Malaysian opposition eyes Johor with help of new party

Amanah, led by ex-PAS leader Mohamed Sabu, consists of breakaway members

KUALA LUMPUR • The opposition, with the help of a newly formed political party, Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah), will be making a concerted bid to wrest control of Johor from the ruling Barisan Nasional.

Amanah, just formed last week and consisting of breakaway members from the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), is led by former PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu, popularly known as Mat Sabu. Amanah was able to persuade about a dozen MPs and assemblymen from PAS to join it. They make up Amanah's "bargaining power" in the opposition, especially in Selangor.

Mr Mohamad has indicated that Amanah will be an Islamist party like PAS. But unlike PAS, it will be inclusive and will open its doors to non-Muslims who accept the party's Islamic precept.

Protracted feuds over the chief ministership of Selangor and plans to introduce Islamic criminal law finally destroyed the tripartite Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition earlier this year. Pakatan consisted of PAS, the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the multiracial Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

DAP made tremendous headway in Johor in the last general election but it needs a Malay party that can bring in the Malay votes in the state.

Opposition leaders are hoping the Umno dynamics in Johor will worsen and some of them say the remarks coming from the Johor palace will help them gain Malay support in the general election. They have interpreted the stream of royal opinions on politics as a sign of disenchantment with Umno, and they think that their time in Johor has come.

PAS leaders, however, are confident that those parliamentarians who joined Amanah will be wiped out in the Malay heartland states. They are also unimpressed with Amanah's claims of being an Islamist party because there are no top- notch ulama figures in Amanah.

On the other hand, Amanah leaders say that PAS will be wiped out in the urban West Coast belt, and especially in Selangor, where Chinese voters call the shots. They say that PAS has lost its way and cannot fit into the multiracial politics of Malaysia.

There has been a great deal of name-calling and accusations flying back and forth between PAS and Amanah.

"Mat Sabu's party is an elite group without much grassroots support," said columnist Roslan Shahir at Harakah, the PAS mouthpiece.

But Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah, who is Amanah's prime mover in Kelantan, said that PAS is in self-destruction mode.

"It is going back into a dark period of history," said Mr Wan Rahim, who was once the Kelantan Assembly Speaker.

Mr Wan Rahim was referring to the 1986 General Election when the party stood in 97 parliamentary seats and won only one seat. Sole winner Nik Abdullah Arshad's son Mohd Amar is now the Deputy Menteri Besar.

Amanah made claims of an exodus from PAS and said thousands of its members in several divisions in Selangor resigned to join the party. For a while, it seemed like the party had the PAS leadership nervous.

But the tables have turned.

PAS officials who met party leader, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, last week, said he merely smiled when asked what he thought of the thin Malay presence at the recent Bersih 4 demonstration.

PAS leaders are now confident that their grassroots support is intact. Party members had not come out after their president indicated that the party supports the objective of free and fair elections but would not participate in the protests.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'Malaysian opposition eyes Johor with help of new party'. Print Edition | Subscribe