Islamist party PAS set for comeback in Malaysia's federal government

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said it was unfair to accuse members of the new government of corruption as politicians from PH had also faced similar accusations before. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

KUALA LUMPUR - Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is set to make a comeback to federal government after a 42-year absence, as one of the parties backing new Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

The Islamist party that boasts a one million-strong membership has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent months thanks to its unlikely alliance with former foe Umno and deep voter disillusionment with the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, leading to a string of recent by-election wins for the PAS-Umno pact.

All eyes will be on how the party, which governs Kelantan and Terengganu state, influences national policy.

In its press conference on Sunday (March 1), PAS brushed aside the question of whether Umno leaders currently facing graft charges will be given Cabinet posts in Tan Sri Muhyiddin's new government.

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said it was unfair to accuse members of the new government of corruption as politicians from PH had also faced similar accusations before.

"What is important is saving the country from the political crisis that took place," he said, referring to the week-long turmoil which saw the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government.

"If you want to accuse leaders of being linked to corruption, PH also has leaders whose cases have been stopped from going to court, they were released just like that," he said.

PAS was part of the Barisan Nasional federal government from 1974 to 1977, and had then worked with Umno to capture all 36 state seats in Kelantan. Its then president Asri Musa also became a Cabinet minister.

However, following a rift with Umno, PAS left the BN government and contested on its own in the 1978 general election but failed to capture the state, winning only two seats.

Datuk Seri Hadi declined to say if his party will now be represented in Cabinet.

"Let's form a government first, we can talk about the Cabinet later," he said.

A PAS insider told The Straits Times that the party hopes to gain four Cabinet posts.

Observers say that PAS will be given two to three posts at most, mainly due to the various competing groups in the new government.

Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional or National Alliance group includes lawmakers from his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Umno, PAS and Gabungan Parti Sarawak.

There is talk that PAS is pushing for one of two deputy prime minister posts, although it is unclear if this will materialise.

Universiti Malaya's Professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi said that as PAS and Umno are the biggest blocs in the new government, with 18 and 39 lawmakers respectively, there is a possibility for representatives from each of the two parties to be appointed deputy prime minister.

"PAS needs to show that it is a party that supports the national agenda, a progressive Islam, and is capable of playing an important role in government after having been left out of the federal government for decades," he said.

He said that the party needs to change people's opinions of it as a conservative, rural party. "They need to have progressive ideas and a high level of integrity."

James Chin, Director of Asia Institute at University of Tasmania said the party would likely push for an Islamic state and conservative policies such as those implemented in Kelantan and Terengganu.

"PAS will try to insert Islam into every government policy," he said.

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