News analysis

PAS in war of words with ally PKR as ties turn sour

PETALING JAYA • Datuk Seri Azmin Ali is a terribly composed person. The Selangor chief minister does not wear his emotions on his sleeve nor does he open his mouth without thinking.

But the mask slipped briefly last week when he let go a Donald Trump-style tweet hitting out at a tok lebai (village slang for a holy man) "who wants to take over Selangor but has tripped in his own constituency".

The Menteri Besar was shooting back at Parti Islam SeMalaysia's (PAS') Youth chief Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, who had earlier declared that his party planned to take over Selangor.

The sting in the tweet was to tell Mr Nik Abduh not to dream of Selangor when he lost badly in his own Pengkalan Chepa divisional polls just more than a week earlier.

A day later, Mr Azmin updated his social media profile with a photo of himself in white Arabic robes and skullcap - to signal that the tok lebai image is not exclusive to PAS. Within hours, several of Mr Azmin's boys followed suit on their Twitter accounts.

The deepest sense of betrayal came from PKR leaders like vice-president Rafizi Ramli and secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution, who declared that Kelantan would fall when they spoke on the Amanah stage. That really upset PAS leaders because Kelantan is their Serambi Mecca... that the party has ruled since 1990.

The PAS grassroots have since fired back at Mr Azmin, reminding him that he is the Menteri Besar thanks to the support of the holy men group in PAS.

Mr Azmin, who is also deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), a Malay-led multiracial opposition party, tends to be rather sensitive about his hold on Selangor. He is also getting irritated over what he views as veiled threats by PAS leaders about his chief minister's post and his Gombak parliamentary seat where the Islamist party has a lot of members.

He is preparing for the possibility that PAS may decide, at its muktamar or annual convention next month, to end ties between their two parties.

The PAS divisional meetings and elections began a week ago and the war drums are getting louder.

PAS holds its internal polls every two years but, this time around, no one is talking about the elections.

That is a contrast to the 2015 party polls which almost burnt the house down, as the losers and 20 per cent of its members later left to form a new political group.

As PAS vice-president Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah admitted, the party's polls next month have been eclipsed by the debate over ties with PKR. "PKR is the hot topic. I don't hear anyone talking about the party election," he said.

At the convention that starts on April 28, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man are set to be returned unopposed. So the arrows today are being aimed outwards - at PKR and its allies, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and PAS offshoot, Parti Amanah Negara.

HOW DID PKR TURN FROM FRIEND TO FOE? According to PAS communications chief Roslan Shahir, such sentiments began after a by-election in Sungai Besar, Selangor, last year which saw PKR leaders campaigning for Amanah.

The PAS grassroots also felt betrayed that Mr Azmin declared support for the Amanah candidate when PAS had a candidate in the race against Umno.

Both PAS and PKR, along with the DAP and Amanah, jointly rule Selangor state.

But the deepest sense of betrayal came from PKR leaders like vice-president Rafizi Ramli and secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution, who declared that Kelantan would fall when they spoke on the Amanah stage.

That really upset PAS leaders because Kelantan is their Serambi Mecca - their so-called Verandah of Mecca - that the party has ruled since 1990. PAS would be nothing without Kelantan state.

The calls for PAS to end ties with PKR will likely reach a crescendo at the muktamar. Already, several PAS divisions have passed resolutions to sever ties with PKR.

The first of such moves struck at the very heart of PKR, namely, Permatang Pauh where opposition leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is the Member of Parliament. It used to be held by PKR's de-facto chief Anwar Ibrahim, who is behind bars.

In the post-2008 years, when PAS was part of the opposition alliance, the opening day of its muktamar would find an array of DAP and PKR leaders attending in a show of solidarity. But their presence grew less and less with each passing year.

In 2015, Mr Azmin was the only VIP guest from the other opposition parties. He skipped last year's convention as he was busy with the Selangor by-election and sent instead a low-level MP.

It is anybody's guess whether this year PKR will send a token representative, given that the PAS-PKR love affair is over.

The big question is what will happen to the Selangor government if the divorce goes through.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'PAS in war of words with ally PKR as ties turn sour'. Print Edition | Subscribe