Malaysia's Islamist party says it is confident of trebling its Parliament seats at the next polls, using a weapon it calls the Third Bloc, a new political grouping that it would lead.
Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), yesterday defended its plan to win 40 parliamentary seats and five states, brushing off preconceptions that it is overly ambitious.
"We are a party that lives in the realm of reality," said Mr Hadi, adding that there are 165 PAS divisions across Malaysia's 222 parliamentary constituencies to help in its election goals. "Contesting 40 seats is not extreme. It's considered moderate. Our party machinery is nationwide," he told reporters.
For over a decade, Malaysia's political sphere had seen straight fights between ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition coalition of Pakatan Rakyat, which PAS was a part of. However, with PAS' bitter exit from the coalition in 2015 and the formation of new splinter parties, Malaysia's opposition politics has now become much more crowded.
Now PAS is positioning itself as the so-called Third Bloc. It already has an alliance with "mosquito" - meaning small and unheard of - group Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia and, yesterday, it invited other parties and non-governmental organisations to join hands with it, so long as they do not reject PAS' vision of forming an Islamic state.
Delivering his policy speech yesterday at PAS' annual congress, Mr Hadi told some 1,200 delegates present that "aligning Islam in one's self would save the country", pegging religion as the cure for societal ills and corruption within government. He debunked politics that are "liberal, pragmatic and secular", but avoided naming any political opponents.
Mr Hadi, 69, also steered away from talking about the strained political cooperation between PAS and fellow opposition party Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), despite growing calls from within PAS to sever ties with the party.
The congress in Kedah sees him in full grip of the Islamist party, surrounded by loyalists after he purged PAS of its liberal-leaning leaders two years ago.
When pressed by reporters to address an ultimatum issued by a PKR leader for PAS leaders to quit the Selangor government if ties are cut, Mr Hadi merely said: "In Islam we are not taught to make predictions."
PAS' top decision-making body, the majlis syura (consultative council) is expected to decide whether to sever ties with PKR.
But, any working relationship with former premier Mahathir Mohamad's opposition party was quickly rejected, with Mr Hadi describing Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia as "directionless".
PAS is pursuing a new "culture of mature and prosperous politics", Mr Hadi said, where politicians should move beyond attacking each other.