Monday, August 18, 2008

The ulama take charge again - Star

Aug 18, 2008 Analysis by JOCELINE TAN

By the time the PAS muktamar ended, the party’s three ulama superstars had shown that they were again in total control of the party.

THE Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohammed Nizar Jamaluddin is much better looking in person than in pictures.

He is tall, has his mother’s fair Chinese skin and speaks Cantonese with the Chinese reporters covering the PAS muktamar in Ipoh. But it is his polished English that sets him apart.

He is also the new star of PAS and party members have been lining up to have their photographs taken with him.

Nizar, whom party people refer to rather quaintly as “Datuk Seri Engineer Nizar,” now ranks among the “professionals” in the party.
Nizar: Ranks among the 'professionals' in the party.

The professional group has been on the rise in PAS since 1998 when the Anwar Ibrahim sacking sent droves of well-educated Malays into PAS.

Their technocratic style and broader worldview was like fresh air blowing into a closed room.

This group did so well in the 2007 party polls they almost eclipsed the conservatives.

But the ascent of the professionals is about to be checked because the three-day muktamar ended yesterday with a clear mandate for the ulama (religious scholars) group to play a more influential role in the party’s future direction.

“The more conservative ulama group will be the ones to watch at next year’s party elections,” said Zulkifli Sulong, editor of the political newsletter Siasah.

The perception is that the young Turks, including deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa, are a little too impetuous about taking the party forward. They think the party is in uncharted waters and needs the guiding hand of more experienced and conservative ulama.

“We were also dissatisfied with the way the leaders handled the issue. It caused a lot of confusion,” said PAS Youth exco member and lawyer Abdullah Abdul Karim from Pahang.

Members are still unhappy with Nasharudin’s role in the PAS-Umno talks although they have not attacked him directly at the muktamar.

His mistake was going alone to meet the Umno president even though he had the green light from the top. He has been the target of what his friends call fitnah or slander in cyberspace and he will take time to recover.

Nasharudin is seen as part of this new school of ulama who is too modern for the liking of some members.

At last year’s muktamar in Kota Baru, banners hung all over the Kelantan capital had featured Nasharudin alongside Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Datuk Seri Hadi Awang.

This year, the banners put up in Ipoh featured only the two senior Tok Gurus.

Nasharudin is no longer seen as a potential party president.

But this muktamar was successful in soothing the misgivings of members over a number of issues.

PAS Perak deputy chief and lawyer Asmuni Awi said the party’s top ulama figures were able to resolve the PAS-Umno talks or muzakarah issue by explaining that such engagement is perfectly permissible under Islam.

The grassroots also had a chance to tell the leaders that any engagement must not extend to joining or cooperating with Umno.

“We also made our stand on Pakatan Rakatan. We will stay with the coalition despite the problems,” said Asmuni.

Members were also assured that the party intends to be the dominant partner or king-maker in the coalition and that their party president Prime Ministerin-waiting.

“Many of us are not in favour of grabbing the federal government. If a party wants to leave the Barisan, that’s fine but I am against enticing individual MPs to jump,” said Asmuni.

Party leaders knew that they were facing an angry group of delegates when the muktamar began on Friday. But they managed things really well, getting their top ulama, including the highly respected Datuk Dr Haron Din to explain things.

“They are the creme de la creme in our party and they put things into the Islamic perspective,” said Kuala Lumpur delegate Dr Rayney Ali.

Members reacted well to Nik Aziz’s statement that any engagement with Umno would be done on PAS’ own terms. He was greeted with cheers from the floor when he said PAS leaders intend to ask Umno leaders why they had failed to implement Islam.

Nik Aziz was ill throughout the muktamar while Dr Haron has been suffering from heart problems for several years and Hadi has lost so much weight because of health problems.

The three ulama superstars are not in the pink of health but they are in total control of the party.

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