Dennis Ignatius: Hadi throws down the gauntlet

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PAS is pushing Malaysia towards a more rigid, more conservative religious milieu as part of its strategy to transform Malaysia into a theocratic state.


PAS president Hadi Awang has finally thrown down the gauntlet. According to several media sources, Hadi is flatly refusing to abide by his state’s ban on politicians preaching in mosques. The ban, which has been approved by the Sultan of Terengganu, comes in response to the ruler’s unhappiness that politicians have been using mosques to promote their political agendas.

Alarmed by the politicization of religion, the rulers of Johor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor have all taken steps to keep politics out of mosques.

For PAS, which is heavily reliant on its network of mosques and suraus to push its political message, solicit donations and recruit support, these measures could well disrupt the way it operates and limit its ability to shape the Muslim political narrative.

It also comes at a time when PAS leaders are still seething over their failure to take power following the last election. In their view, PAS-dominated Perikatan Nasional rather Pakatan Harapan should have been asked to form the government.

Buoyed by major electoral gains in the last election (it is now the largest single party in Parliament) and frustrated by its failure to take Putrajaya, PAS seems ready to push back – threatening to topple the government and challenging attempts to restrict their hitherto unfettered access to religious institutions.

Some have gone further, challenging the constitutional position of the rulers on matters of religion in contravention of Article 3 of the Federal Constitution which states that the Malay rulers are “Head of the religion of Islam” in their respective states.

While parliamentary manoeuvres to topple the government might be par for the course in a democracy, defying the power of the Malay rulers under Article 3 is something else.

It not only challenges the constitutional position of the Malay rulers, it challenges the Federal Constitution, the entire monarchical system as well as our system of parliamentary democracy. It is a call to dramatically reorder the Malaysian state from a constitutional monarchy to an Islamic republic, from a democracy to a theocracy.

The key question now is how our fragmented political system will respond to this serious challenge to the constitutional order. Several police reports have been lodged and investigations are ongoing but this is an issue that requires a political response more than anything else.

It won’t be easy. For far too long, our politicians have consistently shied away from challenging the Islamists.  PAS and the religious bureaucracy have crossed the line many times without consequences. Even when the then minister of religious affairs defied the Sultan of Selangor on the Bon Odori festival last year, prime minister Ismail Sabri kept quiet.

It says a lot too, that thus far only Anwar Ibrahim has spoken out in defence of the constitutional order and the position of the Malay rulers. All three former prime ministers – Mahathir Mohamad, Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail Sabri have said nothing.

And why are more Malay political leaders not speaking out in defence of the monarchy especially since preserving the institution of Malay rulers has always been one of the fundamental tenets of the Malay political struggle?

There is no doubt that the ground is shifting. PAS is pushing Malaysia towards a more rigid, more conservative religious milieu as part of its strategy to transform Malaysia into a theocratic state. The constitutional structures and agreements forged at the time of Merdeka are under threat. It’s a danger that shouldn’t be minimised or dismissed. – Dennis Ignatius