OVER the past decade, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia has always made headlines whenever its faithful have gathered for the muktamar or annual party assembly.
Major contests for senior party posts are shaping up in the approach to Pas' 55th muktamar, to be held from June 5 to 7 in Selangor.
Umno, having only recently elected its new team, is keen to see the type of leaders Pas delegates will elect. The new line-up will indicate how intense the traditional Umno-Pas battle for the Malay ground will be for the next general election, what with more liberal Malays also turning to Parti Keadilan Rakyat and the DAP.
The concern of Pas' allies Parti Keadilan Rakyat and the DAP, meanwhile, is that the new Pas leaders remain committed to Pakatan Rakyat, amid disquiet among groups within Pas wanting the party to be on its own. PKR and the DAP are crossing their fingers that Pas post-June will be the sort of partner they would be comfortable with.
Since 2005, when many Young Turks, led by deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa, gained places on the party's central committee, delegates have been openly criticising party leaders. Even party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang was not spared at the 2005 muktamar. Delegates criticised him for Pas' heavy losses in the 2004 general election, while at another muktamar, members of the Dewan Ulama had an earful for "not playing their roles in society".
Just 10 months ago, at last year's Pas muktamar in Ipoh, several leaders from the "pro-ulama" faction were singled out for being overly friendly with Umno, while those from the "Erdogan" faction were ticked off by delegates for supporting opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whose obsession with becoming prime minister sits uneasily with many in Pas.
Party organ Harakah is also scrutinised at almost every muktamar, with the management and editorial board questioned on content.
There have also been contests for party positions up to the deputy-president level, with the outcome of elections in 2005 and 2007 being a line-up balanced between conservatives and reformists.
Developments in Pas since last year, however, have led to uncharacteristically intense campaigning for contests for key posts, particularly for the deputy presidency held by Nasharuddin.
As much as Pas leaders deny that factionalism exists in the party, political watchers view this year's elections as being between the pro-ulama group and the Erdogan faction.
The side supporting closer ties with Umno, led by Hadi, are labelled the "ulama" faction, while those who support Anwar are tagged the "Erdogans" because of Anwar's close ties with Turkish leader Reccip Tayyip Erdogan.
The former is synonymous with a more conservative Malay-Muslim view of the party's objectives, while the Erdogans, who have the blessing of spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, believe that Islamic principles can complement an equitable multicultural society.
Hadi is almost certain to be returned unopposed despite criticisms of the botched unity talks with Umno, and more recently, his proposal for a "unity government" between Umno and Pakatan Rakyat.
Nik Aziz, despite having secured a nomination for the presidency from the Bukit Bintang division, has declined to contest.
Nasharuddin, despite being the key person who led the third generation in Pas four years ago, is expected to face a tough fight to retain his post.
Party insiders say his rise from secretary-general to the No. 2 position in the party as having been "too fast" -- Nasharuddin won the post in a straight fight with conservative ulama Hassan Shukri in 2005.
Some also feel he is losing the support of some Young Turks who had worked with him on pushing for reforms in Pas to appeal to a wider multiracial audience, because of his direct involvement in the controversial unity talks with Umno.
Nasharuddin was challenged in the 2007 party elections by conservative Terengganu ulama Datuk Harun Taib, then Dewan Ulama chief, and retained his post.
Now Pas divisions are again considering others for Nasharuddin's post. To date, vice-presidents Husam Musa and Mohamed Sabu, Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Razak, and deputy Mursyidul Am Datuk Dr Haron Din have been nominated for the post.
Mohamed Sabu and Azizan have indicated interest. Husam has been more coy, but his interest to contest might be seen in his own division -- Kubang Kerian -- having nominated him.
The contest for the three vice-presidencies is developing interestingly, with the nomination of the now-popular former Perak menteri besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin. Nizar, although not a member of any faction, clearly shares the sort of moderate views espoused by the Erdogans, and he would consider contesting should nominations continue to stream in.
Other popular new faces are youth chief Salahuddin Ayob and central committee member Hanipa Maidin.
While contests are encouraged in Pas, the excessive campaigning and politicking of the 2005 elections were a departure from the party's tradition of syura or consultation.
Campaigning, now marred by agents, has moved into the blogosphere where minor and irrelevant issues are played up by pro-Pas bloggers.
Prior to 2005, there were certain taboos in Pas party elections. As a party espousing what it believes are the highest ideals of Islamic theocracy, Pas candidates were known to prefer gentlemanly syura rather than open contests for party posts. It was just not proper for candidates to employ agents to lobby support and run down opponents.
Candidates who campaigned excessively were rejected by delegates as being too concerned with fighting for positions and recognition.
But that was then, and times have changed.
Sumber : NST, 24 April 2009