The PAS election is another two months away but the battle for dominance in the party has been fierce and divisive with the ulama class openly campaigning to stay in the driver’s seat.
MALAYSIA’S most famous model Amber Chia sort of strayed into the politics of PAS without realising it.
She was the glamorous guest at a home decor expo in Shah Alam where she was photographed alongside Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad.
Chia wore a sexy outfit in a hot pink and sky-high heels while Khalid looked distinguished in suit and tie. It was all quite innocent as there were others on the stage with them and lots of guests looking on.
Hot seat: Will Husam (left) rise to the challenge and take on Hadi (right) for the PAS presidency?
(Inset) Khalid cried foul over how a picture of him with a famous model was used against him.
But this is election season in PAS and everything and anything can become a political issue. The photograph was apparently cropped and, suddenly, there were only Khalid and Chia up there and it was all over the Internet. A few choice captions added salt to the wound.
Actually they looked good together but the trouble is that PAS politicians love to project themselves as holier than others and election season is not the best of times to be photographed with models in micro-mini dresses.
Khalid obviously has enemies out there and they are doing whatever it takes to bring him down.
But he did not take it lying down and used his blog to hit out at those who had twisted the event on social media, calling it a “dirty campaign”.
Such underhanded tactics have been going on for years via the Internet except that they were used on enemies outside the party, namely Umno leaders.
But the guns have turned inwards as the two main groups in PAS battle for control of the party.
On one side are the pro-ulama group who want the party to return to its original path. They want to strengthen the ulama leadership and they want the party to stop being apologetic about its Islamic state goal.
This group has become very political in recent years because of the rise of what is known as the “Geng Ustaz,” who comprise young, well-educated and idealistic ulama who are not impressed with the politics of Pakatan Rakyat.
On the other side are the group that wants the party to become more mainstream and to put aside its Islamic state dream so that it can continue to be a part of Pakatan.
This group has been variously labelled as Erdogans, professionals and Anwarists. But the leading figures in this group are essentially pragmatists and political animals who know that the party cannot move beyond the Malay heartland states by riding on religion alone.
Both groups take their religion seriously but while the pro-ulama group dreams of an Islamic state, the pragmatists dream of Putrajaya.
Their differences over where the party should be heading is the cause of the clash and the unprecedented politicking.
The pragmatists see Hadi as a stumbling block that has to be removed for Pakatan to survive. This group denies that there is a plot to topple Hadi but there is obviously some sort of strategy in play because the first few divisions to meet have nominated names to challenge Hadi for the presidency.
Kota Baru fired the first shot by nominating the respected ulama Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man. Division chief Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah had hoped it would be the spark to set off a forest fire, so to speak.
But it was quickly doused when Tuan Ibrahim declined the nomination.
“I have been travelling around, talking to people. Many members feel the time has come for a new president,” said Wan Rahim.
Since then, Kota Tinggi and Batu Sapi have nominated incumbent vice-president (VP) Datuk Husam Musa for the presidency. Unlike Tuan Ibrahim, Husam has yet to respond to his name being thrown into the ring.
Shah Alam came close to nominating Datuk Ahmad Awang, an elderly ulama from Perak.
But the Batu division took the cake when 17 of the 25 committee members resigned citing dissatisfaction with Hadi’s leadership.
These divisions are telling Hadi that it is time to say good-bye.
But a party insider said that Hadi has been persuaded to carry on by no less than Datuk Dr Haron Din, the new Mursyidul Am of PAS.
Dr Haron has been unusually active for someone who has suffered several heart attacks. In his first interview as Mursyidul Am, he gave his blessings and support for Hadi to stay on as president.
Hadi has since announced that he is ready to be challenged, which is as good as saying he will defend his presidency.
However, Dr Haron seems to be repeating the mistake he made in the last party election. Back in 2013, he had used Utusan Malaysia to campaign for his ulama compatriots and it backfired. The PAS crowd did not like him using the Umno-owned paper to promote certain candidates and the ulama group lost badly.
It is understood Dr Haron has also persuaded Tuan Ibrahim to contest the deputy presidency so that there will a ulama in the wings if anything happens to Hadi.
The plan is to ensure a one-to-one fight with incumbent Mohamad Sabu. There is no guarantee that Tuan Ibrahim will win because Mat Sabu enjoys popular appeal. It will be the contest to watch.
The party’s top ulama leaders have gathered in Rusila, Terengganu, the last few days for an international Islamic forum organised by the World Ulama Organisation of which Hadi is deputy president.
The event has drawn massive crowds from across the country, all eager to hear what the international Muslim personalities have to say about the state of the ummah.
Rusila is Hadi’s political base and the event has raised the profile of the ulama leaders ahead of the election in June.
Various PAS figures have expressed concern that this election campaign has been the most divisive in the party’s history especially in the way the Internet has been used to spread lies, make accusations and indulge in name-calling.
The pragmatist group seems to be taking most of the hits so far. A vehicle belonging to one of them was set on fire while another was beaten up outside his house.
But PAS members have been all agog over the way central committee member Hanipa Maidin has been going at Hadi. The lawyer and Sepang MP has been so fierce and unrelenting in his criticism of Hadi that he is in danger of coming across as disrespectful. In fact, some said he is out of control, like a bull on the rampage.
At the PAS muktamar last year, Hanipa had gone on stage to slam Hadi’s handling of the Selangor mentri besar issue. He was jeered and booed at but he did not give a hoot and stood his ground.
At a recent political forum, he said that Hadi’s weaknesses should be exposed to prevent further damage and those who continued to support Hadi would eventually bring the party down.
Some of Hanipa’s views make sense but because of his shoot-from-the-hips style, the views come out all wrong and that has cast a negative light on the pragmatist group with whom Hanipa is associated with.
The group has been labelled as “geng jebon”, a Kedah slang for gibbons, a species of monkeys. Those in the group have also been portrayed as trying to diminish the party’s “Leadership by the Ulama” policy.
Hadi has taken criticism about his leadership with humility. But the group around him are said to be furious.
“There is an unsettling mood that I have never seen before in all my years in PAS. All those things on social media, that is not the way things are done in PAS. My worry is that tradition is about to be broken,” said former Wangsamaju division chief Dr Rayney Ali.
Mat Sabu, who was invited to officiate at the Shah Alam division meeting, downplayed the rivalry as a “small matter”. He has cleverly kept his head low while campaigning quietly all over the country.
The group opposed to Hadi has, unfortunately, come across as more loyal to the PKR and DAP leadership than to that of their own party and that is not good for them.
As Tuan Ibrahim noted: “It is strange that there are party members who love the president of another party more than their own president and are more attracted to the policies of another party than their own. If that is the case, maybe they are in the wrong party.”
The Kelantan hudud bill has rocked the Pakatan partnership to the core.
But it is a different story in PAS where the hudud move has strengthened the standing of the ulama leadership. The Kelantan leaders will be hailed as heroes at the muktamar.
Even those opposed to Hadi admit he is guaranteed to retain his presidency for a sixth term.
The only question is whether he will win unopposed or win in a contest. A challenge for the top would be a big deal because there has never been one since the ulama took over the party in the 1980s.
The party has come full circle.