Why It Matters

New hope for Pakatan revival

Former PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu (centre), with members of the new group called Gerakan Harapan Baru at a press conference.
Former PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu (centre), with members of the new group called Gerakan Harapan Baru at a press conference. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

The move by former Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) leaders to form Gerakan Harapan Baru (New Hope Movement) after being comprehensively defeated in last month's internal polls will surely lead to their sacking from the Islamic party.

But it gives hope for a quick revival of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition alliance that crumbled last month. PR has been successful in pushing the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to the brink of defeat over the past seven years.

These PAS figures, which include Mr Mohamad Sabu and Mr Salahuddin Ayub, former deputy president and vice-president respectively, have been known to espouse more moderate values than their conservative colleagues in the party.

But an increasingly tense feud within PR in the past two years, over the selection of a state chief minister and Islamic criminal law, led to these progressives being alienated by PAS. The Islamic party also decided to sever ties with the secular Democratic Action Party (DAP) last month. That broke apart the PR pact which now lacks the crucial element of a significant Malay leadership, especially with prime ministerial candidate Anwar Ibrahim controversially jailed for sodomy in February.

While DAP would like a quick and easy fix by co-opting GHB - which will eventually become a new Islamic party in a couple of months - in a so-called Pakatan 2.0, Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is in two minds about whether it should jettison PAS from the opposition alliance.

PKR's main concern is whether the crucial Malay majority vote will flee an opposition operating without PAS, a party that has become synonymous with Islamic values and a disciplined machinery over the decades. But with up to three years before the next general election, and Prime Minister Najib Razak's Umno facing internal turmoil of its own, GHB could very well make a play for more centrist and liberal Malays who are more concerned about the economy than with punitive Islamic laws.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'New hope for Pakatan revival'. Print Edition | Subscribe