Top lieutenants in Parti Islam seMalaysia (PAS) yesterday lined up to pledge their support to party president Abdul Hadi Awang, whose Islamic agenda has splintered the opposition
Last week's re-emergence of the Marang MP's so-called "hudud" Bill to introduce Islamic criminal law has deepened the schism between the Islamic party and its former partners, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), in the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat alliance.
At the start of the annual party congress, labelled a "muktamar", top PAS figures hailed the success on the hudud Bill in Parliament just days before the meeting as proof that its new direction to seek "Islamic solutions" is bearing fruit.
Malaysia's Umno-led government allowed Datuk Seri Hadi's Bill to be tabled in Parliament last Thursday, but he chose to defer debate on the motion to the next sitting in October. The sudden prioritisation of Mr Hadi's private member's Bill ahead of government business raised eyebrows because it was also allowed to jump the queue on the Order Paper.
PAS Youth chief Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, in his policy speech at the party wing's congress, hailed Mr Hadi for opening "a new horizon in PAS' goal to champion Islamic rules".
He described PAS' move to establish a pact with minor multiracial party Ikatan in March as a major step in shaping Malaysia's political landscape.
"It will play a major role in ending the public's dependence on any one party that has made it arrogant in their domination," the Pasir Mas MP said.
Although he did not name any specific political party, Mr Nik Abduh called for PAS to take back seats "lent" to PKR and DAP ahead of a general election due by 2018.
"Enough with the lessons of the past, where our sincere and disciplined party members were made use of by our friends for the sake for electoral victory. And then they were abandoned," he said.
Deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man also opened the youth assembly by declaring that the party would survive the loss of allies as "long as we stay true to our principles". "This muktamar (congress) is a celebration," he added.
Both PAS leaders, however, denied that the Islamist party would enter a coalition with the ruling Umno, whose cooperation was obvious on the hudud Bill in Parliament last week. PAS has for decades reviled Umno as an untrustworthy and corrupt opponent.
"Accusations that PAS is blessing Umno's evil and wants to join (the Barisan Nasional coalition) are baseless slander," Mr Nik Abduh said.
Datuk Tuan Ibrahim also said PAS remained part of the opposition, reiterating that the party wanted not just a change of ruling party but also a systemic change in government.
PAS parted ways with DAP and PKR a year ago, having fought bitterly over the party's plans to introduce hudud. The split broke up the seven-year Pakatan Rakyat alliance which in the 2013 general election came closest to ending Umno's uninterrupted grip on power since independence in 1957.
The appearance of Mr Hadi's private member's Bill last Thursday met with a stiff protest from the DAP, and even allies of Umno in the ruling multiracial Barisan Nasional coalition have threatened to quit the government.
Hudud, which prescribes punishments such as stoning to death and amputation, has great traction among Malaysia's Muslim majority. But most non-Muslims are against the introduction of the Islamic criminal law despite assurances that it will not be applied to them.
Mr Hadi's parliamentary motion seeks to remove existing limits to punishments that can be meted out by Islamic courts, short of the death penalty.