Commentary: The challenge for Malaysia opposition party PAS in going mainstream

If Malaysia opposition party Parti Islam Se-Malaysia wants federal power in Putrajaya, it will need to prove its governance credentials, says ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s Norshahril Saat.

(CNA) – The recent annual general assembly held by Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) was relatively uneventful, with key leaders including party president Abdul Hadi Awang retaining their posts in the political party. The key challenge going forward is for the party to cast a wider net to prove its governance credentials in economic and developmental issues.

At the assembly, Abdul Hadi kept his position up to 2025. He has already been at the apex of the party hierarchy for two decades. The party’s top five leadership positions were uncontested. Besides Abdul Hadi, Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man will remain as PAS’ deputy president, while the three vice presidents Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, Idris Ahmad, and Mohd Amar Abdullah also retain their positions.

PAS elected its 18 executive committee members, with the current Kedah chief minister, Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, receiving the highest number of votes, followed by MP Ahmad Fadli Shaari and Kelantan chief minister Mohd Nassuruddin Daud.

In total, 22 members forwarded their names in the contest. Members of the council were voted by delegates from branches throughout the country. This time, a total of 1,356 delegates voted (turnout of 84 per cent eligible voters).

This outcome demonstrates that there is neither a strong contender to displace Abdul Hadi’s leadership nor someone to challenge the party discipline he has instilled.


Contrast this with the 2015 annual congress, where PAS was divided between the ulama (cleric) faction, the progressive/ professionals faction, and the Anwarinas (pro-Anwar Ibrahim).

The latter faction included the likes of Muhammad Sabu (Mat Sabu), Khalid Samad, and Dzulkefly Ahmad. They left the party in 2015 to form Parti Amanah Negara (National Trust Party). Six years after the split, Abdul Hadi has rebuilt the party, consolidated his support base and groomed a loyal professional class to work with the party’s ulama.

Going by years of service, Abdul Hadi is one of the three most senior MPs after Anwar Ibrahim and Muhyiddin Yassin in parliament. Some have touted him as a prime ministerial candidate if the opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN) takes power, since PAS holds more seats in parliament than Muhyiddin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in opposition. That said, he has never indicated publicly that he wants the top job.

But Abdul Hadi wants to cling to the party he has strengthened. As the most senior PAS figure, he is unlikely to be challenged until he voluntarily exits politics.

Previously, the person holding the position of the spiritual guide (murshidul am) was the most revered figure in PAS, but this seems to be overshadowed by Abdul Hadi’s presidency. He is the last man standing since the ulama takeover of the party in the 1980s; his contemporaries former president Fadzil Noor, and spiritual guides Yusof Rawa, Nik Aziz Nik Mat, and Haron Din have all passed on.

With Abdul Hadi still at the helm, however, winning over the hearts and minds of non-Malays will be an uphill battle – that is, if PAS wants to govern Malaysia alone without the help of coalition partners.

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