After Hadi’s Bill debate postponed, PAS risks losing all?

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid
A supporter in Kuala Lumpur listens on his smartphone to a live broadcast of PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang tabling his private motion to amend Act 355 in Parliament on April 6, 2017. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 — When Putrajaya said it would table a Bill to elevate the Shariah Courts’ punitive powers, taking the cue from PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, the Islamist party felt that the risky bet of cosying up with nemesis Umno had paid off.

But Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s recent announcement that his government will not be tabling the Bill has now placed PAS in a tough predicament because it can no longer rely on cooperation with Umno.

At the same time the Islamist party must also deal with the prospect of a multi-cornered fight against the ruling coalition and Pakatan Harapan.

Previously analysts believe PAS under Hadi was banking on Malay-Muslim solidarity to form some sort of electoral alliance with the ruling Malay nationalist party. This is evidently seen in the close working relation between the two on pushing for the amendments of Act 355 of the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965. While PAS designed the idea, Umno promised support.

The ruling party did honour its word. On Thursday, the last day of the Dewan Rakyat March sitting, Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia allowed Hadi’s Bill to be tabled, but deferred the debate to the next sitting in July.

Analysts believe the move to allow the Bill to be tabled could have saved PAS from complete humiliation after it failed to convince the Najib administration to back its effort to augment the Shariah Courts powers, but not enough to mitigate the damage and convince sceptical members that its politicking has succeeded.  

“While PAS hardliners can claim some form of success at being able to table the bill, the lack of debate and act of voting limits its real impact among its core supporters,” Ibrahim Suffian, director of independent pollster Merdeka Center, told Malay Mail Online.

“Strategically... it doesn’t solve Umno’s problem of being certain in ensuring an enduring split among the opposition. Nor does it help PAS in securing its position ahead of the election.

“This is because beyond the theatrics yesterday PAS still needs to find a way to hold on to power in Kelantan and reduce the impact of multi-corner contests with Amanah and Umno which will certainly benefit the latter,” he added.

Amanah is a splinter party formed by former progressive members of PAS, purged by conservatives in a fractious party poll that saw the clerical class taking over virtually all central leadership posts.

As the new enmity blows over, Amanah leaders had made it clear that the party would contest in all seats traditionally held by PAS. They also understand that their chances of winning will diminish if they face Umno in a multi-cornered fight.

But observers believe Amanah has its own score to settle; the party leaders believe if they can prove that their brand of Islamic politics is more popular by simply edging PAS in the vote count, they would have succeeded in sending their nemesis into political oblivion.

Such idea could agitate some segments within the PAS ranks. Which is why the leadership led by Hadi will try and use the party’s annual general assembly later this month to calm nerves by drumming it into their supporters mind that the tabling of Hadi’s Bill itself could be considered a victory.

At the same time it could salvage the situation by telling its members that its decision to sever ties with DAP, and put their working relations with other component members of Pakatan Harapan on a minimum, the party could stay true to their Islamic-rooted agenda.

The tactic, Ibrahim noted, could still appeal to conservative but undecided Malay voters.

“If any, it helps PAS show the Malay undecided voters that it truly has freedom of action to push for the Shariah now that it is no longer in coalition with DAP,” he said.

PAS is expected to use the muktamar to formally decide if it is to continue the current political pact with PKR following some pressure from members. In Selangor, PAS is still part of the state government led by PKR.

Abdul Hadi’s had recently declared that his party would not co-operate those with ties to the DAP and Amanah, which he cited as the reason behind his decision to snub Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).

But since political or electoral co-operation with Umno may not be viable anymore, there is a possibility that the PAS leadership may want to reconsider their combative position against parties like PPBM and PKR for their own political survival.

Oh Ei Sun, adjunct senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, believes this could be strengthened by the potential backlash the PAS leadership may face over its political manoeuvring with Umno. However, the prospect is slight.

“Liaison with Umno will certainly come into question, but the… alternatives are too unthinkable: Re-forging alliance with the more liberal/secular PH component parties, including the breakaway Amanah, is simply incongruous with the conservative factions currently in charge of PAS,” he told Malay Mail Online.

This year’s PAS meeting will take place in Alor Setar, Kedah from April 28 to May 1.