Malaysia's Islamic party PAS meets to calm members after stormy year

PAS leaders (from left) deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, spiritual leader Haron Din and president Abdul Hadi Awang. Malaysia's Islamic party begins a much-watched annual assembly today, with its leaders trying to restore the faith of members a
PAS leaders (from left) deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, spiritual leader Haron Din and president Abdul Hadi Awang. Malaysia's Islamic party begins a much-watched annual assembly today, with its leaders trying to restore the faith of members after a stormy year in the country's increasingly fractured political landscape.PHOTO: DATO' SERI TUAN GURU HAJI ABDUL HADI AWANG FACEBOOK
PAS and Barisan Nasional flags next to each other during the 2013 general election. PAS and Umno-led BN, once fierce rivals, are moving closer together as they seek to shore up their political support.
PAS and Barisan Nasional flags next to each other during the 2013 general election. PAS and Umno-led BN, once fierce rivals, are moving closer together as they seek to shore up their political support.PHOTO: REUTERS

Focus will be on controversial hudud Bill and why working with Umno is now acceptable

Malaysia's Islamic party begins a much-watched annual assembly today, with its leaders trying to restore the faith of members after a stormy year in the country's increasingly fractured political landscape.

The last 12 months saw almost all moderate leaders of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) leaving to form a new party, the break-up of the opposition alliance that included PAS, and a controversial move to get closer to arch-enemy Umno.

A plus caused by the turmoil is that PAS is now a kingmaker of sorts between the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and a new opposition alliance that excludes PAS.

 
 

On the downside, PAS chiefs need to convince their own members why working with Umno, long derided as corrupt and abusers of Islam, is beneficial.

And everyone wants to hear how PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang will explain to members how he plans to move ahead with his controversial Islamic criminal laws, after their appearance in Parliament raised much anger among non-Muslim Malaysians.

SOLO VENTURE

We may have to go solo. But we have experience in this, and the president will guide us.

SECRETARY-GENERAL TAKIYUDDIN HASSAN

The muktamar, as the party's annual meeting is called, is being held in its stronghold state of Kelantan, barely 5km away from where its revered former spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat, who was Kelantan's menteri besar for 23 years till 2013, is buried.

After Datuk Nik Aziz's death in February last year, PAS returned to its stance of going it alone as the other opposition parties were unwilling to support its Islamic agenda.

  • Things to watch out for

  • • Some 5,000 delegates are attending the Kelantan meetings of its wings - Ulama (clerics), Youth and Women - and the main assembly.

    • The party's top brass, from new spiritual leader Datuk Haron Din downwards, is expected to explain to members that its move to get closer to Umno is beneficial to its Islamic agenda. 

    This is a tough task as PAS members have been indoctrinated for decades that Umno is corrupt, are abusers of Islam and cannot be trusted. 

    Today, though, both sides need each other. 

    Umno, which heads the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, has been weakened by the financial scandal engulfing Prime Minister Najib Razak and public unhappiness with bread and butter issues such as rising prices of goods and homes. 

    PAS, left out of the new opposition alliance, wants to reenergise its push for stricter Islamic laws in Malaysia. It finds common cause with Malay-led Umno.

    OTHER MAJOR ISSUES

    • Eagerly awaited details of PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang's plans to introduce Islamic criminal law, after his so-called hudud Bill saw the light of day in Parliament last week. 

    Despite assurances by PAS it will apply only to Muslims, non-Muslims see it as as an opening move to introduce more Islamic regulations.

    • After a stormy year, the one-million strong party needs to unite its grassroots again as it will face the next general election, due in two years, largely alone. 

    PAS campaigned closely with other opposition parties in the 2008 and 2013 general elections.

    Shannon Teoh

"We may have to go solo. But we have experience in this, and the president will guide us," secretary- general Takiyuddin Hassan told The Straits Times.

This would have been unheard of when Mr Nik Aziz was alive, as the respected Islamic scholar was a strident advocate of achieving Islamic goals via a multiethnic pact to unseat the Umno-led BN.

"It's a return to the 1980s and '90s. Despite criticising corruption and injustice by the incumbent government, PAS leaders preferred to trot out puritanical messages, rather than pursue a winning strategy," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who heads the policy think-tank Ideas.

Analysts say that had PAS stayed with the opposition alliance, BN could be staring at defeat in the next general election due in two years' time as Prime Minister Najib Razak is struggling to fend off allegations of graft involving some US$700 million (S$967 million) and unhappiness over his handling of the economy.

Instead, PAS sought to work with Umno to push forward its Islamic agenda, which had been thwarted when it partnered secular allies the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Former PAS information chief Mahfuz Omar told The Straits Times that "there doesn't seem to be clear political direction", and members are seeking clarity on the relationship with Umno.

Datuk Takiyuddin said a key theme in the president's policy speech on Thursday will be to "answer questions and clear confusion", and the party's ties with Umno "will be given priority in terms of explanation".

Last week, Datuk Seri Hadi, an MP from Terengganu, was unexpectedly allowed to table the so-called hudud Bill in Parliament, raising much anger among non-Muslims.

Mr Hadi is expected to showcase the Bill to say that cooperation with Umno has brought PAS a step forward in publicly raising Islamic issues. He will need to be convincing.

While the PAS leadership is largely behind him, the grassroots are confused that Umno is now their friend, the DAP and PKR are the new enemies, and yet PAS still works with the two opposition parties to rule Selangor.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'PAS meets to calm members after stormy year'. Print Edition | Subscribe