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If there was one thing that PAS did well throughout the Manek Urai by-election campaign, it was pretending that all was well in the party. It pretended that the senior leaders of the party were united, when it was an open secret that certain leaders, including deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa, were barred from campaigning. The ban was only lifted after the state leaders realised the national implication of such an action.

Nasharudin's brief appearance in the rural constituency, and his act of performing prayers with Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, was among attempts to show that all was well between the PAS No. 2 and the state leadership. The Bachok MP had initially admitted that he was barred from campaigning, only to make a U-turn hours later, pretending not to know anything about such a directive. PAS also tried to show that the unity government or unity talks episode — which caused the campaign ban in Manek Urai — was finally behind it. But the problem was hardly solved.

Just weeks earlier PAS Youth and Umno Youth held a joint press conference to announce their intention to hold what they termed as “intellectual discussions”, just one day after senior Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders declared their commitment to the coalition. The weeks before campaigning started also saw a central committee member barred from criticising the unity government proposal, which was mooted by party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang. A commentary by Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, the PAS strategist, slamming the idea was removed from the party newspaper, Harakah, and thousands of copies of the publication had to be reprinted.

Throughout the campaign PAS also projected the stability and the success of the Kelantan state government led by Nik Aziz. At all rallies the party spiritual adviser spoke of the implementation of Islamic principles in the state, and how well Kelantan was run compared to other Barisan Nasional (BN) states. But the days of stability in the Kelantan government are numbered. The frail-looking Nik Aziz has no credible succession plan. The most popular and perhaps experienced executive councillor Datuk Husam Musa had publicly said that he was not interested in leading the state government.

But like any Islamist movement, PAS has to continue pretending that everything is well, in line with the practice of keeping the secrets of the jemaah from the public. And it paid the price yesterday when more than 1,000 voters who had voted for the party just last year backed BN instead, giving PAS an embarrassingly tiny margin of victory of 65 votes. For PAS, pretending can be fatal.


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