Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Below is an analysis by Joceline Tan from The Star on the recent unity talk between Umno and Pas and the internal politics within Pas.

Wednesday June 24, 2009
United again – or so it seems for now
Analysis by JOCELINE TAN

PAS has gone into damage control mode after burying the issue of unity talks with Umno but deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa, a key figure behind the talks, will find himself struggling to recover his image.

MISSION Impossible accomplished – that was how PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayob described the conclusion of a special meeting of the party’s top brass to bury the issue of holding unity government talks with Umno. Party leaders called it a perjumpaan ukhuwah or a meeting of the brotherhood.

Even Datuk Harun Taib, the head of the party’s ulama wing, admitted it was the first time in his life that he had attended such a meeting.

Then again, it is not often that PAS is confronted with an issue so contentious that had top leaders going for each others’ throats.

The brotherhood meeting, a sort of smoking the peace pipe session, and party leaders agreed to put the issue to rest in line with the stand taken by its Pakatan Rakyat partners.

Supreme Leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, who initiated and chaired the meeting, read out a brief statement and deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa then kissed the elder man’s hand.

Many saw it as Nasharudin seeking forgiveness from Nik Aziz and the elder man granting it by retracting his angry statement against the younger man.

It was a significant gesture because just days ago, Nik Aziz had angrily told Nasharudin to quit PAS since he was so keen on talking unity with Umno. It was equivalent to a public caning.

Nasharudin was also allowed to explain himself at the meeting although he, more or less, repeated what he said during his winding-up speech at the party muktamar earlier this month.

“It was a fruitful meeting. There will be no more talking about a unity government after this,” said Salahuddin, one of those at the meeting.

The party is in damage control mode. One could say that the brotherhood meeting was an urgent exercise in political expediency.

The unity government issue not only caused a rift in the party but had threatened to shatter Pakatan’s ambitions in the next general election.

As such, it was with an eye on the big prize that PAS leaders and their Pakatan partners closed ranks and spoke in one voice.

The unity government talks, which had been brewing since the March 8 elections, was a bid by the Terengganu faction of the party to have a trump card to use against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s ambition for the prime minister’s post.

The group also did not believe that PKR and DAP would implement PAS’ Islamic agenda and saw Umno as another option to realise the agenda.

All that is buried although sceptics do not see the truce lasting till the next general election given the way some PAS leaders feel about Anwar.

But Nasharudin may find it hard to recover from the political damage to himself for a number of reasons.

First, loyalty to the party is paramount for any political leader and Nasharudin has to shake off the perception that he is somewhat too enamoured with Umno.

Second, he has this habit of dropping out of sight when the going gets tough.

At the height of the issue, his protector and president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang was in London. Instead of taking charge and facing his critics, Nasharudin literally disappeared. He did not take calls from even his own party colleagues. It was left to his mentor and secretary-general Datuk Mustafa Ali to explain things.

Thirdly, it was quite a blow to him when 10 of his MPs held a press conference in the Parliament lobby to announce their opposition to the unity talks. It was as good as saying they were not with Nasharudin, who is Bachok MP and parliament whip for the PAS MPs.

“Morally, he is feeling very down,” said one of the MPs.

Yesterday, Nasharudin was still missing from Parliament, where his party MPs waited for him to chair their weekly backbenchers meetings.

Nasharudin fought off tough competition to win a third term as deputy president of PAS. His campaign strategy was to lie low and not say much. Some called it his “strategy of elegant silence” and it worked fantastically for him.

Unfortunately, this elegant silence stance of his is beginning to wear thin among his party colleagues.

A good leader must shine in times of crisis. He is after all No 2 to Hadi. If anything happens to Hadi, he has to be able to rise to the occasion.

Nasharudin had a relatively easy time in his first two terms. But even with the unity government talks put to rest, he will find himself under scrutiny and it will not be an easy third term for him.

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