A plan by about 20 former leaders of opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) to quit and join a new group has hit a political snag, as the elected lawmakers among them apparently pledged to "return" their seats in the federal Parliament and state assemblies to the Islamic party should they resign.
Their plan to leave PAS has kicked off a social media debate among members about its unique Islamic oath system, called bai'ah, which the party has used since 2004 to prevent its elected lawmakers from bolting, until now.
Party chiefs say each PAS MP and state assemblyman swore an oath of loyalty before standing as a candidate in the 2013 general election. Among other things, they pledged that all seats won would belong to the party.
"They (the lawmakers) have taken from PAS, not given anything to PAS. So if they resign, return what they have taken from PAS," Youth Wing chief Nik Mohamad Abduh wrote on his Facebook on Monday, in discussing the issue.
Led by former PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu and former vice-president Salahuddin Ayub, the group plans to leave PAS, having formed a non-governmental organisation called Gerakan Harapan Baru (GHB) or New Hope Movement. They include eight federal MPs and three Selangor assemblymen who won in 2013.
RETURNING WHAT THEY TOOK
They (the lawmakers) have taken from PAS, not given anything to PAS. So if they resign, return what they have taken from PAS.
NIK MOHAMAD ABDUH, Youth Wing chief
GHB is applying to become a political party, and aims to team up with the Democratic Action Party and Parti Keadilan Rakyat to form a new federal opposition alliance.
Both Mr Mohamad Sabu and Mr Salahuddin lost in 2013, so they could quit without any problem.
The party's deputy spiritual leader, Datuk Ahmad Yakob, was quoted by Sinar Harian paper yesterday as saying: "The bai'ah was sworn (by the lawmakers)... it is not to be taken lightly."
Over the past week, PAS members have turned to social media platform WhatsApp to question whether these Parliament and state assembly wards actually belong to the politicians.
So far, none of the leaders who want to leave PAS has commented on the bai'ah issue.
The party has 21 seats in the federal Parliament and 15 seats in the Selangor state assembly - losing so many constituencies at one go would be a big blow. Malaysia's electoral law allows an MP or assemblyman to resign from his party while retaining his seat.
The issue also presents a moral dilemma for the former PAS leaders. If they leave the party but refuse to give up their wards, they might be seen by PAS members and the wider Malay community as untrustworthy politicians.
Yet, if they leave behind their seats, they would be left without their grassroots support base.
Moreover, if these wards are returned to PAS, mass by-elections would have to follow, as the electoral law ties each constituency to a politician and not one's party.