Monday, October 3, 2016

PAS president Abdul Hadi new imperatives of strength with Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan

The Malaysian  structure of politics remains intact, there has been a sea change in the culture of politics as it is practiced on the ground. Every element in the mix has grown a little murkier, the interests of each having got intertwined, and politics has become an entrenched system that is highly resistant to challenge. The language of politics too has coarsened significantly, and there is a lot of anger going around, resulting in political choices that seemed to be very unlikely just a few years back. Social media, by giving voice to the millions who were earlier forced only to listen, has deepened democratic participation while simultaneously enabling a shallower political discourse.
There is a sense of sure-footed precision around the “surgical strikes” carried out by PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang as has been widely commented upon, his action has changed the dynamic of PAS-UMNO conflicts in a fundamental way.PAS’s actions might be clear and well executed, but what of the other players that have played a role? As far the larger public goes, it is not difficult to understand that there is a huge amount of pent-up anger that lies stored, waiting to be unleashed.
When the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department  Azalina Othman Said stood up in Parliament after lunch to move a minister’s motion to give priority to Hadi’s Private Member Bill motion on hudud, she was not doing Hadi’s bidding but carrying out Najib’s directive.

Although PAS leaders are gloating at their political “coup” to get Hadi’s hudud motion presented to the House, it came to nought, for Hadi backed off from a debate and a vote, and the result is that Parliament had not given leave to Hadi to present a private member’s bill to amend Act 355 to amend the syariah court’s jurisdiction.

Going forward, it is possible that by appearing to walk the talk in terms of showing a new determination to change the dynamic of PAS-UMNO relations, some of the frustration will begin to subside. The truly strong do not need to make exaggerated threats all the time, and once there is a greater conviction in one’s proclaimed strength, it is possible that the anger quietens into a deeper sense of confidence. Restraint then becomes a choice one makes rather than being seen as an excuse for one’s perceived inability to act with strength.the most worrying has been that of media. When a powerful tool like that is used so single-mindedly, without even the slightest pretence of objectivity, and a total absence of accountability, there is the great danger of being led into a path with tragic consequences. What a significant section of media is doing today is to amplify the anxieties of its audiences and deliberately whip up sentiment, and it is doing so for largely for a commercial purpose.

On the other hand, the hysterical form of nationalism that we see today could feed on itself and become a phenomenon that could turn ominously dark. After all, one surgical strike is merely the beginning of a new chapter of non Muslim hostilities. What happens when another incursion takes place? And what when there is from the non Muslims ? What kind of a response becomes mandatory then? The nuclear threshold might have been pushed upwards by the PAS action, but it is very much part of the equation going forward. To be pushed into taking police action against PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang for saying Only Islam can rule, because of public sentiment is a frightening prospect.

It is important now to recognize that the  PAS-UMNO’s action has also fundamentally changed its own threshold of responsibility. Earlier, the Malay-Muslim reaction could be as intemperate as it liked, for words were a substitute for action. Nothing really changed on the ground, so it did not really matter what was said. Fantasies of revenge could be framed in whatever terms that seemed politically advantageous. After this action and the very public owning of it, the umno relationship with PAS has been recalibrated in a way that it has become much more sensitive to any new input. There are not many more intermediate steps available between where we are today and outright war. The government needs to protect itself from its own support base and from the urgings of a hyper-nationalistic media and give itself the room that it needs to take action on its own terms and in the nation’s long-term interests. Statements like the ones being made by Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor  might have been fine earlier, but today when of PAS president crows about being ‘in a state of coma’ after the  split the consequences of such casual uttering can be severe. The narrative from the PAS side needs to be much more tightly controlled, for now, what it says and does will be taken much more seriously.
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