Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sleepless nights for the ulama

Monday June 6, 2011

Sleepless nights for the ulama

The aftermath of the PAS polls saw the ulama in retreat while the Erdogans filled the air with election talk and took pains to reassure the role of the ulama in the party.

PAS ulama Datuk Dr Haron Din was up there onstage among what his party president had described as “our election Cabinet”.

It was a crowded stage yet somehow, he looked quite alone. Dr Haron, renowned both as an Islamic preacher and spiritual healer, had campaigned quite openly in the mainstream media for the ulama in the party polls.

His campaign backfired and the stage was now quite evenly divided between the conservatives and the Erdogans, as the professionals and activists are better known.

Dr Haron looks serene and neatly dressed whatever the situation and it was quite impossible to read what was going through his mind as the party wrapped up its three-day muktamar after an eventful election.

Another leading figure among the conservative ulama, Datuk Harun Taib of Terengganu, was absent. His good friend Datuk Bakar Chik also from Terengganu, said Harun could not make it but did not offer any reason.

The election has been a setback for the conservative ulama clustered around Dr Haron and Harun and it was left to Dr Haron to try to explain his interaction with the mainstream media during the campaign.

He even brought along a copy of Sinar Harian to illustrate his argument.

His speech this year was in stark contrast to the one he made after the 2007 election when he did not hide his disdain of the Erdogans for their audacity in contesting the deputy president’s post.

Yesterday, he did not refer at all to the Erdogans who won – much less the new deputy president Mohamad Sabu. It was very telling of how the conservatives felt about the whole thing.

Nasharudin Mat Isa, who was toppled from his No 2 post, was also not around; he had apparently pleaded a prior engagement.

It was not a good day for the ulama. They had to endure the debaters’ criticism of Utusan Malaysia’s pro-ulama coverage which was an indirect critique of them.

Perhaps the only big ulama figure rejoicing in polls results is the party’s Mursyidul Am Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

He attended the opening of the muktamar and was absent on the second day.

When he turned up briefly yesterday, the ever witty permanent spea-ker Abu Kassim Abdullah teasingly said that the elder man’s presence lent “cahaya and seri” (light and grace) to the gathering.

He had earlier singled out Nik Aziz for not standing up with everyone else to support one of the motions.

Abu Kassim’s wit is unparalleled; he is the only man in the party who can turn boring announcements of how much each division had dona- ted to the party into a laugh-your-head-off session.

He also described a debater with a bushy black beard and bulky turban as, wakil taliban. The man was actually from the Ipoh Barat division.

Nik Aziz had been the key speaker at a ceramah the night before when he gave his personal endorsement to Mohamad – or Mat Sabu – as the new deputy president even though he had endorsed Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man who lost by a mere 21 votes.

As he put it in his classic folksy style: “We are thankful to have a deputy president who is hated by Umno.”

The new No. 2 has been portrayed as a “nightmare” for Umno and who will keep their enemies awake at night.

He has also been lauded as someone who would be able to make PAS more acceptable to the Chinese.

It is quite possible Mat Sabu is also a nightmare for the conservative ulama in his own party, who see this as the next step to a non-ulama vying for the presidency. They are also going to have sleepless nights.

The victors went to great lengths to emphasise their respect, reverence and even love for the ulama.

They stressed that they hoped to work closely with the ulama.

But the difference between the Erdogans and ulama was all too glaring, especially when the new vice-presidents (VPs) and deputy president took to the stage to address the gathering.

The two groups are a world apart in their approach and priorities.

The conservatives are not prepared to compromise their Islamic state goal while the Erdogans do not mind keeping their prime goal on the back-burner for short-term gains.

The Erdogans speak the practical language of politics. They understand the reality of politics and are tuned in to what the party needs to do to achieve its goals.

For instance, new vice-president Datuk Husam Musa said the party had to come up with a winning plan for the general election and all the three wings would have a role to play.

Husam lacks EQ but he is a serious and thinking politician and this came through clearly in his comeback speech. He showed why he deserved to rejoin the ranks of the vice-presidents.

A Malay professional helping out behind the scenes described the polls result as “situation driven”.

He said there was a crucial general election ahead and members were responding to what the party needed to face the polls.

If anything else, the PAS polls shows how hungry the party is to win the general election, so hungry that they are prepared to compromise on their party’s “Leadership by the Ulama” policy.

The results are also a wake-up call for the ulama.

Their place in this party which carries the name of their religion is guaranteed but they cannot assume members will go along with them on everything.

The ulama responded and said they would join the others in the Bersih march scheduled for next month.

Even PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang took the cue and delivered one of his most political ad-journment speeches ever.

Malaysian politics in the last few years has been as unpredictable as Mother Nature and a stupendous thunderstorm began raging outside as Hadi’s speech drew to a close.

Hadi described the torrent as “hujan rahmat” (rain of blessings).

Hopefully, the “hujan rahmat” will also wash away some of the ill-feelings from the contest

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