Winning over Muslim voters will be tough for PAS progressives

Winning over Muslim voters will be tough for PAS progressives
: Mr Mohamad Sabu is the leader of the informal group called G18, which was set up by PAS progressives

A group of 18 progressive leaders in Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) who lost in its internal elections this month set up an informal group last week called the G18, led by former deputy president Mohamad Sabu.

They are assessing whether it is viable to form a new Islamic party, after putting some distance between themselves and the Malaysian Muslim Welfare Association (PasMa), an NGO of progressive PAS members that struck out last year due to conflicts with PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.

Datuk Seri Hadi's team has constantly differed from its Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partners in the past two years, culminating in the cutting of ties with secular and Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party at the end of the PAS national assembly on June 6.

This effectively ended PR's seven-year span as a wide-ranging tripartite pact, much to the dismay of the moderate PAS leaders.

The third member of PR is Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

But there are serious doubts about whether a new party can compete for the Malay-Muslim vote against Umno and PAS, which are deeply entrenched in Malaysian politics.

Apart from Mr Mohamad Sabu, the G18 includes former PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub.

"PAS brought its strong machinery to the table. For this new party to be relevant, it needs to strengthen PR overall, perhaps by bringing more national appeal for Islamic values," said a source familiar with the G18's move to form a new outfit.

On the progressives joining PasMa, Malaysiakini reported G18 member Hanipa Maidin as saying that PasMa chief Phahrolrazi

Mohd Zawawi is seen by the grassroots as "a troublemaker during the Kedah fiasco". He was referring to a power struggle prior to PAS losing Kedah in the 2013 general election.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive at the Ideas think-tank, told The Straits Times that even among the PAS progressives, there were various schools of thought on how to take the party forward. "Only now are they united in defeat and a desire to create a new platform."

A senior PKR leader who attended a recent meeting with the G18 said the group faced an uphill battle to be a national force without the backing of PAS' famously well-drilled army of party workers.

"Where is the ideological space between PKR, PAS and Umno for a new party? Umno and PAS are cradle-to-grave parties. To break it is tough," he said.

Two PAS breakaways in the 1970s and 1980s, Berjasa and Hamim, have failed to make any political impact, providing a sober backdrop for those keen to form a new Islamic party.

This article was first published on June 27, 2015.
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