Inconvenient marriage failing


By Comment
  • Letters
  • Wednesday, 26 Jan 2011

Increasingly the PAS-DAP alliance is fraying because not only are they at opposite ends of the pole but each is having difficulties justifying the other to the bemused electorate.

THE DAP is trapped in the unenviable position of not just supporting but also justifying some of the fundamentalist excesses of its ally PAS.

The party is trying hard and often failing to find a balance between its desire to see more Islam in daily life on one hand and on the other, win the support of non-Muslims without which it can’t rule the country.

It is an old dilemma that has returned to haunt both the DAP and PAS and evident two days into the Tenang by-election where PAS is preaching an Islamic state to Felda settlers but showing a more benign face to urban Chinese voters.

PAS and DAP are also on the defensive explaining why their candidate, former teacher Normala Sudirman, refuses to shake hands with voters and wears gloves.

The DAP is also outdoing itself presenting Normala to Chinese voters in a red coloured cheongsam complete with a red headscarf and decorated with calligraphy in keeping with the Chinese New Year theme.

They distribute leaflets with the word “change” in Mandarin and helped her meet hawkers, patrons and residents in Chinese majority areas like Labis and Tenang town.

While some hawkers and residents are upset and feel insulted that Normala does not shake hands and sometimes wears gloves, others try to be more understanding, saying this has to do with her religion or probably a strict Islamic upbringing.

But the issue has unexpectedly sparked a raging debate both in Tenang and outside and on cyberspace and probably could have an impact on voter sentiment.

Although the DAP and PAS dismiss the issue as “petty” and urged voters to look at the bigger picture, others say the issue is an example of the kind of conservatism that has no place in a moderate and secular society like Malaysia.

Each time Barisan raises the issue of PAS’ conservatism, it puts DAP on the defensive to explain and justify the excesses of its partner.

The list of items DAP has to swallow to keep PAS happy is getting longer by the month – from gender segregation in Kedah to grappling with PAS demands to cancel concerts to wanting to ban the sale of alcohol in Shah Alam and even demands that jawi should be bigger than rumi — romanised Bahasa Malaysia - on signboards.

PAS and DAP were political cats and dogs for a long time but under the deal hatched by PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in 2008, both parties sunk their differences to work together and benefited with the DAP throwing its Chinese weight to PAS and vice-versa.

Many PAS leaders would have been defeated if not for Chinese voter support and likewise many DAP leaders saw their winning majorities hit the roof because of support from PAS members.

But that marriage of convenience, which also hugely benefited the PKR, comes with a price and the cost for DAP is probably the highest becau-se the alliance with PAS catches it like a beached fish struggling for oxygen.

On one hand the DAP defends a secular society but on the other hand it advances PAS goals for greater Islamisation.

The DAP’s strategy to overcome this fundamental contradiction is to proverbially, run with the hare and hunt with the hound.

The DAP lets party chairman Karpal Singh openly and vociferously disagree with PAS and its goals but quietly works with the party allowing both to advance their contrary political aims.

One desires a fair, just and secular society while the other has the same dream but entirely based on Islam.

Nowhere is the fundamental differences between them more evident than in the spate of by-elections that were fought and lost by PAS.

The same contradictions are evident in the latest battle in Tenang where PAS’ fundamentalist rhetoric has easily surfaced in the party’s bitter struggle to win crucial Felda votes and gain a upper hand over Umno.

The party lost the Malay heartland seat of Galas in Kelantan that saw young Malays, put off by PAS’ rigid Islamic rhetoric, and together with urban Chinese, voted for Barisan Nasional.

Similarly in Felda Tenang, PAS openly espoused Islamic theocracy, hudud laws and raised the kafir mengkafir (infidel) issue that had dominated the party’s rhetoric in the 1980s.

Under this now resurrected theme it is a sin for Malays to vote for Umno because of Umno’s co-operation with non-Muslims.

But this PAS claim cannot hold water because of the party’s own cooperation with DAP.

Increasingly the PAS-DAP alliance is fraying because not only are they at opposite ends of the pole but each is having difficulties justifying the other to the bemused electorate.

To the PAS hardcore, Karpal Singh’s constant reminder that Malaysia is secular is a major roadblock while for the DAP the excesses of PAS – from banning concerts, mini-skirts, alcohol to supporting gender segregation and hudud laws – are all increasingly difficult to defend or justify.

No matter how innocent and harmless that refusal by Normala to shake hands, it has sparked a fierce debate.

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