Islamic party PAS gearing to be kingmaker in Malaysia

Islamic party PAS gearing to be kingmaker in Malaysia
Party in demand: Hadi is sitting pretty as political leaders including Muhyiddin, Najib and Azmin try to woo PAS to their side in the general election.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

This is a party election year for PAS, the storm clouds have cleared and it is being courted by both sides as a partner ahead of the general election.

The metaphorical last nail in the coffin was supposed to have happened to PAS last year.

An acrimonious party election that split the party, expulsion from Pakatan Rakyat and a breakaway party formed by those who could not accept their defeat - everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.

Then another terrible blow - their Mursyidul Am Datuk Dr Haron Din died in the United States last September.

It underscored what the party's communications chief Roslan Shahir termed as the "most challenging year" in the party's history.

It was supposed to be game over for the party and thousands and thousands of members were supposed to have quit PAS for Amanah.

Well, PAS is not only alive and kicking but it is being courted by political parties from both sides of the divide.

PKR has declared its love, Umno is falling over backwards to please the party, while Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is on one knee, proposing marriage.

Mohd Amar: Hadi is party’s choice of Prime Minister candidate.​Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

The party has emerged as the kingmaker in the general election. It cannot go far on its own except perhaps in Kelantan but it is seen as having enough voter appeal to give either side a much needed boost.

The worst is behind them and this could be their turn-around year if they play their cards well.

Their mega rally next month is as much about setting the stage for the first reading of their Private Members Bill in Parliament as it is a show of force to demonstrate that they have the Malay numbers.

Umno has yet to commit to joining the rally but if the two Malay parties join forces on Feb 18, it could be the biggest Muslim gathering ever. Size is might and a mammoth rally would enable PAS to silence its critics.

The Bill, or RUU355 as it is known, made its first appearance in Parliament last year, about a month before the PAS muktamar in Kota Baru.

The timing was no coincidence. Morale in the party was at rock bottom and the party needed to stem the bleeding by showing that it was the true Islamist party.

At the opening ceremony of the Dewan Pemuda or Youth wing muktamar last year, the Youth leaders were decked out in traditional Malay costume.

The aim was to signal that championing Islam did not mean abandoning Malay values but they ended up looking as though they had stepped out of a Malay period movie.

Hadi was also invited to cut an enormous yellow glutinous rice cake with a gleaming sword, a practice that is not usually associated with PAS.

Takiyuddin: Too early for political parties to negotiate for seats.​Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Religion and politics have always gone on hand-in-glove for PAS and the RUU355 has been as much about Godly duties as it is about politics and survival.

The timing this year is no less beautiful. The first reading of the RUU355 will precede the next PAS muktamar scheduled to take place end of April.

PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang will be able to face his party with his head held high, to show them that the party is on the right path.

Moreover, this is a party election year and the circle around Hadi is working to make it a smooth and uneventful election.

The last party election in Kuala Selangor was one of those mother of all nightmares. Banners promoting the muktamar in this coastal Selangor town depicted the famous lighthouse in the area. Lighthouses are to guide ships to safety but the muktamar had a disastrous ending.

Every single post including the presidency was contested. The air was filled with rancour with those known as the Erdogan group crashing out while the ulama group swept all the posts.

There were no sacred cows left in the party because last time there was a contest for the presidency was back in the 1950s.

The existence of Amanah means that the PAS strength is not what it used to be. The upside is that with the Erdogan group gone, the party is now in one mind on policies and direction.

"All the attacks against Tuan Guru (Hadi) were because he is our pillar. This muktamar is about focusing on where we are going after much trial and error. The road ahead is clearer," said vice-president Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, who is also Kelantan Deputy Mentri Besar.

Roslan: Last year was the most challenging in the party’s history.​Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Hadi now has the unequivocal support of party members and the May polls should see him continue to lead the party.

Mohd Amar said that if the opposition wins the general election, "the candidate for PM is our president".

The war of words between PAS and Amanah has calmed down but the rivalry and mutual dislike is as intense as ever.

PAS secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan said the party wants absolutely nothing to do with either Amanah or DAP. PAS is only open to cooperating with PKR and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

"We cannot stop Parti Pribumi from working with Pakatan Harapan but they cannot pull us along," said Takiyuddin.

Talks between PAS and Parti Pribumi have been going well and a co-operation agreement may be signed soon.

"They are interested in negotiating seats to contest but it is too early for that. We also heard from Tan Sri Muhyiddin's own mouth that he will not return to Umno. We need that assurance after our experience with Tengku Razaleigh (Hamzah)," said Takiyuddin.

PAS felt betrayed when Tengku Razaleigh dissolved Semangat 46 and members returned en bloc to Umno.

They still remember how the Kelantan royal politician used to tell the ceramah crowd: "Even if everyone in Semangat 46 rejoins Umno, there will be one person left and his name is Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah".

Hadi has given his full blessings for co-operation talks with Parti Pribumi but is resisting moves to meet up with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

And although PKR is regarded as sahabat tahaluf (ally), there are rumblings about how certain PKR leaders have aligned with Amanah to undermine PAS in Kelantan.

Mohd Amar lashed out at "one or two PKR leaders" who have pledged to expose the logging issue in Kelantan and to help Amanah capture Kelantan. He was referring to PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli and secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution.

PAS is ever vigilant about any kind of threat to its government in Kelantan. In that sense, the RUU355 will help entrench the party's hold on the state.

So why is Umno so helpful to PAS over the RUU355 issue if it means conceding Kelantan to PAS for yet another term?

It is obvious that Umno wants to sever the ties between PAS and DAP and what better way than to lend PAS a hand in implementing syariah law in Kelantan.

PAS and DAP are limited on their own but together, they have been able to inflict damage to Barisan Nasional. As such, keeping them apart is in the interest of Barisan and if it means letting PAS keep Kelantan, then so be it.

The by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar also helped restore the confidence of PAS.

Although Umno emerged as the victor, PAS could see that its support base in the rural Malay heartland had not been greatly affected by Amanah.

Mohd Amar claimed that Malay middle-class support has also returned after the party broke off ties with DAP.

PAS' choice of Kedah as the venue for this year's muktamar is to give the party a boost in the state which they won in 2008 and lost in 2013. That was also why the party picked Kedah ulama Hashim Yasin as their new Mursyidul Am.

PAS has survived the choppy seas, it is back on an even keel.

The next few months will be important in re-establishing its place in Malaysian politics as it prepares to play kingmaker.

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