KOTA BARU • The bad blood between leaders of Malaysia's main Islamic party and a splinter group has become worse, as name-calling, accusations and an act of vandalism became public in recent weeks.
The heightened tensions are partly related to concerns within Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) - which has ruled Kelantan state for the last 25 years - that the breakaway Parti Amanah Negara (PAN) is making a play to take over the east coast state.
PAN president Mohamad Sabu went to Kelantan a few days ago, and went on a walkabout at the busy Kota Baru market.
Later, speaking at a political rally, the former PAS deputy president said: "I am not dreaming - we will see a rise in support."
PAN leaders said half of Kelantan voters are leaning towards their party after the popular former Kelantan Menteri Besar and PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat died in February.
PAN was formed in September by a group of former PAS leaders after they lost the party elections in June, when many members backed the conservative faction.
The conservative faction, led by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, has abandoned its ally, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and is edging towards working with long-time political nemesis Umno.
PAN's followers have been insulted with labels such as "DAP lackey" and "DAP dogs". PAN, in turn, labelled PAS as traitors to the opposition cause, and accused Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi of trying to form a so-called unity government in Selangor with Umno.
Last week, PAN deputy president Salahuddin Ayub's car tyre was slashed - some people said it was an angry reaction to his party's attacks on PAS. The reactions have become so strong that Dr Hatta Ramli, a Kelantan MP who switched parties from PAS to PAN, has refrained from visiting his constituency.
And, further raising the ire of PAS followers, Kelantan PAS assemblyman Husam Musa - a protege of the late Datuk Nik Aziz - has accused the state government of financial irregularities.
The big policy difference between PAN and PAS boils down to a key issue - PAS wants to implement the Islamic criminal law hudud in Kelantan and beyond, while PAN wants to focus on justice and governance.
"It is sad this has happened," said PAS leader and Kelantan deputy Menteri Besar Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah. "They used to be our friends and they have contributed to the party. Now, they attack our party, accuse us of many things."
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK