KUALA LUMPUR - The leadership of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has defended its decision to contest under the Perikatan Nasional (PN) banner in the upcoming Melaka polls, but stressed the party was still open to working with PN rival Umno at Malaysia's next general election.
PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said on Sunday (Nov 7) that it was not unusual for the party to fly a different flag, citing the 1974 general election when it contested using the Umno-led Barisan Nasional logo. It won 14 parliamentary seats to Umno's 62 then.
"This shows that the decision by the PAS central committee to use the PN logo in the Melaka state election is not something unusual," he told delegates at the closing of the party's two-day annual congress in the eastern state of Terengganu.
PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said that although PAS and Umno will be competing against each other in the Melaka state election on Nov 20, the Islamist party has no plans to leave Muafakat Nasional (MN), its formal pact with Umno.
He said MN had a bigger agenda to unite Malays and Muslims, and that talks between the two parties would continue.
On PAS' political direction, Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim said the party would "only move forward and become stronger" with PN in Melaka.
"The election, with PAS being a PN component party, will be a benchmark of how we will fare in the future. I'm sure many want to see how things turn out in Melaka," he told reporters.
PAS will contest eight of the 28 state seats in the Melaka election. The party had no seats in the state legislature before it was dissolved for the polls.
Analysts say the Melaka state election will test whether the pact between PAS and Bersatu yields success at the ballot box.
If it fails, PAS could well switch to working with Umno.
PAS' pact with Bersatu will determine PAS' plans for the next general election, said sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya.
"If this alliance fails and they do not win the Melaka state election, then PAS could then use this reason to work with Umno at the next election," he told The Straits Times.
Executive director for think-tank Ilham Centre, Mr Hisommudin Bakar, said the Melaka polls will act as a referendum for PAS and guide its strategic decisions ahead of the general election, which is widely-expected to be held next year.
"If three-cornered fights do emerge in Melaka, this proves that the three Malay parties have failed to find the best formula in the distribution of seats between them," he told ST.
PAS, which was formed in 1951 and has roots in the rural conservative north-east of Peninsular Malaysia, has seen mixed results from its previous political alliances.
In 1990, it joined forces with Umno splinter party Semangat 46, and won seven parliamentary seats.
Nine years later, it won 27 seats as part of the Barisan Alternatif coalition with the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the new Keadilan party formed of supporters of former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.
Ahead of the 2008 election, PAS joined the DAP and Keadilan in a new coalition called Pakatan Rakyat, winning 23 seats.
Between 2008 and 2018, it formed part of the state governments of Penang and Selangor with the federal opposition.
After a fallout with DAP over its Islamic agenda, PAS left Pakatan Rakyat and entered into yet another alliance called Gagasan Sejahtera with two smaller parties, and won 18 parliamentary seats in the 2018 general election.
It then formed the MN pact with Umno, who had lost the 2018 election. It helped the former ruling party win by-elections in Cameron Highlands and Tanjung Piai in 2019, by not fielding candidates who might split the Malay-Muslim vote.
In 2020, PAS became part of the country's ruling coalition for the first time in its history, under the PN government that took over from Pakatan Harapan. It currently governs the states of Kelantan, Kedah and Terengganu, and is part of several state governments including in Johor and Perak.