KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s Islamist party became a member of the country’s ruling coalition for the first time in its history just last year and today has three full Cabinet ministers, five deputy ministers and three chief ministers.
The president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), Abdul Hadi Awang, on Saturday (Nov 6) recounted at his party’s annual congress how the 70-year-old party had “created history” under his leadership, and that it will act as kingmaker by uniting the Malay-Muslim parties.
“PAS created history and returned an Islam-led government at the federal-level via peaceful and democratic means from the Pakatan Harapan government, which won the 14th general election (2018) through lies that were spread to the people.
“PAS successfully returned the government’s leadership to one which is led by Islam… It was brought about by the changes made through an approach to unite Muslim-based parties that were awakened and repentant,” Datuk Seri Hadi said in his president’s policy speech at the congress in the state capital of Terengganu state.
Though PAS has just 18 Members of Parliament – just 8.1 per cent in the 222-strong Lower House – both key Malay-Muslim parties Umno and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) are constantly wooing PAS, which has strong grassroots support among rural Malays.
Its three menteri besars (chief ministers) are in the rural states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah.
With(Nov 8) and general election expected next year, the suitors have been constantly knocking at the party’s doors.
To be sure, Malaysian politics in the last three years is easily confusing to outsiders, with three prime ministers in the last three years.
Adding to the mess, the votes of the Malay-Muslims, who form some 60 per cent of the country’s 32 million population, are broken up among not just Umno, Bersatu and PAS, but also other Malay-led factions.
These include Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Pejuang led by ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad and Parti Amanah Negara led by ex-PAS No. 2 Mohamad Sabu. Both PKR and Amanah are members of the federal opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH).
PAS itself is often torn between siding with Umno, the established Malay nationalist party but one led by leaders facing multiple corruption charges in court, or with Bersatu, which is led by ex-premier Muhyiddin Yassin.
PAS is a member of both the Umno-PAS grouping called Muafakat Nasional (MN) and Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN).
“These two parties (Umno and Bersatu) have been united thanks to PAS’ role in Muafakat Nasional and PN, with PAS playing the role of peacemaker,” Mr Hadi said. “We must face the next general election with the unity that we are building today. There should not be any conflict due to greed, selfishness or resentment, that could lead to a repeat of the last election results.”
Mr Hadi, 74, on Saturday declared that for the Melaka state polls and the next general election,But, at the same time, he is not ruling out cooperating with MN.
“Our commitment (in Melaka) is to support PN. PAS will also use the PN symbol in the polls,” Mr Hadi told reporters after opening the party’s congress.
PAS, which has no seats in the Melaka state assembly, plans to contest at least one-third of the 28 seats in Melaka.
Sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya told The Straits Times: “Hadi is being indecisive, hard to understand, and unclear. This could confuse PAS supporters.”
Still, Mr Hadi has an iron grip on the one-million-plus members of PAS, Malaysia’s second biggest party by membership after Umno.
The Islamist party is holding its biennial party polls this weekend, but with Mr Hadi and his loyal deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man again retaining their posts unopposed.
Hadi has been PAS president for 19 years and Tuan Ibrahim as his deputy for six years. A total of 1,546 delegates are attending the two-day hybrid congress.