The party was eager to shed its extremist image. In a bid to garner votes from the non-Muslims, it set up the Chinese Consulative Council, which
comprised non-Malay Muslims.
Party secretary-general Halim Arshat,
then a state PAS secretary, was among
They had expected questions about the
Internal Security Act and other laws
which were regarded as draconian. These
were laws the party readily promised to
So confident were the PAS leaders in dealing with the audience that they opened the session to journalists.
But what transpired was not as what the
The non-Muslim representatives wanted to
know how the party's viewed fashion
shows, beauty pageants, mahjong, mini skirts and eating pork.
The PAS leaders were not prepared for these questions.
A self-proclaimed DAP supporter asked
whether a PAS government would allow the
staging of fashion shows. The reply was
a vague “certain fashion shows will be permissible'', but the PAS speaker
could not be specific.
Asked how PAS could work with
non-Muslims when the party could
not even work with Umno members, Halim answered that PAS was non-discriminatory because Islam required the party to be fair to all.
When an Indian lawyer asked whether
Islamic laws would be applicable to all, another PAS leader reassured him that Islamic laws were only for Muslims.
Someone from the floor then asked
whether civil law, which was also good,
would continue. There was no reply from
the PAS leaders.
Another non-Muslim wanted to know
whether special privileges for
bumiputras would be done away with,
given the fact that PAS had promised a
“fair distribution of wealth.'' Again,
the answer was non-committal.
What about mahjong, empat ekor and
Halim promised that the party would not
restrict non-Muslims from their
practices and culture, but asked whether
it was good “to have anak gadis
telanjang sini (to have your daughters
naked here),'' pointing at his arms and
He again said “PAS will not curtail your rights and tradition'' when an elderly Chinese man asked whether he could still have his daily bah kut
teh, 4-D and kuda (horse racing).
Finally, Halim was asked whether PAS would hold elections after it had won. The answer given was that the party would let the people decide.
The dialogue ended with a promise that Chinese and Tamil schools would continue.
There was much goodwill as the
participants and PAS leaders adjourned for tea. Some of the non Muslim
representatives wished the PAS leaders
luck and pledged their votes.
But many were not convinced by the
To show that it was serious in getting
non-Malay support, PAS fielded several
Chinese Muslim candidates such as
Mohamed Redhuan Daniel Oon Abdullah and Ghazali Ho in the Merbuk and Tanjung Malim parliamentary seats, respectively,
while Kamal Koh contested in the
Seberang Jaya state seat.
PAS also put up several candidates in predominantly Chinese constituencies but the strategy failed.
The majority of the votes went to the
Barisan Nasional who promised a stable
government, good constituency service, liberalisation, and funds for Chinese and Tamil schools.
More than 10 years later, PAS leaders
are doing the same again. The party has
a new set of younger leaders, but the
leadership structure headed by Datuk Fadzil Noor is still intact.
The party has not changed its policies
but there are moves, albeit cautious
ones, to amend its constitution to allow non-Muslims to become associate
As associate members, they will have no
voting rights and no influence in the party decision-making process.
The party is aware of the possibility of non-Muslim voters tipping the scale in a tight contest against its traditional foe, Umno, during the general election.
PAS has made early moves by forging ties
with non-Muslim based political parties
and non-government organisations, including the
DAP, Parti Rakyat Malaysia,
Suaram, Just, Abim, Aliran and
It has, to some degree, successfully propagated the ideals of social justice
among young, middle class non-Malays, many of whom were still in school when the Alor Star dialogue took place.
PAS has also cleverly seized the
euphoria over reformasi to gloss its
somewhat conservative image, preferring to emphasise values and concepts which cut across religion and race.
Pre-empting possible criticism that it
was working with DAP, Fadzil announced that it would not work with any non-Malay or non Islamic party
during the polls.
Likewise, the DAP realises that to be
seen working with PAS would only mean
the kiss of death from its traditional
backers in the urban areas.
As a community-oriented organisation incapable of developing a genuinely multi-ethnic, all-rounded national character, it is understandable that
PAS wants to project a softer
Realising that neither PAS nor DAP can
offer itself as a viable alternative to the Barisan Nasional, the two parties and some NGOs have tried to cooperate on a minimum
For the first time, both opposition parties have talked realistically of
denying the Barisan a two thirds majority instead of capturing the
It is through this strategy that they
hope to get a bonus. If enough protest
votes go to PAS and DAP, the two parties
may just get more than what they hope
Many PAS leaders and supporters have taken to wearing the white ribbon instead of the party's symbol of a
white moon on green background.
Like many of the NGO leaders, PAS has
said the party is against injustice but
not supporting the reformasi movement.
Aware of the anti-establishment
resentment of some Malaysians,
PAS has, however, exploited the issue.
In some ways, PAS has succeeded if their claims over the increase of membership and the sale of Harakah are
The willingness of PAS to be more open
is good for the country as it will mean
another step towards removing communalism
from Malaysian politics. After all,
Umno has provided membership to
non-Muslim bumiputras from Sabah.
But PAS leaders must realise that the
Chinese community, in particular, is
known to be pragmatic.
Moderate Malaysians are aware that good
governance and political and economic
stability are better bets for long-term
It is easy to be a leader of a community or to whip up emotions on a single issue. It is harder to be a leader to all Malaysians.