Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan shares some of his thoughts with The Star Online's T. AVINESHWARAN.
T. Avineshwaran: What is the prospect like for unity talks between PAS and Umno?
Wan Saiful: This is not a new topic. It’s been going on forever! It’s not in PAS to have this conversation with Umno because if there was a merger, we would see a Malaysian government being governed by a very Malay government. I think PAS know this is not a good thing and Umno knows it as well. So, it is not in the interest of the country to see both parties initiating a talk. However, politicians being politicians, they will always look for ways to be in power. Easiest way for both Umno and PAS to be in power is to work together. The likelihood? There will be many people resisting such a change. I think people will talk about it but actual talks between both sides may not happen in the nearest future.
Avinesh: What about PAS’s chance in Kuala Besut by-election?
Wan Saiful: This is a difficult one for PAS. The whole Barisan Nasional machinery from around the nation will be coming down to help the Barisan Kuala Besut machinery. I don’t think PAS or Pakatan Rakyat as a whole have a big chance to win. The majority for Umno in the last election was quite comfortable. It’s not going to be an easy one for PAS. We have to appreciate that Pakatan will bring all the resources that they have to Kuala Besut.
I foresee PAS is already thinking about the Kuala Besut by-election in the way that they are dealing with the child conversion Bill where the Administration of Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 is coming into parliament now. You would expect DAP to be against that and you would expect the non-Malay parties in Barisan to be against it too. PAS will be in a tricky position because of their partnership with other parties in Pakatan and they will have to position themselves correctly for the Kuala Besut by-election. If they oppose this Bill especially the part that says when one of the parents converts and the child will follow, the accusation against them would be - they have sold out to the non-Muslims in Pakatan. They are biding their time and strategising themselves in this issue. I wouldn't be surprised if they come with a stand that is not completely in line with DAP and PKR.
Avinesh: Many PAS big guns lost during the GE13, especially the likes of Mat Sabu (Mohamad Sabu) and Datuk Husam Musa, why do you think this happened?
Wan Saiful: Because PAS isn’t Pakatan. Simple way to coin that. PAS is essentially still a Malay party. You cannot run away from that fact. No matter how idealistic you want to be, PAS is still a Malay party.
Avinesh: But these guys are liberals. Why don’t you think they have the advantage?
Wan Saiful: It’s because they belong to PAS. The elections in Malaysia have never been about the candidates. I know people will talk about ideals and choose the right candidates but this is all rubbish. The reality is people vote for a party. Even if you put a monkey as a candidate in the party, the hard-core supporters of that party will still vote for the monkey!
Avinesh: Then, how do you knock some sense into these people’s heads?
Wan Saiful: It will take long-term education. It will not happen overnight. I think it will take a few more cycles before people actually think about policies. It is moving to that. I’m not surprised when PAS lost key individuals from the party because the campaign has always been Malay rights and Malay agenda having been sold out by PAS to the people in Pakatan. When that is a campaign and when Malays are returning back with insecure sentiments, of course you will get people not voting for PAS.
Avinesh: How are the liberals like in PAS? People like Khalid Samad, Husam Musa and so on
Wan Saiful: I wouldn't really call them as liberals but I would say they are more progressive. However, PAS is still essentially a conservative party. There were more progressive people in the last few years and they were allowed to stay in that position. The conservatives felt on that premise - let’s test the water. Let’s see if being progressive can lead us to Putrajaya. Now, they have even lost the election and the party will start to think whether to vote them back into the PAS Central Committee. Those who lost, their losses were expected. Some of them participated in ‘suicidal’ constituencies. It’s a risky strategy that didn’t pay off for them. There must have been some miscalculation by PAS when placing the big ones in tough seats.
Avinesh: Tok Guru Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat is getting old. Do you think he is still relevant to PAS?
Wan Saiful: He is still very relevant to PAS. Nik Aziz in PAS is like Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to Pakatan Rakyat. He is the unifying factor. PAS is just another political party. There are factions, there are camps, there are leaders who want to retain the leadership position and there are aspiring leaders jostling for positions in the party. With Nik Aziz there, it keeps everybody together. I suppose the reality is, it’s going to be a tricky position for PAS if Nik Aziz is no longer there. Who will be the unifying figure? The number two in PAS for the Syura council is Datuk Haron Din. He is a divisive figure. He is not seen as the unifying figure. He is more on the conservative side. It’s going to be tricky to find someone to replace him. It’s in the interest of PAS to see Nik Aziz remain for another few years at least.
Avinesh: What’s happening with Datuk Mustafa Ali? Do you think the video is “true”?
Wan Saiful: (Laughs) You see it’s really difficult to say yes or no whether the video is true or not. Mustafa Ali has denied it and the burden of proof is the person accusing him of doing such a thing.
Avinesh: Is he the “scandalous” kind of person?
Wan Saiful: No, he is not! When I was in United Kingdom, he came down to United Kingdom few times and we had interactions whenever we meet. I know him personally and we’ve driven together in the streets of UK. When I came back to Malaysia, I’ve met him a few times. He is not the “scandalous” kind of person. He is a good guy. He is the kind of person who would say things to you the way he sees it. I think the video was an attempt to smear PAS as a whole. The nasty thing about the allegations is - you only need to release the video to the public and the damage is done. This kind of politics really needs to stop. We should be thinking about policies and not about who is having sex with someone else.
Avinesh: How do you want to stop such politics? Some people still resort to such tactics
Wan Saiful: Let’s look at it in a very objective way. The reality is all the videos released attack Pakatan leaders. The way to stop this is to see Barisan leaders come out and say please put a stop to this! Unfortunately what we are seeing is, politicians continue to reap the benefits from these videos. I just wish that these people who talk about transformation and integrity, they should openly come out and condemn this practice! This culture just has to stop.
Avinesh: Why do some people treat politicians like gods?
Wan Saiful: (Laughs) You’re right about this, our society has been treating politicians and leaders as if they are representative of god. We’re very close to worshipping them. I think it should be the other way round. Politicians should be worshipping us. The very least, they owe us their position - We elected them to that position. We even pay their salaries. It’s a very odd situation. Take for example, if you have a house and it has a lawn. You need to potong rumput (cut the grass) and you see a guy cycling and holding a lawn mower. You call him and ask him to cut the grass. You pay the lad, let’s say RM5. You get the man to do the job and pay him some money. You don't go around saying thank you very much and kiss his hands for cutting the grass. You don’t worship this guy. Suddenly, you appoint someone as an MP and he becomes a minister, in principle it is the still same. There is no difference between this minister and lawn mower! The way you treat them is very different. The root of this is the feudalistic nature of our society. We are so used to the idea that the leader has the ultimate right. The reality is, with politicians - it’s different. As actual leaders, you reflect sentiments on the ground. The real leaders in the society are the opinion shapers. In order to win, politicians need to reflect on what the public wants. We don’t seem to realise that. It takes education to change this notion. We need to go out there and say to people - Stop kissing politicians hands. They should be kissing our hands instead! It will take time for this to happen.