As 2015, an annus horribilis year for Malaysian politics, draws to a close, a year which has seen last but not least, a meeting between Hadi and Najib at the Al-Azhar University Alumni in Kuala Lumpur donning matching ‘lovers shirts’ that would put Korean drama couples to shame, a year that has been packed with the 1MDB scandals of money ‘thrown’ around like confetti i.e. RM2.6 billion to the PM’s account, RM1.83 billion to ‘Najib Golden Boy’ J Low and etc., the conviction of Anwar Ibrahim, the passing of draconian legislations i.e. NSC Act, amendments to the Sedition Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and of course, to save the best for the last, an impending ‘coalition’ between PAS-UMNO all in the name of ‘Malay and Muslim Unity’.
At such dark time for Malaysia, came the visit to London of Parti Amanah Negara (‘PAN’) represented by Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, its Vice President, MP for Kota Raja and Ustaz Hasanuddin Mohd Yunus, its Vice Chair-Person, bringing with them fresh perspectives on the political future of Malaysia and the new opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, and more importantly to promote the party, its policies and ideology.
It was a political discussion that was attended by a small but respectable turnout of 16-20 people, mostly Malay university students with a sliver of non-Malays i.e. me
and a few KPUM friends. Speaking first to the audience was Dr Siti Mariah, a doctor in training and formerly a medical lecturer at the University of Malaya before subsequently accepting an offer by PAS to contest the Kota Raja parliamentary seat during the 2004 General Election (GE). She lost the seat in 2004 but in 2008, won it by a majority of 20,000 on the back of the ‘political tsunami’ and in the 13th GE, retained her seat with one of the biggest majority in the country.
She began by tackling head on the speculations about the progressive group’s resignation from PAS and its formation of PAN saying that “Many have said that we left PAS because we were sore losers who have lost all our position at the last party elections. This could not be further from the truth. We left because our opinions and views on Islam with the party leadership were diverging and have been diverging for a long time”.
Ustaz Hasanuddin Mohd Yunus is currently the vice chair-person of PAN and the former Deputy President of IKRAM, a moderate Muslim NGO non-aligned with traditional political parties. His message to the audience is that PAN wants to promote an inclusive, moderate and progressive Islam that is more than just a matter of rituals, prayers, scriptures and dressings whilst at the same time tolerant and accommodating to other non-Islamic faiths. This is radically different from the political Islam that is brought by UMNO and PAS.
Where the differences between PAN and PAS exist, it has manifested and coincided clearly within the impracticalities of implementing Hudud laws. The speakers stated that PAN unlike PAS argues primarily that the neglect of the main issues of the day in Malaysia such as corruption, abuse of power, cronyism, injustice, and inequalities have yet to be tackled. These are deemed ‘major sins’ in Islam which should first and foremost be prioritized and tackled.
This leads to the panellists’ next point that if the policies and provisions of Syariah laws by their inability to tackle these issues are not just and fair to all, the impracticalities of enforcing these laws through the punishment concepts of Hudud cannot follow because it will be perpetuating further injustices that Islam condemns.
Questioned by the moderator on their views about separating religion from the state akin to most Western democracies, both speakers agreed that democracy is the foundation for any constitutional government but are deeply uncomfortable about governance and policies that are separate from religion because as a Muslim, Islam is a way of life which ordains and regulates a Muslim from cradle to grave.
However, Dr Siti Mariah interestingly pointed out that this does not mean that as a Muslim, she will tolerate discriminations and injustices where this necessarily leads to the indignity of others. For example, on homosexuality, as a Muslim, she has to condemn it but this does not mean she has to rob them of their fundamental rights and dignity to live in an Islamic society. Both speakers also touched on JAKIM’s policing powers to ‘snoop’ into hotel rooms and drinking bars catching unmarried Muslim couples and criticized it as an invasion of privacy that gives an impression that Muslims are weak in their faith when trust and belief in Allah are paramount in Islamic teachings.
This to me are viewpoints espoused that marry John Stuart Mills’s classic liberalism with Islamic principles and reinforces that PAN and PAS are not merely disagreeing in semantics but instead represent different interpretative spectrums on the role of Islam.
The panellists with regard to PAN’s role in the new opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, mentioned that there will be an agreement between the 3 parties setting out and formalizing their roles in the new coalition that will take place at a Pakatan Harapan convention slated for next year.
Dr Siti Mariah in response to a question from the floor about whether PAN will be a 3-corner spoiler in all UMNO and PAS seats said that they will only contest in seats where they have analysed to have a good chance of winning such as in urban seats like Kota Raja (her own seat). This she hope can be achieved with some form of pact or agreement made with PAS before the 14th GE.
Interestingly, Dr Siti Mariah disclosed that PAN is targeting 60% of youth and university students for its membership base which is quite a novelty given that political parties are traditionally founded on working or professional classes.
This event although lacking a big turnout due perhaps to the onset of long Christmas break in the UK, nevertheless was enlightening and interesting in that some of the points made from Zaid Ibrahim’s book ‘Assalamulaikum’ on the growing Arabization and Islamization of the Malays were addressed indirectly by both panellist.
The audio recording will be posted up on Youtube after the New Year by the Malaysian Progressive United Kingdom (MPUK) or so I am told.