Mohamad Sabu was always a bit of an odd choice for Deputy President of PAS. A seasoned political infighter on a forced hiatus from electoral politics, a non-ulim, Mat Sabu’s allegiance to the core principles of PAS has never been in doubt. His ability to carefully control how he expresses his opinion is another matter.
Mat Sabu’s current run in the spotlight began when he managed to win the spot of Deputy President against the now-infamous-in-PAS-circles Nasharudin Mat Isa, as part of the massive rebranding PAS launched this summer. His status as a non-ulim was a deliberate image makeover, designed to take a man who neither wears Arabic dress nor a religious chip on his shoulder and put him out front as the face of the party.
This has not been a wildly successful effort.
Mat Sabu first stepped on a landmine by apparently offering, at a ceremah with video phones present, what must have seemed the unremarkable proposition that the Communist insurgents who attacked the Bukit Kepong police station in 1950 were heroes, who stood up against the British and Malaysians of all races who fought them, who were the enemies.
Men, women, and children who were brutally and cravenly slaughtered defending a police station: Imperial lackeys, villains.
Terrorists adhering to one of the most murderous ideologies in world history, who held women and children at gunpoint and executed them in cold blood (or burned them alive): Heroes.
The backlash was only muted because a collective scream of outrage cannot literally shake the heavens. Mat Sabu was the target of something along the lines of 1,000 criminal complaints, a YouTube campaign (which appeared to refute his protestations of innocence), angry denunciations from the families of those slaughtered, and the sound of most of his party taking one giant step back away from him.
Apparently not satisfied with the criminal prosecution launched against him as a result of this faux pas, nor with calling PAS’s basic patriotism into question for the first time in its long history, Mat Sabu went on to echo Nik Aziz’s call for the imposition of hudud law in Malaysia.
The end result appears to be that PAS abandoned its call for hudud law for roughly three months, and appointed a non-ulim with distinctly atypical views of Malaysian history as proof that its leaders say things as queer as PKR’s leaders do daily; and now backs hudud law again, and its loose cannon Deputy President does, too. PAS is now once again the same PAS, except with a multi-point welfare programme plan and a fellow who calls Communist insurgents heroes as its Deputy President.
Still unsatisfied with making his time as the non-threatening face of PAS into a total wash, he led the lawsuit to stop Parliament from considering the Peaceful Assembly Act, a court filing that was tossed by the High Court as “premature, vexatious, frivolous and also an abuse of court process,” likely because it was an attempt to stop Parliament from even contemplating the Act in the first place. It is not clear if PAS will encourage lawsuits against Pakatan if PR wins GE 13, but Mat Sabu has put that question in play, too.
Based on Mat Sabu’s actions alone, Hasan Ali’s quixotic protests begin to seem more comprehensible.
Ultimately, a man who praises Communist insurgents, publicly contradicts the entire stated reason for his election, and attempts to overthrow our constitutional order is probably not fully responsible for his actions. The blame lies with Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who has engineered this entire state of affairs, and whose actions have driven his party to a state of existential crisis. His role in Mat Sabu’s election may be the topper for his achievements in 2011.
As 2012, we can only sit back and wait for Mohamad Sabu’s next verbal barrage. Somewhere, Abdul Hadi is thinking the same thing, with his hands over his eyes and ears.