PAS on the path to power?

May 19, 2012 by Dr. Farish A. Noor

 PAS on the path to power?

How will the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party adjust to the

realities of governance on the Federal level.

Discussion with Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad.


II. PAS on the road to Power?: A Discussion with Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.

With a view to anticipating the concerns and questions that are bound to arise at the next General election, we took the opportunity to discuss some of the pressing issues in Malaysian politics today with Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad of PAS; during a joint discussion forum on ‘Liberty and Democracy’ organised by the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) at the International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC) in Kuala Lumpur on 24 July 2011. Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad received his doctorate in toxicology (the study of the effects of chemicals on living organisms) from Imperial College, London and rose to become one of the heads of the PAS research and analysis bureau. At the elections of March 2008 he won his seat in Selangor and has since served as a PAS Parliamentarian, as part of the ruling PR coalition state government of Selangor. The discussion below took place during the dialogue session organised by the IRF:


Q. The question of whether political Islam is compatible with democracy and liberty is, in my opinion, a question that is intended to establish the subject-position of the enunciator and respondent. One might as well ask if Socialism is compatible with democracy etc., and this doesn’t really get us very far. I suppose what people are really interested in knowing now – with the Malaysian elections looming over the horizon – is what sort of government are we to expect if PAS does come to power as part of a Pakatan Rakyat government? How will PAS adjust to power after being out of power – on the Federal level – for more than half a century?

Dr. Dzul: ‘The kind of modality you are asking me to describe is difficult for me to give at the moment, for as you note, we have never come to power on the Federal government level. Yes, I understand the concerns of scholars and even the public when they ask: what will PAS do when it comes to power? Will you legislate this law, that law? Will you ban this, ban that? But please excuse me if I say that these questions are unfair.

For a start, I ask you to look at our (PAS’s) record of governance in Kelantan, where we have been in power for more than 20 years. Despite the fact that Kelantan is overwhelmingly Malay-Muslim, we have never legislated any laws that were contrary to the needs and interests of the non-Muslim community. As you know, there is religious freedom in Kelantan and that has never been the issue. And beyond Kelantan, please look at our record recently since 2008 in Kedah and Selangor too. Note that even when the ‘Allah’ word controversy came up, PAS took the stand that it was perfectly all right for Bumiputera Christians to use the word ‘Allah’ in the Bahasa Malaysia bibles.[1] We took this stand not to win votes, because it actually cost us some Malay-Muslim support. But we took this stand because it was the correct Islamic stand to take, for as you know nowhere in Islam does it say that the word Allah can only be used by Muslims. Our adversaries in UMNO even condemned us for ‘betraying Islam’, but we did not budge and we have not budged until now, because that is the correct stand to take.

But PAS is pragmatic and realistic. As you noted, we are now poised to – perhaps – come to power, but in such a situation it would be in a three-party Pakatan Rakyat coalition. That is the first check-and-balance itself, for it means that whatever stand we take, it has to be agreed with the other two parties as well.

Secondly, it would be political suicide for PAS to think we can come to power as a national party alone. It cannot, and will not happen. Malaysia is a plural country with a Muslim- non-Muslim ratio of 60:40. There is no way that PAS can win power without non-Malay and non-Muslim support. So our view of the Malaysian state and society has to be a nuanced one too. We (PAS) are not asking for much from the electorate: just give us a chance – as part of the Pakatan Rakyat PR – and let us show that we can govern better, better for everyone.’


Q. Well on that note, how does PAS see the state as an institution or instrument then? I ask this because how political parties view the state and society invariably determines how they use the state and treat society as well. For instance, if you see society as a ‘garden’, then perhaps the state will be used to tend that garden and let it grow. But if you see society as a ‘wilderness’, then perhaps there will be the temptation to use the state to ‘domesticate’, control or even police that wilderness. So how do the ideologues of PAS see the state?

Dr. Dzul: ‘Well, we are not deconstructivists for a start. By this I mean that we do not seek to simply deconstruct the state and re-assemble it in our image. I say there because I know that there is always the fear that whenever Islamists come to power, they will simply dismantle everything about the state and reconstruct it to make it Islamically-compliant. For the reasons I’ve stated earlier (above), this cannot be done. Remember: PAS cannot come to power alone, but only as part of a coalition. And remember that PAS will only contest around 60-64 seats, and even if it were to win all of them it would still not be enough to win power and govern alone. That cannot happen, we must work as part of the PR coalition. Even then any reform measures we introduce will have to take into account the plural nature of Malaysian society.’