Boosted by Shariah Bill progress, PAS set to outline GE14 direction in muktamar

BY RAM ANAND
The muktamar is also likely to be the last gathering of all party grassroots before the 14th general election. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

ALOR SETAR, April 27 — After months of flirting with Umno and threatening to call quits on its working relationship with PKR, PAS is set to outline a clear picture on how it will position itself in the next general election in its 63rd Muktamar gathering that kicks off here today.

Boosted yet again by the progress of their proposed amendments to increase the power of Shariah Courts via the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, which was allowed to be read out in the Dewan Rakyat for the second time earlier this month despite being a private member’s Bill, PAS leaders will look to consolidate party ranks following a fractious two years for the party.

The muktamar is also likely to be the last gathering of all party grassroots before the 14th general election.

Following their break-up from the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in 2015, PAS has seen the progressives of the party break away to form their own party in Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah), which in turn formed a new opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, with PAS’ former allies PKR and DAP.

Last year, the formation of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) led by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad further increased competition for PAS’ Malay-Muslim voter base.

Despite initially courting PAS, PPBM recently joined the Pakatan Harapan coalition after failing to get PAS to come on board for a mooted “grand coalition” for all opposition parties.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who pushed for the Shariah Bill, has weathered the internal storm within the Islamist party and has used the relative success of the bill’s progress to consolidate his position. He has retained his post uncontested for this muktamar.

In fact, four of the five top leadership positions in the party are secure- with information chief Nasruddin Hassan being the only one who is challenging three incumbents for one of the vice-president posts.

“This is for PAS to close ranks, because there are still problems at the grassroots level. It needs to outline for it can become a party for all Malays,” University Utara Malaysia (UUM) political analyst Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani said.

“This is also where they set up their direction for the general elections- their manifesto, and their policies. And they need to be clear about their position itself- are they the third force or are they aligning with Pakatan or Barisan Nasional? The people are confused because their direction is not clear,” he added.

PAS’ relationship with Umno has been intriguing since it started pushing for the Shariah Bill.

Putrajaya allowed Hadi to read out the bill for the first time just before last year’s Muktamar in Kota Bharu, before even pledging to turn the amendments into a government bill and re-introduce it to Parliament.

However, the government later said it would not be bringing the bill following discussion with Barisan Nasional partners, who, along with the likes of DAP, always saw the bill as a backdoor route for PAS to attempt implementing the Islamic penal code, Hudud, in Kelantan.

But just weeks later, Putrajaya deferred some of its own bills, including a Bill aimed to end unilateral conversion, in order to pave way for Hadi to read the amendment bill for the second time in Parliament, though the debates were deferred for the next session.

“There is obviously a cooperation between them (PAS and Umno) on the issue of Islamisation. PAS’ agenda now however is something that has been brought by Umno all this while. PAS has to explain what is the new idea that they can bring to the people. Otherwise there is no point of having PAS,” he said.

However, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies senior fellow Oh Ei Sun believes that PAS and Umno already have a pact that is not being spoken about.

“I think they have some sort of pact with Umno,” he said, while adding that the muktamar would also focus mainly on the next general election.

“Such a pact is of course not disclosed in this setting,” he added, pointing out that issues such as the Shariah Bill will instead be extensively spoken about.

But what will likely be spoken about is the party’s relationship with PKR, with several PAS divisions in Penang having moved for a motion to sever ties with PKR, the only Pakatan party with whom PAS has a standing relationship.

PAS previously used the 2015 muktamar as the stage to sever its ties with DAP, which led to the collapse of Pakatan Rakyat.

However repeating such an act during the 63rd muktamar with PKR could also mean consequences for the running of the Selangor state government- which remains governed by PKR, PAS and DAP in their old Pakatan make-up.