PAS chief downplays concerns in party over closer ties with former enemy Umno

Parti Islam SeMalaysia president Abdul Hadi Awang speaking during the party's annual assembly in Kuantan, Pahang, on June 21, 2019.
Parti Islam SeMalaysia president Abdul Hadi Awang speaking during the party's annual assembly in Kuantan, Pahang, on June 21, 2019.PHOTO: MUKTAMAR PAS PUSAT

KUANTAN - The president of Malaysia's Islamist party on Sunday (June 23) downplayed concerns raised by some party members about its closer political ties with former arch-enemy Umno, saying this was a minority view.

Abdul Hadi Awang, who leads Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) said only "isolated voices" and its newer members were worried about its "taawun" (Arabic for political collaboration) with Umno.

The PAS annual assembly in Kuantan, the capital of eastern Pahang state, on Saturday approved a resolution to support the growing political alliance.

"Those who have been with the party (PAS) for a long time and are familiar with our matured and prosperous political culture are able to accept the decisions we make," Datuk Seri Hadi told a news conference at the end of the three day assembly, as quoted by Malaysiakini news site.

Some delegates at the meeting raised reservations about working with Umno, a Malay nationalist party, without imposing some restrictions and conditions.

Some party members wanted PAS to lead the informal alliance between the two Malaysian opposition parties, which are also the largest parties by membership.

Others want to ensure that Umno would support the conservative Islamic stance of PAS in issues raised in parliament.

Before the general election in May last year, Umno claimed a membership of more than three million, and PAS one million.

The loose Umno-PAS political alliance saw them winning three by-elections this year, when PAS stepped aside to let an Umno candidate contest directly the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance.

But the Umno-PAS ties have led to murmurs within the party too, as Umno was for decades the main arch-enemy of the Islamist party, and its leaders suspected to be corrupt.

On Friday, Mr Hadi raised eyebrows when he said at the opening of the assembly that the party must prioritise electing Muslim leaders - even if they have no integrity.

"Integrity without Islam is not accepted by Allah, and a person with faith who has no integrity is still better than someone with integrity but no faith," he told 3,000 party delegates and observers.

Several Umno leaders have been slapped with corruption charges, including former president Najib Razak and current president Zahid Hamidi.

Speaking to the assembly on Saturday, Kedah delegate Ahmad Yahya warned of a new split in PAS if its cooperation with Umno is not properly explained and implemented.

"Should we fail to enable our party members to understand, then we will be confronted with challenges ahead," he said.

Mr Ahmad said there was a possibility that some members unhappy with the cooperation could form a new party, "hence we will once again be divided".

PAS lost some 20 per cent of its membership, more than 150,000, some two years ago when they followed several top party leaders who were promoting a more moderate approach to Islamic issues.

Those who left then had formed Parti Amanah Negara led by former PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu.

Amanah is today one of the four parties grouped under PH and Mr Mohamad the defence minister.