Can PAS Lead A Future Government?


OFTEN, in this blog and elsewhere, people asked me if the Parti Islam Se Malaysia (Pan Malaysian Islamic Party aka PAS) could rule the country?

As I wrote in my “Other Thots” column in the Aug.1 issue of the Malaysian Business magazine, the temptation is to refer them to the iconic song “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan.

Why not? If it gets enough support, it could. Whether it will do a good or a bad one is another issue altogether. In democracy, you don’t always choose the best to govern.

But one thing is sure. PAS could not rule the country alone.  It could rule the country only if it is able to lead the Pakatan Rakyat or any other alliance. But before it could hope to do that, it must first take over UMNO’s role as the principal Malay party.

PAS has to win as many seat as Umno and has to have the financial, organisational and intellectual capabilities matching that of Umno.

Given the country’s demography, political history and the ongoing trends, a Malay party will continue to lead. This dominance is clear in the BN, where Umno is the alpha male, but not so in the PR.

In the 2008 general election, PAS came second to PKR among the three PR parties in terms of popular votes. The PKR won 1,529,265 votes that translated into 31 Parliamentary seats, PAS 1,140,598 (23 seats) and the DAP 1,097,752 (28 seats). Umno raked in 2,381,725 votes that translated in 79 seats, the MCA 840,489 (15 seats), the MIC 179,422 (3 seats) and Gerakan 184, 548 (2 seats).

PAS Has To Lead PR

PAS could only hope to rule the country if it leads the PR the way UMNO has been leading the Alliance/BN since independence.

For now, there’s no dominant party in the PR. The alliance is an equal partnership among the Malay dominated PAS, the Chinese dominated DAP and the multi-racial, but Malay-led PKR.

This equal partnership may be attractive to the liberals and those fighting for equality, but politically it cannot guarantee strength and cohesiveness. Collective leadership among equals is difficult to manage, more so in a multi-racial environment like Malaysia.

From the viewpoint of the Malay support, Pas has been inching closer to Umno, but it cannot hope to be as strong as Umno if it continues to share the Malay-majority seats, hence Malay votes, with PKR, another Malay-centric party in the Pakatan.

In the last general election, thanks to the electoral pact cobbled together by Anwar Ibrahim, and the widespread disgruntlement with the then Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Pas won Kedah in addition to retaining Kelantan.

It won seats in places that it had not dreamt of and gained supporters in places where Umno ruled supreme like Johor and Malacca.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that the hatred for the so-called Fourth Floor Boys (FFBs) cost Umno a lot of votes. Prime Minister Mohd Najib Abdul Razak is undeniably better and more capable than Abdullah, but whether he too suffers from the FFB-type burden is anybody’s guess.

If he is, the opposition can count on another fruitful outing. In today’s ICT-driven world, perception plays as important a role as reality. Mohd Najib has to prove to the voters, especially members and supporters of his own party, Umno that he’s not only the master of the Malay destiny, but also the lord of his castle, failing which his Achilles heel will buckle.

Those us who are familiar with the song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” made popular by Neil Diamond, can more easily figure this one out.

The Changing Face Of Pas

In recent years, Pas had undergone considerable leadership and policy changes with the non-ulama now dominating the leadership and Islamic State objective morphing into welfare state.

But its relationship with its partners, in particular the DAP, remains touchy due to vast ideological and policy differences. The three PR parties appear to be moving in tandem at the federal level, especially in taking on the BN in Parliament, but show considerable differences in the states that they rule.

A case in point was the recent attempt by the Pas-led Kedah government to shut down entertainment outlets during this fasting month and the reaction to the recent “inspection” by the Selangor Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JAIS) of a dinner gathering by an independent evangelical church, which were attended by Muslims, and features, among other things, a quiz on Islam.

Following a strong objection by the DAP, the party’s national leadership back downed, leaving the Kedah Menteri Besar, Azizan Abdul Razak red-faced, and many Pas supporters angry.

The church issue is far more complicated. After days of trying to ride the political wave, Pas, on Aug. 13, moved to the side of JAIS, urging the department to take immediate action if it finds proof that Christians were proselytising to Muslims.

The statement by the party’s non-ulama Deputy President, Mohamad Sabu, came after reports in the mainstream and alternative media suggest that there were evidence that some independent churches are engaged in the activity.