In 1992, Aliran Monthly said it would not be impossible for the DAP to one day cooperate more closely with Pas in a coalition based on issues of public interest.
Aliran Monthly featured a cover story in 1992 following a barrage of accusations that non-Muslims were being oppressed and persecuted by the Pas-led Kelantan government with the connivance of the DAP. We carried exclusive interviews with Lim Kit Siang, the then secretary general of the DAP, and Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the Menteri Besar of Kelantan. The following was our introduction to those interviews.
Their ideologies could not have been more different. The DAP advocates a secular Malaysian Malaysia. Pas wishes to establish an ‘Islamic state’ where Islam will have a great influence on politics and everyday life. Together these two parties collected 25% of the votes cast at the last general election.
Thus, when leaders from these two parties agreed just to meet and discuss various issues, it represented a historic breakthrough in opposition politics in this country that must have sent shivers down the spine of the Barisan coalition. Says DAP secretary-general Lim Kit Siang of the meeting, “It was positive. We had a good exchange of views and some frank discussions. It was a good opening…a beginning”.
Ostensibly, the main purpose of the meeting was for the DAP to clarify with Kelantan state leaders the allegations made by the MCA and the Gerakan about the infringement of non-Muslim rights. But many political analysts also believe the meeting was also held to explore the possibility of the DAP and Pas working more closely in election campaigns. Pragmatic Pas leaders recognise that the party will never be able to come to power at the federal level without considerable non-Muslim support – in the last general election Pas polled just 7% of the total votes cast.
The main stumbling block towards closer ties with other opposition parties is Pas’ often-declared aspiration of establishing an ‘Islamic state’. But of late Pas has downplayed – some speculate even abandoned – this goal. Perhaps it realises that even the mere mention of an ‘Islamic state’ is enough to put off many non-Muslims. (It is not difficult to see why. Western new agencies, have in the main always portrayed ‘Islamic states’ in bad light largely due to a fear of Islam or just plain prejudice.) Instead, Pas seems to be settling for an ‘Islamic way of lie’ or ‘addeen’ approach, which would make it a lot more acceptable to component parties of the Gagasan Rakyat. Perhaps this is one area that DAP leaders would like to focus in greater depth. Pas, on the other hand should ask itself what it hopes to achieve if it does succeed in establishing its cherished ideal of an ‘Islamic state’.
Is Islam, which emphasises noble spiritual values like justice, accountability and integrity among God’s people in the conduct of their daily activities, really incompatible with the DAP’s fight against corruption, injustice and the abuse of power? But the dispute over the Islamic state issue remains a thorny problem which will not go away easily. “The DAP would support any measure that would promote universal values,” said Lim. “We have always opposed the establishment of an Islamic state and we remain opposed to the establishment of such a state.”
DAP and Pas leaders would do well not to get trapped in a battle over semantics – over what is or isn’t an ‘Islamic state’. Even Islamic scholars ponder laboriously over the definition of such a state, and indeed its desirability in modern times. What is important is that regular dialogue sessions should be conducted during which each party could examine what it would set out to achieve if it were to be swept to power – would it seek peace and unity; would it promote belief in God or Allah whilst at the same time stressing religious tolerance; would it insist on equality, integrity, democratic and individual liberties, poverty eradication, environmental protection and public accountability; would it respect the rights of ethnic minority communities?
If both parties can agree on certain common goals like these, therein lies the basis for closer ties in the future. If these attributes are also the hallmark of an ‘Islamic state’ as understood by Pas, as they must surely be, well and good. Does it really matter whether we label such a state an Islamic state or not?
Perhaps all this might sound a little too simplistic – there are many differences in approach and ideology which have not yet been reconciled – but it would do no harm to ponder over this: are the ultimate objectives of a democracy and a progressive ‘Islamic state’ all that incompatible? The DAP and Pas could well be pleasantly surprised to find out at the end of the day that the similar noble values they share far outnumber their ideological differences.
This article was first published in Aliran Monthly in 1992.