Does 100,000 crowd mean PAS still a force to be reckoned with?


Sheridan Mahavera, The Malaysian Insider

Despite all the media predictions of PAS’s impending death, two Pahang and Terengganu PAS activists had no problems gathering 1,000 of their fellow members to ride up to Kelantan on their super bikes for the party’s massive rally a week ago.

The huge turnout by bikers from PAS’s motorcycle riding club ARC, or Alternative Riding Club, shows that the much-criticised Islamist party still has deep roots among young Malays despite the news about its branches closing and its members leaving en masse for Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah), which was formed by some of PAS’s most popular leaders dubbed the progressives after they lost heavily in the June party elections.

The “fastaqim 60k” rally in Kota Baru on October 18 showed PAS can still draw on support from its traditional rural bases of Kedah, Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.

But the question now is whether the 100,000 supporters it managed to fill a stadium with can be equated to the amount of public support it can get in future elections.

Or will PAS, like its critics predict, only have a presence from Sungai Golok near the Kelantan-Thai border to Kemaman, on the Terengganu-Pahang border.

Cradle to grave

Half the people that packed Kelantan’s biggest stadium for that rally were young Malay males aged 40 and below, such as Wan Ahmad Ridzuan Wan Hussin and Mohd Shamsuri Hussin.

Wan Ahmad Ridzuan and Mohd Shamsuri, who both run the ARC, said the clubs’ chapters across the country were still running even after Amanah came on the scene and starting sucking away PAS members.

“We still have a good turnout for our riding programmes at the state level. Whenever we call for a gathering, people come,” said Mohd Shamsuri, who heads ARC’s Pahang chapter.

The rally showed that PAS was still able to draw young Malay Muslim supporters who are not from religious education institutions, a demographic which had been assumed would be more attracted to the progressive Amanah.

Amanah is said to have begun drawing PAS members in Johor, Selangor, Malacca and Negri Sembilan. Pundits predict that PAS could be displaced by Amanah since the latter is part of the new Pakatan Harapan opposition front.

“The rally shows that PAS is still relevant, potent and is organically woven into the landscape of the Malay heartland,” said independent pollster Ibrahim Suffian (pic, right), who heads the Merdeka Center.

Like Umno, PAS has positioned itself as a cradle-to-the-grave party and has an array of social and educational services that are ever-present in the lives of Malay-Muslims such as kindergartens, religious schools, recreational clubs and mosques.

PAS has become the bastion for anti-establishment Malay Muslims looking to identify themselves with something other than Umno, Ibrahim said, and the rally showed that this feeling was still strong.