Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Haji Yusof Rawa (1921-2000): A Political Assessment

Artikel di bawah ialah satu eulogi (eulogy) – madah pujian sesudah mati – oleh MGG Pillai akan Haji Yusof Rawa, Presiden PAS. Artikel asal boleh dibaca di sini.

Haji Yusof Rawa, who died two weeks short of his 79 birthday on 29 April 00, is a more important man in Malaysia's political development than his proforma obituaries in mainstream newspapers. Politics in Malaysia these days is a choice between the secular Islam of UMNO and the theocratic Islam of PAS. That was not, until the internal fissure within PAS, which led to the decidedly Islamicized political party, framing its political ideology within the framework of Islam. It was an important divide. Haji Yusof was the president of this revitalised PAS, and his quiet leadership strengthened its religious outlook and reduced, at least for now, the larger political worldview of a Melayu Raya sidestepped, but not forgotten. Malay, and therefore Malaysian, political overview is framed in this larger archipelagaic view of a unified Malay state of the Malay speaking peoples, the dream of the Indonesian nationalists, and articulated by President Sukarno as early as in 1927 when he was on trial in Bandung for his nationalist activities. It is not without reason that Singapore, UMNO and PAS were variations of the "Merah Putih" flag that Indonesia adopted. The white-moon-on-the-green-background is a latter day adaption, in the fratricidal ideological squabble that led to Haji Yusof Rawa as PAS president.

PAS was formed, interestingly enough, at the house of Dato' Ahmad Badawi, the father of the deputy prime minister, in Kepala Batas, when the UMNO Bureau of Religious Affairs walked out of UMNO in sympathy withthe then UMNO president, Dato' Onn bin Jaffar. The then head, Haji Ahmad Fuad, strongly supported Dato' Onn and wanted the Bureau to join him in Dato' Onn's new political party, the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP), but others disagreed. The meeting decided to go it alone, especially after Dr Burhanuddin al-Helmy, the intellectual collosus outside UMNO, and the Hamim political party, which preceded both UMNO and PAS, of Haji Abu Bakar Baqir from the Gunong Semanggul pondok, with their larger worldview of a Melayu Raya, decided to be associated with PAS. Dr Burhanuddin became PAS's third president in 1956, and it was from then on that its supranational policies were firmly put in place. Its orientation at the time was supranational, Malaya at the time remained a British protectorate. The beginnings of the political conflict between the two begam with this different perception of Malaya's future, UMNO, encouraged by the British, decidedly nationalistic, and PAS, or PMIP (Pan Malayan Islamic Party) as it was then known. When PMIP won Kelantan and Trengganu in the 1959 general elections (it lost Trengganu two years later), UMNO, then head of the three-party coalition called the Alliance, became ultranationalistic in its policies, which Indonesia's confrontation of the newly formed Malaysia gave it free rein.

The realities of UMNO, more than Alliance, politics led to the formation of the National Front on January 1973. The 1969 General Election and the racial riot was as much an uncertainty for UMNO, with PMIP gaining ground and the Chinese hold on Penang lost to the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, that the National Front coalition could, with hope, repair. But not without PMIP. The UMNO Malay ground would not have allowed a non-Malay strengthening in the governing coalition. But UMNO from the start set about destroying PMIP from within, culminating in the rioting that led to the overthrow of the PMIP administration in Kelantan. Haji Yusof Rawa, who had joined PMIP in 1951, had gained internal fame when he defeated one Dr Mahathir bin Mohamed, was appointed a deputy minister in the National Front government. To call him "Giant Killer", as PMIP did, is disingenious: The Prime Minister was a virtual unknown when Haji Yusof Rawa defeated him; it was his defiance, after the riots, of the then prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, that brought him into the eye and propelled his political future. But Yusof Rawa was high enough in the PMIP councils to be made deputy minister and in 1975 was appointed Malaysian ambassador to Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan. He left when PMIP left the National front in 1978.

PMIP was forced out of the National Front after UMNO openly moved to destroy its political base in Kelantan. The religious group in the party mounted a challenged that led in 1982 to the departure or isolation of the leaders, like Dato' Asri Muda, who believed in a supranational role for the Malays of Malaya. Haji Rawa was brought in as president in 1983 and for five years, during the cataclysmal breach in UMNO that continues to unsettle it to this day, and laid the foundations for a theocratical political base, with the Islamic wing firmly in control. The PMIP, now known by its Arabic initials, PAS, took on a decidedly religious tone, one which UMNO and the National Front used with good effect as a bogey that drove the non-Malays into the National Front ranks. But over the years, the PAS outlook, still defined by Islam, has undergone a massive shift, barely perceptible in the public eye. UMNO's frailities, especially since the presidency of the Prime Minister, and its dominant overview that only the leaders already elected have the right to rule, coupled with the impact of higher education within the Malays, and PAS's persistent spread of the world, attracted a large number of professional Malays into its ranks.

Haji Yusof Rawa's role in all this, although he had left the PAS presidency 12 years ago, is crucial. He was the father figure the PAS Islamicists had, but his role went beyond that of a figurehead. PAS leaders told me, when I asked them about his leadership years ago for an article I was writing then, that he provided the solidity that enabled the party to develop into what it is today. His background would have prepared him for that -- after his Junior Cambridge Examination at the Penang Free School, he underwent Islamic studies for a decade in the Middle East -- but he returned a business man, stayed out of politics until he joined PMIP formed out the UMNO Bureau of Religious Affairs.

PAS's strength these days is not in its promise of a theocratic state in which Islam rules. But, as UMNO finds out, a political party cannot run too far away from its constituency. The secular Islam of UMNO is now fine-tuned by a decidedly practical theocratic decisions, as if to suggest to the Malays that secular or not, Islam would be applied in its theocratic frame. PAS, on the other hand, finds that to attract non-Malays and non-Moslems frightened of its theocratic agenda, becomes openly considerate of non-Muslims and non-Malays in its political agenda. So, the secular Islamic UMNO forbids the building of a Catholic church in Shah Alam, while the PAS administration in Kelantan is upset that a Catholic church is run down, and exhorts the Catholic Church to repair, promising aid if needed.

In this respect, Haji Yusof Rawa is a protagonist in that struggle between its theocractic impulses and its supranational worldview. Not an intellectual, his views, though not pronounced in the 1970s, when I would talk to him about it, was clearly with the theocratic model that PAS adopted in 1983. In this, he had a more important role than he is credited with. His stewardship at the time ensured also that PAS as a political party would exist; the fratricidal quarrels within PMIP after its expulsion from the National Front would have destroyed its raison d'etre had it not been for saner figures, on both sides of the political divide, to keep it together. But the split could not have happened at a better time for PAS. The education system was by the early 1980s wholly Malay, a post-May 13 act by the then federal education minister and later chief minister and Yang Dipertua Negeri of Sarawak, Tun Abdul Rahman Yaakob. It was he, without cabinet approval, announced the change over of the language of instruction in schools to Malay. That ensured the Malay looking beyond UMNO for their political future. PAS built on that. And came into the Malaysian worldview as the party that challenges the UMNO worldview. Without a man like Haji Yusof Rawa at the helm at a critical epoch in its history, that would have been doubly difficult.

M.G.G. Pillai

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