THERE are decades where nothing happens and there are weeks where decades happen. Nothing exemplifies the first weeks of 2021 better than this timeless quote by Vladimir Lenin. After all, this has got to be the first time a state of emergency was proclaimed in such dubious circumstances. A majority lost yet a power exponentially gained by the executive? Unprecedented! However, upon closer inspection, our current nationwide darurat actually strikes an eerie resemblance to the infamous events of 1977. A dark period in Malaysian history which saw among others, the vote of no confidence against a “pengkhianat” and an election postponed due to an emergency invoked. History has a habit to repeat itself and for those that lived through the Kelantan Darurat of 1977, this must be deja vu. Even the major players in the 1977 emergencies, Umno and PAS are present in the current federal version, albeit in different roles. Well, the way events are unfolding, perhaps this is the revenge that PAS has waited 44 years for! Kelantan Darurat Back in the 1970s, PAS was also in the federal government as they are now. If today it is Perikatan Nasional, during that period it was the newly formed Barisan Nasional, a rebrand of the original PN coalition formed after Merdeka. Specifically, in 1972, then prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein invited PAS and other opposition parties to form a grand coalition to make up a new government to replace the National Operations Council rule following yet another darurat, caused by the May 13 riots. PAS, then a new component party in BN had to make certain sacrifices that did not sit well with the party’s leadership and supporters. These include giving up traditional seats in Kelantan to Umno and MCA during the 1974 election, relinquishing autonomy to abide by BN’s orders and the appointment of the Kelantan menteri besar post-1974 general election. You see, PAS preferred Wan Ismail Wan Ibrahim as the new menteri besar while Umno wanted Mohamed Nasir. Both were prominent PAS leaders at the time. However, on orders from the prime minister, Razak, Mohamad was eventually selected as menteri besar, to the dismay of PAS leaders. The dreaded ‘no-confidence’ motionThroughout Mohamed’s tenure as Kelantan menteri besar, his actions came under scrutiny by his party superiors. Among others, he called for investigations to alleged corruption of some PAS members and even cancelled a timber company’s lease that benefited the party. Perhaps the most significant of these were Mohamad’s failed attempt to become PAS president in June 1975.Factions were created within PAS with many accusing Mohamed of being closer to Umno than to his own party and demanded he resigned as menteri besar. Worse, it deteriorated relations between PAS, Umno and BN as a whole. The tragic death of Razak in 1976, the leader responsible for the merger of the two parties in the first place, also saw the coalition lose a charismatic mediator. After mounting pressure from his party, Mohamed promised to step down as menteri besar but he never did. This prompted PAS to table the dreaded motion of ‘no-confidence’ in the Kelantan DUN on 15 October 1977. The motion passed successfully, but Mohamed was defiant and instead asked for the state legislative assembly to be dissolved. Emergency Powers (Kelantan) Act 1977 and federal rule According to the Kelantan constitution, if a vote of no confidence is passed, the menteri besar can ask for the dissolution of DUN but the discretionary power to do so lies with the sultan of Kelantan. However, at the time, the sultan was then the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Therefore, the power lay with the Kelantan regent.Mohamed’s request did not receive a reply from the regent. This was interpreted by legal experts as a refusal. With the DUN not dissolved and menteri besar’s refusal to resign, a political impasse was reached. Negotiations between Umno and PAS ensued led by Dr Mahathir, as a representative of then Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn for Umno. It was rejected by PAS. By then, chaos had erupted in the state. As of November 8, 1977, curfews, public rallies and demonstrations led to 19 people seriously injured, 35 properties damaged and 280 arrests. A second round of negotiations ensued. This time Hussein Onn himself met with the PAS delegation. The third prime minister gave PAS 72 hours to accept his proposal or federal rule would be imposed over Kelantan. On November 8, 1977, a darurat was proclaimed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong after he was “satisfied that a grave Emergency exists whereby the security and economic life of a part of the Federation, to wit, the State of Kelantan, are threatened”. During the darurat, the Kelantan constitution was suspended and the state was ruled by the federal government for a four months to quell unrest. On February 12, 1978, the act was repealed and emergency rule in Kelantan was lifted. The full governing powers of Kelantan were returned to menteri besar Mohamed and on February 13, 1978, the state legislative assembly of Kelantan was dissolved. Snap state elections followed a month later on March 11.The aftermath With the vote of no confidence, Mohamed was no longer a PAS member and he subsequently formed a new party called Berjasa. The snap election saw a 3-way fight between Umno, PAS and the new party. Umno ended up victorious, winning 23 seats while Berjasa won 11 and PAS only two. Claims of foul play during the election were aplenty but nothing substantial ever came up from them. Umno ruled the state of Kelantan for the first time in 1978 and Berjasa joined BN after the elections. Mohamed became a senator and a minister in the federal government. PAS, betrayed by Umno and its own leaders that supported Berjasa, officially left BN in December 1977. While decades have passed, old wounds run deep. Many within PAS, especially those from the older generation have never forgiven Umno for its role in 1977. Yet relations between the two parties took a peculiar turn when Umno lost a general election for the first time in its history. Suddenly two old sworn enemies rewrote history to say that their battles were nothing more than lovers’ quarrel. Lovers that are reunited again. A muafakat was formed and a successful coup saw both parties stand side by side in the government again. Yet, the status quo is now different. PAS has learned from the past and will only show their cards at the very last. Some 44 years later, there is another “pengkhianat” in the mix. Bersatu is to Umno what Berjasa was to PAS all those years ago. While Umno has publicly rejected Muhyiddin and his party, Abdul Hadi Awang knows that the divided Umno is not the force it used to be. At this point, Umno needs PAS more than the other way around. Furthermore, Muhyiddin has seemingly been successful in infiltrating Umno seeing how many dissenting leaders are openly rebelling against the party’s leaders. These opportunists are more than happy to be “absorbed” by Bersatu in return for positions in the government. There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. Soon PAS will have the moment it has waited decades for. The betrayal of 1977 will at long last be avenged. – January 20, 2021.* Saiful Ridzaimi is a Malaysian political observer. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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