PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat is using the non-Malay voter backlash in the Bagan Pinang by-election to resume his long standing battle with the pro-unity faction in his party.
THE massive defeat that PAS suffered in Bagan Pinang has dramatically brought into the open a dispute among top party leaders that had been simmering since the 2008 tsunami — whether to work with arch-rival Umno to advance the cause of Islam or stay true with their Pakatan allies and work together for moderation.
All races had abandoned PAS in Bagan Pinang and for different reasons but PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat has seized on the non-Malay voter backlash to resume his long standing battle with the pro-unity faction.
Nik Aziz says the defeat in Bagan Pinang is because the pro-unity faction that is headed by president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and his deputy Nasaruddin Mat Isa, had failed to toe the Pakatan’s moderate line.
In a posting on his blog on Thursday, Nik Aziz demanded for a special EGM to let PAS delegates decide whether the pro-unity faction which also includes secretary general Datuk Mustafa Ali, Selangor PAS commissioner Datuk Hasan Ali and others, should all be purged from the party.
He has even proposed the plodding, by-the-book, conservative Kedah PAS commissioner Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak as replacement candidate for the mercurial Abdul Hadi.
“It does not matter if PAS is split,” Nik Aziz said, adding adamantly that PAS must be saved from the “problematic” leaders who want to work with Umno to form a “unity” government behind the backs of the Pakatan allies.
His spectacular outburst and unvarnished criticism and his de-mand for an EGM to weed out “pro-Umno” elements in PAS has sparked a huge controversy in the party with top leaders and State PAS committees taking positions on the issue.
The PAS-linked network of NGOs, websites and blogs are throbbing in upheaval commenting on the EGM issue and the impact of sacking top leaders over party unity.
The party’s huge 1.2 million membership is the backbone of the Pakatan coalition and they worry a major split in PAS would seriously affect Pakatan.
For the ageing Nik Aziz, who is 74, this crisis is probably the biggest battle of his career.
Asking for an EGM to let delegates to decide to axe the party president, his deputy, the secretary general and State PAS commissioners, is no small matter.
However, while Nik Aziz enjoys tremendous prestige, he does not have the power to direct leadership changes. As an appointed member of the Majlis Syura Ulama he can make suggestions but not give orders.
That power is with the party president Abdul Hadi and his appointed secretary general, Mustafa and the party central committee.
Nevertheless, because of Nik Aziz’s personal prestige his wishes are expected to be debated soon by both the Majlis Syura and the larger Dewan Ulama.
He has asked his acolyte, vice-president Salahuddin Ayub, who was the election director in Bagan Pinang, to take the EGM request to the PAS central committee for debate and decision.
PAS insiders said it is unlikely, Nik Aziz’s prestige not-withstanding, that the central committee which is dominated by supporters of Abdul Hadi, would agree to an EGM.
Nik Aziz faces the embarrassing prospect of the party leadership rejecting his request to hold an EGM which would also indicate that his hold on the party is declining.
The “unity government” issue was extensively debated at the PAS Muktamar in Ipoh in 2008 and at the congress in Shah Alam in June this year.
While the rank and file were generally against working with Umno, the pro-unity leaders, who won big in the party elections in June, continue to keep the channels open with the Umno.
Nik Aziz is incensed over this and other issues like the failure of the party to act against Hassan over his independent positions on the beer and Selcat issues in Selangor.
The reason why the pro-unity leaders remain so is that they are pandering to the Malay intelligentsia, who in their writings and speeches at numerous forums are constantly questioning why two Malay and Muslim political parties cannot work together.
Why must they oppose each other, they ask. The same question is asked by the pro-unity faction in PAS.
The Nik Aziz-led faction, however, sees Umno as nationalist and secular, not Islamic and therefore an “enemy” to be avoided — the same argument that saw the ulama faction break away from Umno in 1954 to form PAS.
Nik Aziz frequently uses the 1978 crisis in PAS when it co-operated with Umno and was rewarded with a “stab in the back” as an example why any co-operation with Umno would end in disaster.
Party insiders said his outburst has also got to do with his increasingly vulnerability as political leader.
Nik Aziz has been Kelantan Mentri Besar for 15 years and his critics, in and outside PAS, are criticising him for overstaying and for allegedly not developing the state.
The party too has expanded tremendously and developing into a technology-savvy, globally connected organisation — changes that can make traditional leaders like Nik Aziz uncomfortable.
At the June Muktamar Abdul Hadi had outlined the mission for the party — to lead the national change, to gather the opposition forces, to capture the Federal government and to rule the country in accordance with Islam.
For Abdul Hadi and the pro-unity group in PAS it does not matter if the way to achieve this mission is to work with Umno, albeit temporarily.
Except that one increasingly frail man of tremendous prestige stands in their way.
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