MALAYSIA - COMING out of its most divisive party elections ever, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) affirmed the need to strive harder to win Malay votes and to continue working with the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition coalition.
This year's meeting saw an all-out tussle between its conservative ulama (cleric) faction, which is pushing for a return to the party's religious roots, and its progressive faction, which has an eye on the national stage.
Wrapping up the congress on Sunday, PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu, a progressive, said that without the PR alliance, the Islamic party would be stuck in the Malay-belt states in the north and east of peninsular Malaysia.
"But with Pakatan, we conquered Selangor and, God willing, it will be Johor next," he said in a speech.
Party elections - held every two years to elect top office-bearers - were fractious, as both the ulama group and the rival Anwarina faction used social media to denigrate each other.
The Anwarinas are so named because they support opposition alliance leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Election results showed the Anwarinas gaining an edge over the ulamas, but it was slight.
The ulama faction had talked of wanting to "review" its alliance with the PR - which includes the mostly Chinese Democratic Action Party and Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat.
However, the results of the elections demonstrated that party members mostly wanted the Islamic party to stay in PR.
PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang - who has taken a neutral stance in the ulama-Anwarina tussle - was returned unopposed.
The candidate from the conservative faction failed to win the No. 2 post, which was claimed by incumbent Mohamad Sabu, who hails from the liberal-leaning faction.
In the vice-presidents' race, only one of the three posts was won by an ulama.
Senior cleric Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man was yesterday confirmed as a vice-president, along with two incumbents from the pro-Anwar faction, Mr Salahuddin Ayub and Datuk Husam Musa.
Meanwhile, in the 18-seat central working committee (CWC) race, the Anwarina faction saw 11 winners and the ulamas, seven - two years ago, the ulamas had a 10-8 majority.
"While it is true that the ulamas have flexed their muscles, the elections have also shown the limits to how far they can go," said Mr Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
Overall, the results showed that members want to see continued co-existence between the conservatives and the liberal-leaning faction, he said.
"In the end, the party rank and file want both the ulamas and the non-ulama wing of technocrats, professionals and activists to continue leading PAS as one unified team. It is clear that they see this as a winning formula for PAS," said Mr Yang Razali, who attended the three-day congress.
During the event, the party also cast an eye back to the recent general election, held in May, as it plotted its future.
While the PR alliance did better overall this year than in 2008, PAS did not fare as well.
It won 21 seats - two fewer than in the 2008 election - and suffered a 2 per cent drop in Malay votes in May.
PAS Research Centre chief Dzulkefly Ahmad said the party needs to woo more young Malays and women voters if it hopes to perform better.
"Our support among Malays is 40 per cent - we need to raise this to 44 per cent to win more of the pie. Among Malay women, only 30 to 35 per cent support us," said Dr Dzulkefly.
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