believes that delegates who will vote for the post of deputy chief and 18 members of the party’s central working committee (CWC) are looking for leaders with vision.

“They want leaders who can plan, who can chart a direction for the party to take it to the next level,” said Hisomudin.

Going by the results of PAS’s kawasan annual general meetings (PAS’s version of divisions), Hisomudin believes that the party’s grassroots want their delegates to make rational, practical choices for the CWC and the senior posts.

“What is interesting in the contest for the deputy president’s post is that the two people who got the highest nominations have pulled out.”

He was referring to party information chief Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man and vice president Datuk Husam Musa. Both have announced that they are not contesting the post.

According to Hisomudin, Mohamad leads Mohd Amar in terms of nominations.

Pundits have described the contest between the two as being a tussle between the party’s conservatives (who support Mohd Amar) and progressives (who want Mohamad).

But PAS’s own research centre director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad refutes this, saying the deputy is tasked with implementing decisions made by the CWC.

“He is seen as dominating the party’s orientation when in fact he is only executing the party’s decision, albeit in a prominent way.”

As Hisomudin pointed out, what is more crucial is the composition of the CWC.

In their case, Dr Dzulkefly trusts the grassroots will not let either the conservatives or progressives dominate but will instead strike a balance between the two.

“The delegates should by now be aware of the anxieties and concerns of many sections of society and in Pakatan Rakyat,” he said.

A Selangor-based DAP leader admitted that his party, just like PKR, was following the elections closely and hoped that a new leadership would be elected that would continue the party’s current aim of being inclusive.

Under the current leadership, the party has supported the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, expelled members with extremist views and fielded non-Muslim candidates in the general election.

“But there need to be a balance between conservatives and progressives and both groups have their particular strengths,” the DAP leader said.

In the end, whoever wins the party elections has to satisfy not just its members but an electorate that, according to the Selangor PKR leader, has become more sophisticated and mature after the 13th general election.

It is not an electorate that is easily swayed by snappy sound bites and gut-tickling ceramah rhetoric. Neither will it be easily charmed by skull-cap-wearing personalities or smooth-talking business-suit types.

“People are more demanding of their elected reps now. You need to have better programmes and have economic acumen.

“These days, you have to be about facts and figures, it does not matter if you are BN or Pakatan, ruling government or opposition”. – November 9, 2013.

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