The Split of Parti Islam Se-Malysia (PAS)


Partyforumseasia: Founded in November 1951, PAS was itself splitting from the United Malay National Organization UMNO, but allowed dual membership in the beginning. It championed Malay and Muslim rights and the recognition of Islam as state religion which was somewhat contradicting the founding principle of Malaysia as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country with full citizenship for the massive Chinese and Indian immigration under the British colonial rule. The contradiction has festered until today and generated a party system along racial lines with UMNO and PAS competing for the Malay Muslim vote, especially in the more conservative rural areas.
The opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance consisting of Anwar Ibrahim‘s racially open Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), PAS and the Chinese dominated DAP seemed to blur the ideological divisions until PAS president Abdul Hadi‘s push to introduce Hudud (Muslim penal code regulations) in Kelantan exposed the internal fault lines in PAS and triggered the break-up of the Pakatan Rakyat.
But not all PAS members are following the hard-line Muslim clerics under Hadi Awang, the so called “ulama” faction. A minority formed the “Erdogan” faction, when the Turkish president was still considered a moderate Muslim leader, but lost all leadership posts in internal party elections earlier this year.
Splitting from PAS in big numbers now, the moderates have founded a new party under the name of “Parti Amanah Negara” (in short “Amanah” = trust or fulfilling one’s obligations in Arabic). Mat Sabu
The new party’s president Mohamad Sabu aka Mat Sabu was a deputy president of PAS since 2011 and moderate challenger of the clerical hardliners. In a statement during the launching of the party he said the new political platform is committed to continue the legacy of political Islam, but realizing that Malaysia is a country of people from diverse social and religious backgrounds, Amanah interprets Islam in a more holistic and inclusive manner. In an era of increasing Arab influence in the country a shift to moderate and more open alternatives should be welcome.

Amanah was officially launched on 17 September
with thousands of supporters attending and claiming that more than 30,000 members are  already joining, including non-Muslims and over a hundred lawyers.

With DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang also attending the meeting it is clear that the new party is most welcome to replace PAS in the opposition coalition. Amanah, though, states its openness to co-operate with PAS, but president Hadi Awang as leader of the hardliners has immediately excluded any truce with the “traitors”. Nevertheless, discussions on the rejuvenation of the opposition coalition as “Pakatan Rakyat 2.0” are underway with PKR and DAP, because without the massive remaining membership potential of the old PAS there is no chance of ousting UMNO and its coalition partners from their entrenched power position, despite the extreme pressure on prime minister and UMNO-leader Najib Razak with the embarrassing 1MDB financial scandal.

If the break-up of the opposition looked like a timely relief and victory for the government, it is matched by the slow erosion of the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional by the marginalization of smaller component parties which were  kept alive by massive financial support from UMNO  anyway.

Malaysia needs urgently strong and united leadership to get out of the crisis. Unfortunately, the ruling and government coalitions look equally weakened.

For a better understanding of party politics in Malaysia see Kartini Aboo Talib‘s country paper (available at Amazon) in:
Amazon Party Politics SEA

Malaysia’s PAS: Hudud, Non-Muslims and Party Cohesion


Partyforumseasia: Islamic or Islamist parties, maybe more than other religious parties, could be more coherent than their worldly counterparts because they share faith and rituals and certainties in life in a very direct way. Normally their spiritual leaders have clear-cut views and with their authority directly linked to God the dissent among members should be limited. Parti Islam Se-Malaysia or PAS has indeed enjoyed a sort of close-knit stability under its late spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who served also as chief minister of the federal state of Kelantan for 23 years. PAS has been a thorn in the flesh of the ruling UMNO party for fishing in the same voter reservoir of Muslim Malays, especially in rural areas. Being seen as more caring for the poorer Malays and not corrupt like UMNO, the party pushed UMNO into a competition in terms of religious credentials which has entrenched the ethnic and religious divide in the country, bringing it ever more often to dangerous levels.
Hadi AwangPAS-president Abdul Hadi Awang (68), a Muslim cleric and in office since 2002
is standing for re-election in the upcoming party convention in June. But for the first time in four decades, he will have a challenger, and ironically, the difference comes after Hadi Awang’s very firm stand on the implementation of Islamic criminal punishments (hudud) which threatens PAS’ partnership in the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat. Though the supporters of hudud say that it will be applied only to Muslims, the non-Muslim coalition partners in the (mostly Chinese-Malaysian) Democratic Action Party (DAP) oppose it strongly. Reasons for concern are certainly justified: There are quite a number of mixed marriages who may be effected. And the hudud punishments, normally described as not easy to execute because of a demanding number of male witnesses, e.g. for extramarital sex, obviously find willing supporters, e.g. Muslim medical doctors who say they are prepared to perform the prescribed hand amputations on thieves.

But the hudud-debate has also increased the internal split PAS between hardliners who are prepared to a rift with DAP and those who support the opposition coalition and the common fight against UMNO. So, the challenger of president Hadi Awang is another cleric, Ahmad Awang (79), who is Ahmad Awangpromptly being attacked as secretly supporting the DAP, whereas Hadi Awang declares it a duty of every Muslim to fight for hudud.

At the same time, the PAS strategy of enlarging its voter base to non-Muslims by establishing a special branch for them, the PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP), is creating additional irritations. If the publicly known figures are correct, the DHPP has 40.000 members out of about one million normal PAS-members. Though 4% look negligible,  the DHPP members can make a difference in the constituencies where PAS cannot win a majority alone and where the opposition coalition depends on PAS to win the seat. Giving up this potential would destroy years of effort to strengthen the party’s credibility among non-Muslims.

Malaysia: Politics for God, for the People, or for the Party?


Partyforumseasia: During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Christian Democrats have been strong in several Western European countries. With over 40% they are still the dominant force in Germany, though the Christian element (the “C”) in its name does not play a big role in practical politics because under a secular constitution religion is considered to be private.
Hadi 2PAS president Hadi Awang has some reason for concern

In predominantly Muslim countries like Malaysia religion plays a bigger role, and at least for the Friday prayers mosque attendance is much more subject to peer-group control, in rural communities more than in bigger cities. Religious credentials are important factors for political careers and open support for Islam is a must for Malay candidates in election campaigns. The competition for Malay Muslim votes between two big mainstream parties, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has triggered even more importance on religious issues for a couple of decades. Both are targeting the same Malay constituencies, especially in the rural areas, because of the relatively small number of voters per precinct and the better chances to get elected.
With the “holier than thou”- competition the nation has changed from a more relaxed religious atmosphere only two or three decades ago to much more peer-group pressure on the Muslims with elements spilling over to the minority religions. Restaurants have to be halal, alcohol is no longer flowing so freely, and gender relations are getting more difficult. The world-wide Muslim resurgence including fundamentalist currents are finding a lot of open doors in the country.
In the last few months, but festering for much longer in the background, the introduction of Muslim criminal law elements (or hudud), especially corporal punishment, has highlighted the fault lines in Malaysia’s society, though the constitution is giving equal rights to the strong minorities and their religions, and the British-inherited legal system is basically secular.
The PAS-controlled federal state of Kelantan has passed a law on the implementation of HUDUD in the local parliament on 18 March, and UMNO had no choice but to support the motion. For its final implementation the law needs approval from the national parliament, and many politicians and lawyers think it is unconstitutional.
Though the requirements for male (!) witnesses are high, the punishments are harsh in the 21st century. For theft (2 witnesses) a hand or both have to be amputated. For extramarital sex (4 witnesses!!!??) it is 100 lashes for unmarried and stoning to death for married persons. Drinking of intoxication substances (2 witnesses) costs 40 to 80 lashes. If this sounds archaic for modern Muslims already, the reaction of non-Muslims is also strong, though hudud is supposed to apply only to Muslims. In a multi-religious society like the Malaysian there a many mixed families and many non-Muslims can be affected.

Strategy-wise:   In this complex situation there a rather different outcomes for the Malaysian political parties:

1. PAS is proud of higher religious standards than UMNO anyway. Stating it again is not providing much additional mileage. But they have a leadership problem after their spiritual leader Nik Aziz passed away. Party chairman Hadi Awang, also a Muslim scholar, is not uncontested internally. His dogmatic attitude and his alleged openness for cooperation with UMNO are criticized by the so called “Erdogan faction”. Hadi is heading the more conservative “ulama faction” and may face a grassroots revolt. More than half of the party’s committee in its Batu branch has resigned in protest a few days ago.

2. UMNO has been leading a coalition of 18 parties, maximizing its votes with the help of the Chinese, Indian and indigenous ethnic component parties. These allies are against the hudud implementation, though they know that UMNO cannot be seen to be against it in the Malay constituencies in more conservative rural areas on whose support UMNO’s survival depends. But the threat of being voted out is only there as long as the opposition coalition is united and strong. Its leader Anwar Ibrahim neutralized in prison for the next five years, dividing the opposition and maybe even splitting PAS would mean practically ending the threat. But strategies often backfire, and the hudud dilemma could add to the pressure on Prime Minister Najib by Dr. Mahathir and his friends.

3. Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition composed of PAS, Chinese dominated DAP, and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, is actually close to breaking up. All non-Muslim members are against hudud and have suspected PAS of secretly dealing with UMNO for quite some time already. With Anwar in prison the “coalition of strange bedfellows”, united only by its fight against the government, is more unstable than ever.

4. The greater public: Non-Muslims anyway, but also Muslims with doubts about the more than creeping religious intolerance in the country are not fully convinced that the hudud policies are only religiously motivated. Leadership struggles in PAS and UMNO make it rather obvious that the hudud drive is not totally for God or the people but all too visibly party politics. Like in countries like Iran, where the clerics in power are detrimental to the acceptance of Islam, the turmoil created by PAS may turn out to be negative for the political development and the religion alike.

5. The social climate: A presenter at business radio station BFM 89.9 who discussed the question whether the hudud implementation would help to fill the country’s rice bowls in a video published on YouTube received death and rape threats and is under police investigation. She has apologized publicly saying that she regretted her tone and demeanor in the video and that she would never mock or insult any religion, let alone her own. The incident shows the raw nerves in the domestic debate and cast doubts on Malaysia’s  image as a moderate Muslim country.

Malaysia’s Competing Coalitions: War of Attrition Going “MAD”?


Partyforumseasia: Sometimes the epic struggle between the ruling Barisan Nasional and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalitions reminds of the cold war nuclear strategy called “mutually assured destruction” or “MAD” in short. But in reality it isn’t about deterrence, it is about the destruction of one or the other. The Non-Malay coalition partner of UMNO, the Malaysian Chinese Association ( MCA ) lost more than half of its mandates in 2013 with 7 seats in Parliament left. The other predominantly Chinese Barisan-party, Gerakan, is nearly annihilated since 2008, and both were losing despite generous financial support from UMNO.
Now the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), equally pampered by UMNO, and down to four seats, risks its own future by major infighting. What happens within the MIC? Strategic director S Vell Paari and former Youth chief T Mohan, rivals of  party leader G Palanivel triggered an order by the Registrar of Societies to hold fresh elections for three vice-presidents and 23 members of the central MIC fracas 2working committee after the convention in November 2013 was found to have breached the Societies Act 1966. Two weeks ago about 500 disgruntled members demanded Palanivels resignation and came into a scuffle with his loyalists, watched by 100 policemen. Leadership competition is normal in any party but in a declining party it easily gets out of control.
Altogether, the apparent weakness of UMNO’s traditional vote “absorbers” among the ethic minorities plus inroads of the opposition in Sabah and Sarawak must ring the alarm bells quite clearly.
Strategy-wise:
UMNO has reason enough to fear a further erosion of its “majority-formula” which guaranteed its domination for decades by getting enough support from the Non-Malay minority groups in the Barisan Nasional or National Front coalition. Internal warnings were saying that a further two per cent drop in the next election would cost them the government.
To compensate this weakness on their own side, the answer is of course a strategy to create problems for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition and use their apparent cleavages and lack of stable cohesion. The most visible cleavage at the moment is the hudud (Islamic criminal law and punishments)-debate between coalition partners PAS and DAP. If the PAS-dominated Kelantan State Legislative Assembly paves the way for hudud after trying to do so for more than two decades, a split of Pakatan may be imminent. The secular DAP can hardly cooperate in that matter with the Islam-driven PAS. And for political gain and its own survival UMNO can hardly afford to prevent Kelantan from introducing hudud. In this type of impasse UMNO will most probably opt for survival and not for the best interest and unity of the nation it leads. The decision of a a special state assembly sitting on December 29th to pass the amendments has been postponed because of the heavy flooding, but the climax of the drama can be expected any time soon.

Malaysia’s DAP: Successful Convention 2014


Partyforumseasia: The DAP party convention on 14 December 2014 has sharpened the profile of Malaysia’s biggest opposition party in the Federal Parliament.
DAPHelped by the next financial mega scandal with the billion $$ 1MDB sovereign wealth fund and the festering long term controversy over the introduction of Islamic criminal law (hudud), the convention tried to show the party as a credible and reliable alternative to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
Headlines of reports on the convention range from “The rise of DAP” (Malaysia Chronicle, LINK) to  “As DAP makes history, members worry over ties with PAS” (The Malaysian Insider, LINK) or “DAP shows ‘Malay face’ as party targets Umno” (Malaysiakini, LINK).
The main results of the meeting, namely a new women’s quota of 30 per cent, increased involvement in Sabah and Sarawak to weaken East Malaysia as UMNO’s “vote Bank”, as well as the clear stand on hudud are certainly clever strategic moves which may help to broaden the voter base of the party. But the DAP also goes visibly an extra mile to shed its image of an ethnic Chinese party and open up to the Malay majority:  DAP convention
Urgings for DAP to shed its Chinese-centric image and embrace more Malay members have been a staple message since the party’s rise in 2008 but something was visibly different at the party’s convention today.The difference was probably most felt among some of the Chinese-speaking elderly DAP members who had complained they could not understand “90 percent” of the speeches.The apparent gulf between the party’s elderly members and its mostly young speakers who spoke at the convention in Subang Jaya was perhaps symbolic of the transition the party was undergoing.Speeches at the DAP convention in Subang Jaya were predominantly in the national language, peppered with Chinese, English, compared to its previous more Mandarin-oriented tone.” (Malaysiakini)
According to the party’s homepage the four rocket boosters in the logo symbolize the main ethnic groups in the country, Malays, Chinese, Indians and Others….

Background: GE13

The DAP is Malaysia’s second biggest political party and gains additional strength from a number of helpful developments: Number one is probably the fiasco of arch-rival Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) in the last parliamentary election in 2013. MCA lost eight seats and DAP won ten. MCA, supposed to be the Chinese vote collector of the ruling BN coalition under UMNO, has lost this role and the trust of the Chinese Malaysians. But DAP is also successful in attracting more liberal-minded Malay voters who see the growing probability of the introduction of Muslim criminal law or hudud in the country. “Hudud” and the ambivalence of its backers whether it will apply only to Muslims or not is a growing concern and divisive issue. Among the members of the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (DAP, PKR,PAS) DAP is the clear leader in the popular demand to uphold the secular character of the state and declare the broad based introduction of hudud unconstitutional. Coalition partner PAS derives much of its success and identity from its Muslim credentials and has to support hudud, which can possibly weaken or even break up the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

How Stable is the Opposition Coalition in Malaysia?


Partyforum has always seen the opposition coalition as lacking cohesion apart from the charisma of its leader Anwar Ibrahim and the groundswell among Malaysia’s voters against the eternal rule of the Barisan Nasional coalition led by UMNO. In the special context of the country’s racial divide and the dominance of the Malays as raison d’état, the opposition trio of PAS, PKR and DAP is rather improbable as “bedfellows”. There is a lot of speculation about their common future if Anwar’s increasingly bizarre sodomy conviction should be confirmed by the Federal Court this week. Homosexuality not being considered a crime in most advanced countries anymore, the whole legal procedure against the most prominent opposition figure looks for many like Anwar himself and many Malaysians see it: as a means to crush him politically. The saga is highly detrimental for the country’s international reputation.

Lim Guan EngBut instead of highlighting this, the internal communication between the Pakatan Rakyat coalition members is not as coordinated and strategically skillful as the fragile situation would require. After the Selangor-Chief Minister-replacement-crisis has been solved with great damage to the opposition, the coalition partners continue bickering against each other. The Malaysian Insider ( Link here ) published on 4 November how DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng attacked the supremo of partner party PAS, Abdul Hadi Awang,  for his authoritarian leadership style:

HadiDAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said the coalition found it difficult to continue operating when PAS had a leader who could “override everything”, including decisions made in his absence during the PR presidential council meetings. (…) He can overrule (his party). If that is the system, he must attend PR leadership council meetings so that we can make decisions, we can keep promises, and we can fulfil our commitment.
“So long as he stays away from the PR leadership council meeting, then it will be very difficult for PR to function as a whole,” said Lim in his speech during last night’s DAP fund-raising dinner at the MBPJ Civic Hall in Petaling Jaya.”

Lim’s criticism is certainly justified, but it is not the best moment to say it in public or say it in public at all. All over the world controversial political debates are not appreciated by the voters, open quarrels even less, and they are certainly not conducive for the image of a coalition which is not very stable anyway.

Malaysia: End of the Selangor Menteri Besar Saga? Not Really.


Partyforumseasia: After nearly nine months of “gestation”, the drama around the replacement of Khalid Ibrahim, chief minister of Malaysia’s richest federal state of Selangor, comes to an end. In the unique set up of leaving the final appointment of his replacement to the local Sultan, the new chief minister will be Mr. Azmin Ali. Sultan 2He is the Selangor chief of Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and its vice president on the national level. Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah thus thwarted the strategically desastrous attempt of PKR to establish Anwar Ibrahim’s wife Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as chief minister. The series of political moves brought the opposition coalition of PKR, Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Muslim party PAS to the abyss of breaking apart and undermined the standing and authority of de facto coalition leader Anwar Ibrahim. It really looks like the UMNO and Barisan Nasional dream of neutralizing the opposition threat is coming true (see our 30 July post), their leaders must be watching their luck in disbelief. Their initial input was preventing Anwar Ibrahim from running for the Selangor state parliament and eventually taking over as chief minister himself by simply reviving the dubious sodomy case against him. If this triggered Anwar’s decision to let his wife run instead, the Pandora box was open. One strategic mistake followed the other and created internal problems of the coalition partners, especially in PAS.
Strategy-wise there were arguably several mistakes:
1. The evidence against chief minister Khalid Ibrahim was not sufficient to sack him immediately. For his obviously unexpected refusal to step down there was no plan B.

2. Obviously the necessary early co-ordination with the coalition partners was neglected. The move looked more like a strongman decision by Anwar Ibrahim.
3. The final say-power of the Sultan seems to have been underestimated with the coalition’s focus on a narrow majority in the state parliament for Dr. Wan Azizah.
4. The internal mood in PAS and its controversial discussion about a female chief minister has not been taken seriously enough. The tensions within the party between a more religious (Ulama) and a more liberal (Erdogan) faction would have necessitated a more sensitive approach by PKR.
5. By not considering long term supporter Azmin Ali as a natural choice for Khalid’s succession Anwar himself created tensions and factional divisions in PKR.

Outlook: After the PAS party convention last weekend, which also weakened PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition of anyway not too compatible partners is still standing. But it looks definitely more fragile  and a lot less dangerous for the UMNO government. Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership prestige is definitely dented. It will be more difficult than ever before in the last six years of its existence to hold the coalition together.