For PAS, a struggle to win the Malay heartland

By Sheridan Mahavera, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 8 — PAS and its Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partners are losing in the war for the Malay psyche, because the federal opposition’s sales pitch is being trumped by Umno’s superior salesmanship particularly in the rural heartland, according to the Islamist party’s campaigners.

And the struggle to win the trust of Malay voters is being lost in the villages which conventional wisdom dictate should be PAS’s stronghold.

A Kuala Terengganu PAS grassroots leader once remarked how, contrary to popular belief, the Islamist party did not do well in the Malay countryside.

It is a strange observation given that two of the states under PAS dominated rule are the Malay farmland states of Kedah and Kelantan. Harun, a contractor and a decade-long activist for PAS, pointed to his own experience as a branch leader in Terengganu.

“I was only able to form a branch in my housing area in Kuala Terengganu town. When I go back to my kampung, it’s hard to talk about current issues to my family and friends. They are not exposed.

“They are not critical in their thinking and they accept whatever they read in the paper or watch on television. They know only Umno.

“If you study PAS supporters closely, you realise that to actually come to support PAS one must be intelligent enough to look beyond the conventional wisdom that ‘Umno itu Melayu dan Melayu itu Umno’ (To be Umno is to be Malay and to be Malay is to be Umno).”

PAS is now the second-largest party in Malaysia. It has dynamically evolved from a mono-ethnic Islamist party to one with non-Muslim supporters. PAS now even competes against the MCA and MIC for non-Muslim support.

Despite all this, it still struggles to gain the trust of ordinary Muslims, said its activists.   

This is not just worrying because of the upcoming Galas by-election. Ever since Election 2008, Umno and its Malay supremacist allies have been vigorously campaigning to turn Malays against PAS, PKR and the DAP.

The offensive got a major boost recently when the supremacists roped in former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed. The former Umno president, who was still influential among Malays, constantly repeats his warning that Malays will lose power if PR takes over the country.