COMMENTARY BY THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER
December 14, 2013
Last month, PAS delegates retained Mohamad Sabu as the party’s deputy presidency despite a strong challenge by the ulama faction. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, December 14, 2013.He was once described as a communist sympathiser. Nowadays, Mohamad Sabu is labelled a Shia Muslim, in another attempt by Umno to undermine the recently re-elected PAS leader within his party and create a rift in Pakatan Rakyat.
The second-term PAS deputy president, popularly known as Mat Sabu, is seen as a threat to Umno’s Barisan Nasional (BN) as he is responsible for the strong ties between the Islamist party and the DAP, a secular party.
Members and leaders from both parties have frequently clashed over their different ideologies, including ending an earlier alliance called Barisan Alternatif in 2001, two years after their alliance with the then Parti Keadilan Nasional scored historic wins in the 1999 general election.
But it is the special bond between Mat Sabu and Guan Eng that has helped steer their parties through the difficulties they have faced, including several issues which threatened to end their relationship in Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
Their friendship can be traced back to their prison days, when both shared the same cell in the Kamunting detention camp near Taiping, Perak, where they were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) following the Operasi Lalang of 1987.
In prison, Mat Sabu liked to cook, while Lim was an avid reader. Their friendship lasted past their incarceration and into their present lives. In 2008, when Lim became the Penang Chief Minister, Mat Sabu was one of the people appointed to sit on Penang Water Supply Incorporated, the government’s water supply company,
His presence at political events never fails to attract thousands of spectators, even at a time when political ceramahs are no longer as popular as before.
Seen in this light, labelling Mat Sabu a Shia Muslim is aimed at weakening PR, especially after the alliance’s major gains in two general elections.
At the recent Umno general assembly, Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi accused Mat Sabu of being a closet Shia. To back his claim, the Home Ministry called a special media conference two days ago, to present what they claim was proof of Zahid’s allegation.
One of the ten reasons, said the ministry, is that Mat Sabu was an admirer of the late Iranian supreme leader Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini and Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
A picture of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini (right) being carried by youth members of the Hezbollah movement, during a funeral procession in Lebanon last week. Mat Sabu has openly declared his admiration for Khomeini’s leadership in overthrowing the Shah monarchy in 1979. – AFP pic, December 14, 2013.Khomeini, a revered Shia authority, was best known for his central role in Iran’s 1979 revolution that overthrew its deeply unpopular pro-West monarch.
Nasrallah is head of Hezbollah, the political party that forms one third of Lebanon’s government. Its military wing is admired among Muslims for being one of the few resistance movements that has been undefeated by the powerful Israeli military.
So by the Home Ministry’s logic, does admiring Cuban revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro make one a communist? This is why the latest accusation is not likely to stick with PAS members, who are majority Sunni Muslim.
At the 59th PAS party elections last month, a similar accusation was hurled at Mat Sabu as he defended his deputy presidency. He retained his post when a majority of grassroots leaders voted him in for a second term.
Observers believe that the Home Ministry was trying to tarnish PAS’s image among the predominantly Sunni Malay Muslims.
This campaign runs parellel to anti-Shia sentiments being spread by preachers at suraus and mosques throughout the country.
Last week, Umno, having jumped on the anti-Shia bandwagon, even approved a resolution calling for an amendment to the Federal Constitution, so that the offical religion is redefined as Sunni Islam.
All of this reflects just how much Umno and the BN administration seem to fear Mat Sabu – among many more, which include:
- Mat Sabu’s immense popularity as a ceramah speaker. His presence at political events never fails to attract thousands of spectators, even at a time when political ceramahs are no longer as popular as before.
- Mat Sabu is still popular among the PAS grassroots. After all, he retained his deputy presidency for a second time in a party election filled with vicious personality attacks against him.
- The PAS elections was a referendum of sorts, on whether the party would review, and possibly limit, its cooperation with PR. Ever since the coalition was formed, Mat Sabu has been a dyed-in-the wool, pro-Pakatan PAS leader. He is one of those senior PAS leaders credited with cementing the Islamist party’s bond with DAP and the PKR. – December 14, 2013.