PKR vice president Nurul Izzah Anwar must have ended the campaign period wondering: “Where did it go so wrong?” In just the space of a single November week, she found herself fielding what she thought was a fairly innocuous question about freedom of religion at a public forum in Subang Jaya. Seven days later, she was fighting a rear-guard action issuing lawsuits, blaming the media, and was even relying on PAS for protection.
The storm was created by these alleged comments, as quoted by the New Straits Times (and Malaysiakini.com and others): “How can anyone say the freedom of religion only applies to non-Muslims? It has to be applied equally,” she said.
“In the Quran, there is no specific term to Malays as to how it should be done.”
This has been enough to enrage Muslims who accuse her of promoting apostasy. It drew a stinging rebuke from Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria, who told her to “do her homework”, and a “please explain yourself” from the Chairman of the National Fatwa Council Tan Sri Abdul Shukor Husin.
Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad accused her of having been “influenced by Western liberalism” which would be unsurprising considering she was educated at an American university and shares her father’s passion for international travel.
Former Selangor exco and Jati president Datuk Dr Hasan Ali even used the furore to accuse her of supporting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. Despite (vaguely) denying the comments, the floodgates have well and truly opened.
As a result, Nurul Izzah now finds herself desperately in need of friends in high places. Her father really can’t be seen to be bailing out his little girl and regardless, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has a solid track record of becoming tongue-tied in the face of political turmoil.
Nurul Izzah has found allies in some strange places. MIC communication chief S Vell Paari defended her as “one of the few bright sparks in a pitch black room”. The black room, we must assume, is Pakatan Rakyat.
But Nurul Izzah might not be in a hurry to thank him for his intervention. The last thing she needs in a delicate feud about Malays and Islam is a non-Malay and a non-Muslim rushing to her aid.
Her most unlikely supporter however, must surely be PAS. And not just PAS but PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat who described the issue as “unfortunate”. He has been forced to defend her because the alternative nearly lead to Pakatan Rakyat unravelling.
Other members of the PAS leadership zig-zagged across the nation, seeking to quell the issue by telling influential religious and political figures how Nurul Izzah has been misquoted by the evil media. PAS central committee member Dzulkefly Ahmad sought an audience with the Sultan of Selangor while PAS National Unity Bureau chairman Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who was present when the alleged words were spoken, bravely brought the matter to Nik Aziz himself.
Forcing PAS to defend her tested its loyalty to Pakatan Rakyat once again. The Islamist party already struggles to contain its conservative elements who believe it is making too many sacrifices for the sake of Pakatan unity and an increasing number believe it should throw in its lot with nice, safe Muslim Umno. Nurul Izzah’s comments have tested the coalition’s future in more way than she could have imagined.
Adding fuel to the fire, Mujahid and Baru Bian, the figurehead for Pakatan in Sarawak where the Opposition were desperate to make gains at GE13, were both present at the time of the alleged comments.
This brings us back to the woman herself, who one day was part of her father’s dynastic ambitions, but the next appeared desperately seeking protection from Nik Aziz and a phalanx of lawyers.
She found herself having to fight extra hard for her seat in Kuala Lumpur – a seat she famously won from the face of women’s politics in Malaysia, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. Nurul Izzah was supposed to have taken that mantle and made it her own.
Shahrizat was also seen exacting revenge: “Wanita Umno also wants to know the stand taken by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as Nurul Izzah’s father and Opposition leader as well as that of her mother and PKR president Datin Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail over the statement,” she said.
Notice how she brought Wan Azizah into it? This is now an awkward family affair.
Despite Nurul Izzah’s obvious talents, she has proven naïve and looks every bit like a first-term MP. She has been sucked into the Selangor PKR civil war and has developed a knack for making the news for all the wrong reasons. Her incendiary comments didn’t cost Pakatan Rakyat GE13 but, like so many incidents that afflict the opposition coalition, they had voters asking questions about whether the PKR-DAP-PAS collective is simply too broad a body to represent and protect the nation’s dominant religion.
When Nurul Izzah finally finished trying to defuse this issue in the public domain, she no doubt had much apologising to do in private meeting rooms within Pakatan Rakyat.