Struggle for PAS' soul ends in 'balanced' slate

Struggle for PAS' soul ends in 'balanced' slate
President of PAS Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang shake hands with his deputy Mat Sabu after delivering closing speech at the 59th Muktamar at Stadium Melawati in Shah Alam.

AN INTENSE internal struggle for the soul of Malaysia's Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) ended on Sunday with the party's ulama (clerics) discovering the limits of their influence.

Delegates to the party polls were initially expected to reject candidates seen as "progressive". Instead, they stunned observers with their independent-mindedness, voting in a new leadership that left the ulama with no choice but to stick to their proven partnership with the "non-ulama".

Non-ulama is a blanket term for technocrats, professionals and activists who are seen as more in tune with the thinking of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

The message of the delegates was clear: a symbiotic partnership between the ulama and non-ulama is a winning formula for PAS as it aspires to be a national party that appeals to a wider multi-ethnic electorate.

The run-up to the 59th PAS muktamar, or general assembly, had been uncharacteristically tense. There were intense rumours, which PAS leaders said were fanned by the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno), of a growing divide between the ulama or "conservatives" and the professionals or the "progressives".

In truth, such labellings are simplistic as there are ulama who are "progressive" and professionals who are "conservative".

Regardless, the talk was that the ulama class, driven more by their younger fellow clerics, was pushing out the non-ulama who were regarded as having compromised too much the Islamic agenda of PAS to their opposition allies in Pakatan Rakyat, especially Mr Anwar.

There were oblique campaigns by some young ulama in the social media to discredit the professionals in PAS. This included painting them as theologically liberal, which in the Malaysian context is regarded as undesirable. The mood among the professionals was certainly tense.

The setback for the young ulama came in two waves: the first was the failure of the young ulama to take complete control of the Dewan Pemuda, or PAS youth wing leadership. Although there were several young ulama in the line-up, the critical post of ketua (head) went to Mr Suhaizan Kaiat, widely seen as a non-ulama.

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