Few days ago, Muslim group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA) launched a voter awareness campaign “Vote for prestigious Muslims” in Kuala Lumpur. Although the attendance was small, only about 400 people participated, majority of them were young Muslim students, middle class and professionals.
ISMA indicated that it has no political party tendency, but it has launched frequent attacks on DAP and some leaders of Amanah and PKR, it goes without saying that the Muslim group is anti-Pakatan Harapan.
According to ISMA, “prestigious Muslims” must be those who do not indulge in corruption, do not draw in to foreign forces and supports Islamic agenda, this sounds quite close to PAS’ election manifesto.
In contrast to the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) and Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia (IKRAM)’s compatibility with the Islamic agenda, the demands of ISMA are clearly exclusive. It binds Malay and Muslim identities and creates crisis and fence mentality among Malay Muslims. In some cases, it is easier to stir up people’s anxieties than the compatible agenda.
To some extent, ISMA is a combination of PAS’ conservative Islamism and Umno’s Malay nationalism. On one hand it supports the proposed amendments to the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (RUU355), on the other hand it has opposed strongly to the recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC).
ISMA’s appeal has indirectly brought together supporters of PAS and Umno who were already at odds with each other. It has also kept on repeating the notion that “DAP is growing stronger” and “Malay politics is torn apart” in Malay community.
Save political prestige
Members and supporters of ISMA are mostly the emerging middle class and professionals with higher education and living in the urban areas. They are active on social media platforms to promote what they call Malay and Islamic agendas. Perhaps, the uneasiness of the Malays/Muslims has a certain basis for public opinion and not just Umno or PAS’ propaganda. The uneasiness of this group of Malay middle class may be different from that of the rural areas and Felda settlers.
In addition, the urban unease, while highlighted on the issue of religious and ethnic identity, has a bearing on how the emerging Malay middle class will face the challenges of urbanization, modernization and globalization. Instead of responding to these issues in policy, Umno and PAS have resorted to these measures to save their increasingly declining political prestige.
Under such circumstances, I can understand why Pakatan Harapan needs to draw in Mahathir’s power to resist the siege of ISMA, Umno and PAS even though I do not agree with Mahathir’ racism thinking and the PPBM’s Malay priority agenda.
For the same reason, the relatively progressive and compatible Malay elites such as Wan Saiful and Mazri, though much closer to PKR or Amanah in many ideas, chose the PPBM as their political platform.
To avoid losing the votes of the conservative Muslim, Muslim leaders from PKR had taken a compromise position on the RUU 355 issue. Many non-Muslims and the relatively secular Muslims were dissatisfied with the attitude of PKR, but the stance of the party in which it does not reject totally the RUU355 has enabled the party to win the support of moderate, conservative Muslims much easier.
Society facing tearing apart
If we are determined not to compromise in order to promote a progressive agenda of total de-racialization and de-religion, I’m afraid we are inadvertently pushing more Malay Muslims into Umno and PAS. The Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as Ahok)’s failure serves us a very good lesson.
The election campaign carried out by Ahok’s team was too focused on winning votes for non-Muslims and relatively liberal Muslims, ignoring the relatively conservative moderate Islamists. As a result, it was not only his personal political career that had failed, but also the Indonesian society was torn apart.
PH nominated Mahathir as the candidate for prime minister as well as decided to use the PKR logo, this more or less could ease the uneasiness of the Malays, avoiding the notion of “DAP Chinese/Christian seizure of power” from spreading further in Malay Muslim society.
In general, Pakatan Harapan is on the middle line, to include the right and the left, compatible with the secular and Islamic spirit, running in with different opposing forces in a pluralistic society. Such an arrangement, of course, could not meet the demands of everyone, nor would it be able to outline a bolder political imagination. Therefore, if the next general election is to achieve the replacement of the central government, it will be another starting point for the political and social reform movement.