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Mahathir goes all out to remove thorn in his side
By David Chew
28/8/2001 8:11 pm Tue
Mahathir goes all out to remove thorn in his side
By DAVID CHEW
SINGAPORE -- After months of futile attempts at various kinds of
measures, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad may have
hit upon the right combination to effectively deal with a formidable
political opponent -- the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic
His National Front (NF) coalition government has not only banned
political rallies, called ceramahs, but also detained several young
PAS leaders under the country's Internal Security Act (ISA), which
allows detention without trial for at least 60 days. The detainees
were accused of being part of an overseas Islamic militant
Mahathir's objective against PAS is quite clear in the
government's latest moves. First, by banning political rallies, he is
denying PAS valuable access to the people. The opposition party
has been highly successful not only in criticizing the coalition's
policies, but also in collecting donations from the massive crowds
that flock to its rallies. By accusing the young PAS leaders, including the son of a PAS
chief minister, that they form the Malaysian chapter of the Afghan
Mujahideen movement, Mahathir is implicating PAS in Islamic
militancy and perhaps justify any possible military crackdown of
the party at the appropriate time in future.
By accusing the young PAS leaders, including the son of a PAS chief minister, that they form the Malaysian chapter of the Afghan Mujahideen movement, Mahathir is implicating PAS in Islamic militancy and perhaps justify any possible military crackdown of the party at the appropriate time in future.
Analysts monitoring the fierce rivalry between PAS and Mahathir's
United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the backbone of
the NF, say that should PAS be politically destroyed, Mahathir
and UMNO would escape the fate of many Asian political leaders
and their parties.
If all goes well, Mahathir, the longest-serving Asian leader today,
won't go the way of former Indonesian Presidents Suharto and
Abdurrahman Wahid and former Philippine Presidents Ferdinand
Marcos and Joseph Estrada. Neither would UMNO have to
relinquish power like Taiwan's Kuomintang Party or be swept away
from power through democratic tides as the previous regimes in
Mahathir had in fact tried out various ways to meet the challenge
of PAS, ranging from accommodation to liquidation, but those
failed. In an attempt at accommodation, Mahathir dwelt on the theme of
"Malay unity" within multiracial Malaysia.
In an attempt at accommodation, Mahathir dwelt on the theme of "Malay unity" within multiracial Malaysia.He warned Malays that failure to unite would weaken their rights in relation to the large non-Muslim Chinese and Indian minorities. But PAS, at first appearing to agree with the premier, frustrated the initiative by imposing tough conditions, such as a demand that the NF federal government restore oil royalties to the PAS-controlled state government of Trengganu. For UMNO, that would have been politically impossible.
To score points among the Chinese -- many of whom silently
resented UMNO's "Malay unity" program because they saw it as a
move to further erode their already weakened position -- PAS
asserted that in view of Malaysia's multiracial nature, the subject
of unity should be expanded to cover "Malaysian unity." But
UMNO could not agree and the dialogue died a natural death.
In another apparent strategy to subdue the PAS, UMNO sought
the separation of religion from politics by introducing amendments
to certain laws to make PAS drop the word "Islam" from its name.
The suggestion stirred a hornet's nest, with PAS leaders protesting
vehemently that it would destroy the party's identity. In the end,
the country's religious council ruled that PAS could retain Islam in
its name provided this was not to be used in preaching hatred.
Mahathir's recent moves to ban political rallies and detain PAS
leaders under the security act appears to have hit PAS hard. Party
leaders lament that the ban on political rallies has restricted their
access to the people, denying their right to expose the misdeeds
of the government.
They are also worried, as pointed out by PAS central committee
member, Dr. Hatta Ramli, that the detentions would implicate the
party as a whole in international Islamic militancy, which could
justify a possible military crackdown on the party in the name of
"preserving national security."
The two measures were potentially fatal for the theocratic party,
which had over the years transformed itself from a parochial
religious party to a party not only with nationalist ideals and
capable of attracting non-Muslims, but also one with with
Today, PAS with, 27 members of Parliament, is the largest
opposition party and controls two state governments -- Kelantan
and Trengganu. PAS has also made significant inroads into
UMNO's traditional strongholds in several states like Kedah,
Perlis, Pahang, Selangor and Perak.
PAS leads an Alternative Front, a broad-based multiparty
coalition along the lines of the NF. Its partners are the
Chinese-based Democratic Action Party, the Keadilan and the
Peoples Party of Malaysia.
PAS has given definite notice that it wants to take over the federal
government in the next general election which must be held by
2003, but it realizes that to be able to capture power and rule, it
needs the help of the non-Muslims.
Mahathir's moves in banning political rallies and detaining PAS
leaders may have put put the brakes on the party, but the battle is
far from being won.
PAS Secretary General Nasharuddin Mat Isa in a recent interview
said that PAS would defy the ban on political rallies at all costs.
Nasharuddin and other top PAS leaders continue to address PAS
rallies in various parts of the country almost every night, where
they lambaste Mahathir and the government for their cronyism,
corruption and nepotism.
While dwelling on the harsh aspects of the ISA, PAS also
reiterated its peaceful political struggle through democratic means
and claimed that the detentions were a frameup. The government
has yet to respond to PAS' challenge because police
investigations into the activities of the detained leaders are still
ongoing, UMNO leaders say.
In a way, Mahathir and UMNO have been responsible for the
formidable success of PAS. Since the 1969 racial riots, UMNO
succeeded in neutralizing the political challenge posed by the
Chinese and marginalizing them by enhancing the position of Islam
which became inseparable from Malay special rights. That gave
PAS a niche which it has cleverly exploited to become what it is
The Japan Times: Aug. 24, 2001