This morning, and every morning, the average PAS member wakes up to find that Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang is still his party’s leader, and may wonder what he did to deserve this state of affairs.
To say that this has been a bit of a rough year for PAS is such an understatement that it is hard to convey properly. While Abdul Hadi does not deserve all of the credit for the actions that made party schisms inevitable, he is undeniably responsible for much of it. After all, he is supposed to be in charge.
Abdul Hadi is an impressive fellow, not least because his resume is the thinnest of all of Pakatan Rakyat’s party leaders. Where Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng, Karpal Singh, and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have, each in their own way, at least put together a great list of accomplishments, Abdul Hadi’s greatest accomplishment is rising as high as he has on so little. While there is a real achievement in this, the events of the last several months have shown why a weightier resume is useful for the head of a major party.
The existential crisis PAS faces started with the decision to adopt the Negara Berkebajikan concept over the summer. What Abdul Hadi was thinking at the time is unclear, but the decision to relaunch his political party as the Islamic equivalent of DAP may go down as one of the more risky moves of the run-up to GE13. In one fell swoop, he managed to drive the large body of hardliners in his party into open revolt (hence the ongoing saga of Datuk Hasan Ali) and, as a result of the entirely-foreseeable backlash, galvanise his coalition-mates against his party, thereby re-opening the wounds that drove DAP and PAS apart a decade ago. His initial attempts to smooth over the Hasan imbroglio were as successful as his launch of the welfare state concept, and so now he is back to open war with his rogue party members.
The real testament to Abdul Hadi’s skills is that this ongoing episode of profound political malpractice has led to calls from almost every wing of the party for the expulsion of almost every prominent member of PAS except for Abdul Hadi.
While his motivations remain unclear — whether he truly believes that PAS’s vision of the Islamic state is identical to a welfare state, he wanted to come into line with DAP and PKR, or some other reason — the real mystery is why the rest of the PAS leadership allows him to hold any meaningful power. The PAS vision of Islam has never been terribly popular with most of the Rakyat (which prefers a cerebral, tolerant observance to an unthinking, brutal one), but PAS always had a core group of followers, a definite vision for Malaysia, and a place in our political spectrum.
Now, its place, its vision, its core supporters, and its very purpose are in doubt. While there is always value in transformation, reform, and renewal — themes Prime Minister Najib has made the centerpiece of his leadership of Umno and the nation — and there is additional value for a party that has never been able to command even a plurality of the Rakyat, the time to do this is most definitely not with a general election just around the corner. Now, every Malaysian even remotely inclined to vote PAS must wonder what PAS stands for. Does it still want hudud law? Is the welfare state concept mere camouflage? Does PAS even have a clear goal any longer, or is it merely a willing accomplice to DAP’s and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s ambitions?
That PAS has reached this point should be a blaring klaxon to its leadership, a warning that Dato’ Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and those who have set out this course of action should get their act together or hand over leadership of PAS to others before GE13 is called. That this is not happening today is a sure sign of the risks, borne of an identity crisis, that PAS now faces in the upcoming general election.