Malaysia's Islamist party yesterday put forth its ambitious goal of winning 40 parliamentary constituencies, with key victories in five states as it gears up for the next nationwide polls.
If it wins big at the general election that must be called by the middle of next year, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) could then introduce tougher Islamic punishments in these states, said outgoing Youth chief Nik Abduh Nik Aziz.
"We would actually have the right to amend the enactment of syariah laws at the state level," he said at the party's Youth meeting.
The Youth, Women and Ulama (clerics) wings started their simultaneous two-day annual congress yesterday in separate halls.
PAS is feeling an afterglow of success after presenting its proposal in Parliament earlier this month calling for tougher punishments by Islamic courts. Despite almost-impossible odds against it, PAS is hoping for approval from lawmakers to approve tougher Islamic laws widely referred to by the Malay acronym RUU355, or the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.
In a speech officiating at the Youth meeting, deputy PAS president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, using football analogy, said the party sees itself winning four "Division 1" states - Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Selangor - with Pahang as a less certain Division 2 state. PAS has ruled Kelantan since 1990, and governed the states of Kedah and Terengganu for one term only.
Analysts see PAS' election goals as overly ambitious, since the party has gone solo after a bitter fallout with former partners in the opposition, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and the Democratic Action Party.
"It's to whip up sentiments among hard-core supporters and mobilisers of the party that they have high aspirations for elections," said Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, fellow at the ISEAS -Yusof Ishak Institute. "By marking territory early should they go into negotiation with any parties, these are the seats they've marked for themselves."
Historically, PAS achieved its best electoral performances when it was in alliance with other opposition parties. It won 21 seats in the House during the 2013 elections, but lost seven of them to splinter group Parti Amanah Negara, made up of more liberal PAS members who exited the party in 2015.
At its congress, PAS leaders sought to appeal to its membership by raising livelihood issues stemming from an economic downturn.
Said Ulama wing chief Mahfodz Mohamed: "All sorts of ruins occurred as a result of leaving religion behind in the country's development. The collapse of morals, increase in crimes, economy in crisis have not made them (Umno) realise that Islam has to be the government's guideline."
PAS' ambitions seem at odds with its relationship with Umno - a long-time foe. PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang has pushed for closer ties with Prime Minister Najib Razak's party. But PAS has also said these ties do not preclude it from trying to wrest seats from Umno.
Correction note: The story was edited to correct Dr Mustafa Izzuddin's name. We are sorry for the error.