Analysts: Extremist rhetoric stands between PAS and non-Muslim support

PAS’ ability to woo non-Muslim or non-Malay support for the 16th general election (GE16) will depend on how much the party tones down its extremist rhetoric, political analysts have said.

(MMO) – Should this approach go unchanged, Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR) senior fellow Azmi Hassan said it will be hard for the Islamist party to attract any support from non-Muslims or non-Malays.

“For non-Malays and non-Muslims, in this context, they see PAS as a very extreme party, not only in terms of using Islam, but also the Malays as its main attraction.

“In fact, this will discourage non-Malays and non-Muslims from supporting PAS unless PAS cools down its extremist rhetoric, including its mockery of other parties, especially Amanah and Umno. It is going to be very difficult,” Azmi told Malay Mail when contacted.

“Meaning that, without the support of the non-Malays, it would be impossible for them to form a federal government.

“Yes, they can form a state government, but limited to only Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, and Perlis.

“For other states, it would be quite impossible. The by-elections in Johor and Pahang demonstrated that PAS needed non-Malay support, but the non-Malays felt that PAS’ campaign was too extreme. For example, in terms of ideology, principles or administrative style. I would say it was a turnoff for non-Malays and non-Muslims in this case,” he said.

That said, however, Azmi added that there is plenty of time before GE16 for PAS to court non-Malay or non-Muslim voters.

He said PAS could take a leaf out of Amanah’s book as the latter managed to tone down its rhetoric despite being a splinter party from PAS.

“If Amanah can do that, I am sure PAS can too. There are a lot of similarities, such as the professionalism demonstrated by both Amanah and PAS leaders. They share the same DNA.

“So it is not too late for PAS to change tack,” he said.

But to convince non-Malays or non-Muslims, PAS must do away with views that give the impression that the party is extremist, Azmi said.

“A well-known example would be PAS’ vow to ban beer in Malaysia. The party has been very vocal when it comes to questioning the sale of beer, even to non-Muslims, to the extent that its apparent extremist leanings are clear.

“Or how one dresses. PAS says it wants people to be decent, but in PAS, the definition of decent is totally different from the norm in Malaysia. Or no concerts, whatever concert it may be.

“We don’t need to dwell on policy matters. I think that’s too difficult to explain but these three topics weigh on everyday life and they are good examples of why PAS needs to revamp its image,” he said.

Weighing in, assistant professor of political science at International Islamic University Malaysia Syaza Shukri said if PAS were to make a concerted effort to court non-Malays or non-Muslims, it would have a better chance with Indian voters.

“I think PAS has better chance with Indian voters because they don’t have other options and they are frustrated with the previous and current governments.

“But the Chinese community still has DAP, and MCA to a lesser extent, so it is a bit difficult.

“I do think PAS might have a better chance of courting MCA supporters who are reluctant to move to the left. Having said that, the whole rhetoric on ‘kafir’ doesn’t help PAS much,” Syaza said when contacted.

In her view, PAS could make gains in GE16 if it tempers the racial and religious rhetoric.

“I think there is a good chance non-Muslim support for PAS will increase because the party represents the anti-establishment and people might consider giving it a chance.

“But it really depends on how PAS balances rhetoric and pragmatism,” she said.

Looking at recent developments, Syaza said, as an example, PAS should stop talking about the issue of ‘kafir’.

“They have a point that technically ‘kafir’ simply means non-Islamic believers.

“But on the issue of nationhood, ‘kafir’ has the connotation of being unequal, which is different from the modern-day understanding of equal citizenship as proposed by modern Islamic scholars,” she said.

Echoing Syaza, Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said it would not be inconceivable for PAS to win over non-Muslim support.

“Well, the party has done it before, but once bitten, twice shy.

“Nowadays, politics is so fluid you can never rule out anything. It would be difficult to do it again but not impossible,” Oh said when contacted.

He added that while it is still early days yet as to how GE16 will pan out, no one should rule out or dismiss what might seem fantastic at present.

“Fantastic in the sense of what one considers to be fantasy.

“You see Chinese voting for Umno nowadays, for example,” Oh said.

Last Friday, PAS president Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang conceded that PAS remains a party alien to minority communities and pledged to be “fair” to all, in a speech delivered at its first muktamar (congress) since the general and state elections that saw Perikatan Nasional sweeping four states despite enjoying barely any support from followers of different faiths.

He said ethnic minority distrust of the Islamist party was one of the key factors standing in the way of the party’s ambition to wrest federal power, which he suggested was within grasp.

Over the years, PAS had attempted to get non-Muslim backing by forming a non-voting Supporters’ Congress and attempted to paint DAP as “extremists” in support of secularism and Islamophobia.