Unnoticed, PAS undergoes a quiet rejuvenation

The results can be seen in the inroads made by the party in semi-urban and urban areas, particularly in Penang and Selangor.

Murray Hunter

PAS is generally viewed by non-Muslims across the country as a political party of extreme Islamists. Conveniently, PAS is portrayed as a bogeyman by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) information team.

PAS was once a member of Pakatan Rakyat, then an opposition coalition, but a mass purge of the ‘Erdogan faction’, primarily made up of professionals in 2015, pushed PAS towards a very conservative line. Amanah, the break away party formed after the purge, is generally seen to be much less conservative.

This enabled the PH propaganda machine to label the current leadership of PAS as extremists. Party president Abdul Hadi Awang is portrayed as ethno-Islamic racist, while the Kedah menteri besar Sanusi Nor was charged for sedition prior to the series of state elections held last August.

Since 2018, PAS has gone from strength to strength electorally and is now the largest single party in the Dewan Rakyat with 49 seats (this includes the Kemaman seat which was recently declared vacant by the election court).

PAS is also the senior partner with Bersatu in four state governments, Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu.

The party’s election successes have been described as the ‘green wave’, giving the impression of an Islamic electoral invasion. An estimated 54% of Malays voted for Perikatan Nasional at the 2022 general election. However, PAS has gone far beyond just saying that “Islam has all the answers” in government.

Breaking the stereotype

PAS is undergoing a change in leadership that is going against the stereotype projected in social media that the party is run by ulamas. PAS is undergoing a rejuvenation that many are not seeing.

PAS is now very different from the ulama-run governments of Kelantan, which had been laid back, reluctant to pursue economic development, and focused on implementing governance based upon shariah principles.

If we look at the new state executive line ups in the states PN governs, the majority of executive council members are professionals, technocrats, and businesspeople, with a higher number of ulama in Kelantan and Terengganu, most probably for historical reasons.

This suggests that with business and technical expertise embedded within the PAS led governments, these state administrations will focus more upon economic issues. The formation of the SG4 brings much economic potential. This shows that PAS can be innovative policy wise.

Pragmatic economics

PAS as a rejuvenated party is showing itself capable of tackling the economies of their states in innovative ways. In contrast, the PH-BN government has stuck more to traditional economic concepts, preferring to follow the guidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

This indicates that people may be wrong to assume that PAS cannot deliver competency in government. The changes we have seen in the four governments they control just doesn’t meet the stereotype that many have been made to believe.

The result can be seen in the inroads PN made in semi-urban and urban areas during the last cycle of elections, particularly in Penang and Selangor.

We must expect PAS to become a solid economic manager in the future. PAS is not locked into WEF-IMF-World Bank approaches that are being utilised within the current government. However, as one would expect, PAS will deliver a much more conservative approach on social policies, which the government is being seen to also adopt.

Many Malay voters have few qualms over the conservative social and morality policies PAS will deliver. With the pragmatic economic approaches PAS is beginning to adopt, the party will be in a strong position to increase its popularity in urban areas in the next general election.

This will particularly be the case if Madani-nomics doesn’t deliver.