Laman Webantu   KM2A1: 5338 File Size: 10.2 Kb *

Islam Online: The War Mahathir Can't Lose
By Iqbal Ragataf

30/8/2001 6:18 pm Thu

The War Mahathir Can't Lose

By Iqbal Ragataf
Islam Online


Mahathir Mohamad (known simply as Mahathir), Malaysia's prime minister for the past 20 years, is waging a war he can't afford to lose against the Islamic party of Malaysia (PAS). In recent months, the Malaysian government has curbed its opponent's activities, leaving it little space for expression and limiting its spheres of influence.

It has also raised the specter of "Islamic extremism and militancy" in Malaysia, linking charges directly to the PAS.

The PAS is also facing a difficult situation within the opposition alliance, the Alternative Front (AF), where its Chinese partner is aiding Mahathir in his battle against the implementation of an Islamic government in Malaysia. The AF is composed of the PAS, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Keadilan Nasional (NJP) and the Party Rakyat Malaysia (PRM).

How far will Mahathir go in this frontal war of which the finality might be the possible banishing of the PAS from politics, or its unsoldering from the heart of the Malay-Muslims majority? The Malaysian premier is deadly serious, and when he carts out the mantle of a witch-hunt, he does so to achieve fixed aims. In the present situation he is fighting the ultimate battle; to prevent the growing influence of "Islamic fundamentalism" and possibly "extremism" in Malaysia's pluri-cultural society.

Mahathir has built a society where religion is not the center point. His system revolves around limited democracy, tight press controls, repression against demonstrators, a divide and rule policy against the opposition and ensuring his authoritarian regime - a lifetime warranty to stay in power. However, the system is falling apart, and its fate is now linked to the PAS's growing influence and the jailing of Mahathir's most vocal opponent, Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir's former protégé is behind bars for 15 years and will be out of politics for more than 20.

Nevertheless, the most lethal enemy for the longest surviving leader in Southeast Asia is the PAS. The growth of the Islam-based party has been consistent. The PAS was, even before the advent of Mahathir as premier, in power in two Malay majority states, Kelantan and Terengganu in northern Malaysia, in the 1970s. The National Front (NF) un-bolted the PAS from both states in the '70s by dividing the party's leadership, and arresting some leaders under the country's ISA (Internal Security Act) provisions. Those arrested were accused of plotting to overthrow the regime. The dismemberment of the PAS allowed the NF to control the state of Terengganu until 1999, a fatal year.

Anwar Ibrahim's jailing in 1998 was, ironically, a much-awaited boost for the PAS, which profited from the resulting division among Malays, doubling its parliamentary seats, winning an additional state - the oil rich Terengganu - and to the dismay of Mahathir, maintained its control of Kelantan. The PAS's great showing now serves as the catalyst to destroy the opposition front as Mahathir portrays the PAS as a threat to secular society.

The ghost of Islamic activism

Last year, Mahathir tried to link the Al Ma'unah, a martial arts group that staged an arms heist, to the PAS. Mahathir's timid attempt was met with mild resistance from the PAS. The party did not outrightly condemn Al Ma'unah for the alleged killing of two non-Muslim special branch (intelligence) officers held hostage during a resulting stand off with the army. The ghost of an alleged Islamic activism was glossed over.

Brandishing the ISA, Mahathir, hidden behind new Home Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, planned the arrest of several opposition figures belonging to the NJP and PAS, including student leaders and local bandits tagged as "Mujahidin" (soldiers fighting in the name of Islam).

Arrested NJP members, including the popular Mohamad Ezam Noor, alongside the "bandits", will be joined soon by PAS members in detention for two years in Kamunting, a once dreaded para-military camp where prisoners of conscience are served brainwashing and government propaganda as food for thought. But the Kamunting detainees seem un-breakable, and seem as if they are not bending to the government, forcing Mahathir to maneuver to split the AF and breakdown the PAS.

Mahathir is kicking back and enjoying the quarrel between the PAS and DAP, which urges the Muslim party to abandon its Islamic agenda or leave the AF. Whose mysterious hands are behind the DAP's anti-Islam stance? If it were Mahathir's, then it would be clear that the latter has again succeeded in dividing the opposition.

Or is it that of the leaders of the Chinese community who are trying to rid the AF of Islamic state issues in order to help it topple Mahathir in 2004? If Chinese leaders are behind the DAP, Mahathir may then have lost the support of 25% of the population. Is his party thus heading for total annihilation in 2004? If this were the case, it would then explain the current persistence over "Islamic extremism" in Malaysia. There are no other explanations to the current PAS-DAP squabble.

Special Chinese advisors

Mahathir is supportive of his Chinese partners in the NF in their move to contain the anger of an exasperated Chinese community. First, he supported the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the largest Chinese political party in Malaysia, in its bid to takeover the popular and free Chinese dailies, the Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press. They were the only non-government controlled media, free to report extensively on the opposition, and might have been of crucial assistance in the opposition's victory in the Lunas by-election last year.

The premier also proceeded with the setting-up of a special desk in his offices at the Putra Jaya administrative center, nominating two Chinese advisors to handle matters related to the Chinese community. They are to negotiate with Chinese leaders and direct the PM on Chinese policies. Would the Chinese community follow the guidelines set up by the PM's office and forgive the PM for his attacks against the community in the course of the past two years. Do they believe in the "Islamic extremism" threats as perceived by Mahathir?

Is the mujahidin threat real or fabricated? Whether the Malaysian government crafted this story, or whether the threat of Islamic extremism is real, is of relevance only to Mahathir's political survival. The battle against the PAS is vital for the NF in order for it to keep the Chinese community's support, no matter what Mahathir might have done to outrage them since 1999.

Malaysians in general believe there has never been any sign of threats from "Islamic militancy" in the country, even though it is commonly known that some locals have indeed gotten themselves involved in "jihad" (holy struggle) activities around the world. Its no secret in Malaysia that the government practices an open policy allowing foreign mujahidin's to reside in the country under U.N. supervision. It is also known that in the past, the Malaysian government has opened its doors to Islamic activists exiled from Indonesia, India, Thailand and even Africa or Europe.

Recent attacks on Anwar Ibrahim, revealing his "militant" past and criticizing his setting up of Islam-based organizations in Malaysia, which include the Islamic banking system and the Muslim Youth Organization of Malaysia (ABIM), is also part of an astute scenario put in place by numerous government advisors.


It is clear that in the aftershock of a cleansing exercise against "minuscule" mujahidin groups, the international community may find it plausible to state that Malaysia is a terrorist center in Asia. However, Mahathir, the most powerful man in Malaysia, seems confident he will win the hearts of the international community and earn credit for "crushing Islamic extremism" in Malaysia.

The United Malay National Organization (UMNO) and the NF are in need of a lifeline to keep hopes alive for further terms in power, and Mahathir is laying down the foundations for a continued dominance in politics. Yet these policies are dividing the country further. Malaysia is a country with a population of 25 million, 60% of whom are Muslims of Malay, Indian and other backgrounds. This figure alone portends serious trouble for the NF in the near future.

The UMNO, rigged by money politics and a certain absence of grassroots leadership, has penetrated university campuses in the hopes of roping in teenage girls to join the newly launched UMNO Puteri (teenage wing). Malaysia's campuses are the bastions of the reformasi (reform) and Islamic movements in the country. The UMNO, deserted by the Malay masses, has left it to Mahathir to bring Malays back to the party fold. Failing to do so has prompted him to adopt a much harsher approach in his dealings with the "fundamentalist" PAS.

The latest in the government's attacks against the party are claims that the PAS has a negative influence on Muslims, dividing them and forcing them to go astray. The UMNO has started an unforgiving battle to win over PAS-influenced mosques, using the government's enormous machinery at its disposal. The PAS, for its part, denies the allegations made against it, and at the same time, accuses Mahathir of political Machiavelism.

Overall, while Mahathir is busy accommodating his Chinese partners, he is alienating Malays, who are running to the PAS for political salvation. Mahathir will have to deliver stronger blows to the PAS if he intends to win this political war. If he loses, Mahathir's entire political struggle will have fallen into the doldrums of history.