PETALING JAYA (Dec 25): Following the recent public "spat" between Hu Pang Chau, the National PAS Supporters Congress chairman, and Kelantan state exco member Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan over "actions" against non-Muslims, a logical question to ask now is: Should the supporters (who are all non-Muslims) continue supporting PAS?
After all Takiyuddin has accused Hu of having "bad intentions" for bringing to the media cases of non-Muslims being "penalised" by the Kota Baru Municipal Council for alleged indecent behaviour. Then there was the unisex salon issue, also in Kota Baru, involving the enforcement of gender segregation rules.
Hu's response then was he acted "in the interest of non-Muslims" and was "defending" their rights. So back to the earlier question: should the congress and Hu in particular stay the course?
"My relationship with Takiyuddin is not affected by the issues. We are like crew members of a same ship, holding on to the belief of the PAS constitution and the same struggle. The only difference perhaps is on the approach taken," said Hu in an email response to fz.com.
Meaning he and the congress will continue to stick with PAS. To his critics that is expected. Hu has always been accused of being a "PAS apologist".
Hu nevertheless is unfazed by such accusation. "As long as the PAS constitution remains unchanged, I will continue to support the party," said Hu, adding: "I dare say I understand the objective and PAS struggle better than many party members or leaders".
To Hu, PAS' struggle is based "on true Islamic principle" and the party is fair to all – Muslims and non-Muslims which is "guaranteed" by the party constitution. Hence his support as long as the constitution remains as it is.
And he is confident the congress is playing the role of taking care of non-Muslims interests. "We have representatives in the elections and political bureaus or lajnah. Two most important lajnah in PAS," he said.
Still, are the representatives truly "functional"? "If our views and proposals are not accepted why should PAS include us in the bureaus?" was Hu's reply.
PAS has always worked towards reaching out to non-Muslims, especially the Chinese community. In the 1980s, the party established what was known as the Chinese Consultative Council. In 2004, the PAS Supporters Club was set up. And in 2010, the club was upgraded to become the current congress as PAS sought to get more non-Muslims to play a bigger role in the party.
The congress is placed on par with the other wings in PAS, namely Dewan Ulama, Dewan Pemuda, Dewan Muslimah – hence its official name Dewan Himpunan Penyokong PAS. And it boasts some 30,000 members nationwide, comprising Indians, Chinese, Iban and Malaysians of Thai descent.
But is the congress effective in "helping" PAS?
"Years ago even the sight of a PAS member wearing the kopiah will frighten away non-Muslims, especially the Chinese. Now we have non-Muslims campaigning for PAS carrying the party flags, wearing PAS T-shirts. It's like a miracle. Yes, the congress has been effective. But to what extent I can't say as I do not have a barometer," said a PAS activist.
Hu, understandably, has good words for his outfit. "In the early days, when I went to Chinese areas not even a single Chinese turned up for PAS ceramah. Not even for tea party. Now we get big crowds of non-Muslims at PAS ceramah, not only in the peninsula but also Sabah and Sarawak," he said.
That PAS sees the congress as priceless is given. Said PAS director of election Dr Hatta Ramli: "The formation and inception of the congress is a significant milestone for PAS. For non-Muslims to support PAS so dearly is something unthinkable just a decade ago.
"The congress is an asset for our struggle. It can further soften our image, increase our tolerance and implement a diversity of approaches."
For the 13th GE, PAS will field members of the Supporters Congress. "The congress will likely be entrusted to attract support of non-Muslims not just as election strategists and workers but also as candidates both for the DUN (state legislative assembly) and parliament levels.
"It will take PAS a long way into a new era of inclusive politics. I foresee this as a breakthrough for PAS in national and mainstream politics," said Hatta.
Hu confirmed that PAS will field the congress members in Sarawak and Johor with "Kedah, Perak, Melaka as possibility".
According to a political observer, should PAS field them in Malay-majority constituencies to face Umno candidates, the pressure will be on Umno.
"Umno being Malay/Muslim will be hard pressed to justify fighting a non-Muslim who believes in the struggle of an Islamist party," he said. But contesting in non-Muslim areas can be "equally good" as it can "enhance the PAS politics of inclusiveness image".
Whatever it is, will Hu himself contest in the coming election? "I leave it to PAS Pusat (Central PAS) to decide as "it is not PAS culture to ask," he said.
By the way, have the "unisex salon" and "indecent behaviour issues" been settled?
"The issues will not be what the media made it out to be if they are solved fast and efficiently. All regulations seen as not suitable anymore should be reviewed and upgraded in accordance to the powers of the state or local government," said Hu.
And he went on to say: "As said numerous times by PAS president Tuan Guru Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, Islamic laws or regulations will not be imposed on non-Muslims. If we hold on to such principle, the salon issue for one can be resolved amicably."