Keraton0090Solo TripHusam is ready to lock UMNO out for good

KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 — A bitter battle for PAS No.2 post is shaping up between a leader of a faction which wants the party to become more receptive to non-Muslims, and the incumbent whose group favours working with Umno.

Party president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang retained his post unchallenged, but the deputy presidency will see a tussle between incumbent Nasharuddin Mat Isa, who has held talks with Umno in the past, and vice-presidents Datuk Husam Musa and Mohamad Sabu, who are against Umno and support closer ties with opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Touted as the battle between the progressive Erdogans, and the pro-Umno conservative clerics, this year’s internal polls will be closely watched to see which side will emerge the victor. The pro- Anwar faction is called the Erdogans, a reference to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is a friend of Datuk Seri Anwar.

Although there are three contenders for the post, the fight is said to be really between the leader of the Erdogans, Husam, and Nasharuddin.

The outspoken Mohamad Sabu, while popular among the grassroots, is an unlikely winner as he is seen to lack leadership qualities.

Yesterday, Husam vowed to end any cooperation with Umno if he won.

“It is time for PAS to try and replace Umno as the country’s main political party and this can be done only with PAS being a rival to Umno and not its friend in any shape,” he told reporters.

“Umno’s sins in our country’s politics are too many, and change…cannot be done through any form of cooperation between us and Umno, except for a total replacement.”

Husam cited Indonesia’s Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) as an example of what could happen to PAS.

“PKS suffered a drop in support in Indonesia’s elections as a result of PKS reaching out to the family of Suharto and to Golkar, seen by voters as a signal that it was not going to undertake extensive political change,” he warned.

Party insiders said that many within PAS are against the idea of the party rejoining Umno, as it would serve only to boost the ailing Barisan Nasional which has seen its support dwindling since the general election last March.

They said senior members will remember that PAS joined Umno in 1974, only to be expelled in 1977 amid an internal leadership crisis.

But at the same time, some PAS members are said to be uneasy with coalition partner Democratic Action Party’s stance on the Islamic party’s religious agenda, and with Anwar’s ongoing sodomy trial. They would be open to the idea of working with Umno to champion Malay rights.

Husam’s bid is also seen as controversial because some conservative leaders have recently said that the top two posts must be held by religious clerics.

Husam, who is an economist by training, is seen as progressive and not possessing the religious clout that a PAS leader should have. But some insiders refute this, pointing out that his father was a cleric and that he was trained by Hadi when he first joined the party.

In any case, observers note that it could be an uphill battle for Husam.

With a three-cornered fight, votes against Nasharuddin will be split, resulting in a likely win for the incumbent. Nasharuddin, a Jordan and British- trained academic, is said to have gained the most number of nominations for the post from party divisions.

To add to his difficulties, Husam has been facing what his supporters call a smear campaign from those who back pro-Umno talks, since the party’s divisions began meeting last month. He also faces vote-buying accusations, which supporters said were trumped-up.

This year’s contest will be closely watched by PAS’ non-Muslim partners as an indication of the direction the party will take from here on. — The Straits Times

Husam Vows No Cooperation With UMNO

KUALA LUMPUR, May 25 – An influential figure from Malaysia’s Islamist opposition who is running for a top party post vowed on Monday to distance his party from the country’s ruling coalition.

Husam Musa, vice president of the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), is to run as deputy president of the party in elections early next month, in what has been billed as a battle between reformers and conservatives in the religious party.

Victory for Husam, 49, could thwart attempts by the main ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), to woo PAS away from the three-party opposition headed by Anwar Ibrahim.

“Umno’s sins in our country’s politics are too many, and change for them cannot be done through any form of cooperation between us and Umno, except for a total replacement,” Husam told reporters after announcing his bid for the post.

Umno is the lead party in the National Front coalition that has ruled Malaysia for 51 years, but which suffered an unprecedented setback in national and state elections in 2008.

Many in Umno had been banking on a pact with PAS to bolster the Front and prevent Anwar’s People’s Alliance from winning power in elections due by 2013.

Victory for Husam and the reformers, who model themselves on ruling Turkish AK Party and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist movement that successfully won power at the ballot box, would narrow options for Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib, who assumed office in early April, has struggled to manage a botched takeover of an opposition-run state while trying to turn around the ailing coalition and steer the country away from a recession.

PAS holds 24 out of 222 seats in parliament and claims to be the second-largest party in the country next to Umno in terms of mass membership.

Umno and PAS are the main players representing the country’s majority Malay Muslims, who make up 55 per cent of the Southeast Asian nation’s 27 million population, and who are the key segment in any general election.

A highly conservative Islamic party that wants an Islamic state, PAS had never managed to broaden its appeal beyond its rural Malay strongholds until 2005.

That changed when a group of urbane PAS leaders supportive of Anwar and led by Husam, a trained economist, won key posts in the party on promises to project a more moderate image.

Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, initiated talks with PAS leaders after the 2008 polls to form a pact that would have strengthened the National Front. News of the talks leaked, stoking arguments in PAS between those suspicious of Anwar and others opposed to working with Umno.

Husam said Indonesia’s Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which suffered a slide in popularity in last month’s general elections, was an example of what could happen to PAS if the cooperation issue was not settled.

“PKS suffered a drop in support in Indonesia’s election as a result of PKS reaching out to the family of Suharto and to Golkar, seen by voters as a signal that it was not going to undertake extensive political change,” Husam said.

“Anyone who is too liberal towards Umno is therefore unacceptable. PAS’ role is to be centrist, not to protect Umno,” he said. – Reuters