Commentary Politics

PAS struggles with itself again

It's now Gagasan Sejahtera for Hadi, PAS and friends.

Written by Aziz Hassan


Recollections & Reflections – A weekly column

IT has its roots in the Islamist elements within Umno and then the Malay left under the leadership of Burhanuddin al-Helmy but since its official formation in 1951, Parti Islam Malaysia or PAS has certainly travelled a long way and gone through different phases usually not in tune with the national political climate.

In fact most of the shifts in its ideologies and relationships with other parties have been influenced more by the environment from within.

From its first president Ahmad Fuad Hassan to Burhanuddin al-Helmy, Asri Muda, Yusof Rawa, Fadzil Noor and Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS has seen it all and has moved from one affiliation to another as it sought to be part of a bigger and more influential voice.

While it has been quite a force in Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah to the extent of even ruling these states, PAS has remained largely ineffective at the national level. In the east Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, it is almost non-existent.

It makes a lot of noise on many issues, of that there is no doubt, but the support it supposedly has among the Malay-Muslim electorate is not translated into a big way in the number of seats it wins for parliament.

But one constant in the party’s history is that has remained Islamist and being the only one of its type of any significance in the country perhaps explains why it has not been able to have a firm and long-lasting alliance with any other party or group of parties.

After being on its own since 1951, Asri Muda (later a tan sri) decided that the party should join the Alliance (later the Barisan Nasional) following the 1969 race riots. He then took it out after problems with the Kelantan government.

From 1990 PAS has been part of Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah, Barisan Alternatif, Pakatan Rakyat and now is looking to break away from PKR after earlier detaching itself from the DAP and refusing to even consider the olive branch extended by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Pribumi Bersatu.

The latest grouping PAS is trying to forge is called Gagasan Sejahtera but with friends like Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia, Barisan Jemaah Islamiah Se-Malaysia and maybe Parti Cinta Malaysia, it is hard to imagine how the coalition is going to put fear into its rivals.

A look at the history of federal elections in Malaysia since the first in 1955 will show that there has been a lack of consistency in the support for PAS, with its best performance being in 1999 with 27 seats or 13.99% representation in parliament and the worst in 1986 with just one or 0.56% when it was led by Yusof Rawa.

Otherwise its representation hovered between 1.92% (one seat) in 1955 to 10.36% (23 seats) in 2008.

What happened in the run-up to the 1999 elections, a year after jailed opposition politician Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from the government and Umno, makes for an interesting story, much of it never told publicly.

Many PAS leaders were actually not excited about throwing the party’s support for Anwar but Fadzil Noor, the then president and a former comrade in Abim, pushed for PAS to stand behind Anwar.

The story from a source in Kelantan who knew the state’s party leaders was that they eventually agreed only because it could help bring more votes for the party. Indeed it did but only for the elections of that year.

A few years ago there was also talk that current president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and a few others were keen to work with Umno, again in the name of Malay interests as cited by Asri then, but there appeared to be strong opposition from the late Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and some other hardline leaders.

But since about two years ago many could see how Hadi appears to again show that he is supportive of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak although he has never publicly declared a willingness to work together.

A friend suggests that in relation to the elections, what both sides can do for a start is for BN not to compete too much in Kelantan and let it remain under PAS while the latter should not spend too much effort either trying to win the federal seats there.

Maybe this suggestion is already on the table.




About the author


Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.