Two factions set to face off in PAS polls

Two factions set to face off in PAS polls
On the left, Deputy president: THE CHALLENGER: Kelantan Deputy Menteri Besar Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah. On the right, Deputy president: THE INCUMBENT: Pro-Anwar Mr Mohamad Sabu is expected to retain his post.

The annual congress of Malaysia's Islamic party, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), begins this morning with the focus on its internal elections held every two years, as conservative clerics face off with the rival liberal-leaning faction.

What remains unclear is whether these clerics (ulama) will be able to marshal enough supporters to oust popular leaders of the so-called Anwarinas - the faction in PAS that is keen to continue working closely with the opposition alliance led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The congress ends on Sunday.

"Both sides know that PAS needs to make changes, but they have opposite approaches and there is a serious difference," said Associate Professor Mohammad Agus Yusoff from the National University of Malaysia.

Party president Abdul Hadi Awang was scheduled to deliver his key address  on Friday morning. The nearly 1,300 delegates would vote in the internal elections in the afternoon.

A strong showing by the ulama group might prompt PAS to ease up on its close cooperation with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance, and thus weaken Malaysia's move towards a two-party system.

Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi is unchallenged and will keep his post for a fifth term. But there are contests between the pro-Anwar faction and the ulama group for the deputy president's and three vice-president's posts.

Incumbent deputy president Mohamad Sabu, who is from the pro-Anwar faction, is being challenged by conservative cleric Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, the Deputy Menteri Besar of Kelantan.

The three incumbent vice-presidents, all Anwarinas, are Datuk Husam Musa, Datuk Mahfuz Omar and Mr Salahuddin Ayub.

They are facing off with two veteran clerics - the PAS information chief, Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, and its education bureau head, Mr Abu Bakar Chik.

About a third of the 1,300 delegates are backers of the ulama group and another similar number are open supporters of the liberal-leaning faction. The polls will therefore be decided by the remaining number of delegates, say political analysts and party members.

Mr Mohamad is expected to retain his deputy president's post as he remains the most popular public speaker of PAS, while Datuk Mohd Amar is a virtual unknown outside his native Kelantan.

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