Malaysian Coalitions Can't Govern Without Islamic Party Support: PAS Chief

Hata Wahari and Fairuz Mazlan
Perak and Penang, Malaysia
180417-MY-PAS1-1000.jpg Supporters of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) accompany its president, Abdul Hadi Awang (not shown), on mopeds, motorcycles and by foot during a partisan event in Permatang Pauh, Penang state, April 15, 2018.
Fairuz Mazlan/BenarNews

Malaysia’s dueling political blocs will need the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) backing to form the government in next month’s general election, and it will side with whichever coalition agrees to make Islam the foundation of the new administration, its leader told BenarNews.

PAS is confident it can triple its number of seats in parliament because support for it is growing, PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang said during a late-night interview Monday in northern Perak state. The party held only 13 seats in the parliament that was dissolved earlier this month but Abdul Hadi believes it can capture about 40 seats in the upcoming polls.

“We will be the kingmaker,” he told Benar. “The BN and PH will not be able to get the majority to form a government. PAS will make the difference.”

The elections are expected to witness a tight contest between the ruling Barisan Nasional [BN] bloc, which has controlled Malaysia’s government since the nation’s founding in 1957, and Pakatan Harapan [PH], an opposition coalition led by former longtime Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Pakatan is looking to stop the current leader, Najib Razak, from serving a third term as PM.

“In order for them to form a government, they have to rope in PAS and we have one condition if that happens – that would be for Islam to be made the foundation of any government administration,” Abdul Hadi said.

“If they refuse to accept our condition, we are fine being the opposition but the question here is how can they form a government without [a] majority? Because of this, PAS is confident that they will finally accept our condition.”

Campaigning for the May 9 vote doesn’t officially begin till April 28, but PAS’ president and his party were out and about at partisan events in the states of Perak and Penang in recent days.

On Sunday, Hadi was accompanied to a partisan assembly in Penang by 300 members of the party’s youth wing, who rode in on motorcycles and mopeds.

As he did in Penang a day earlier, Hadi wore a green robe – his party’s official color, which is associated with Islam – over a white shirt as he addressed a crowd of around 1,000 supporters in Bandar Seri Iskandar, a township about 40 km (24.8 miles) from Ipoh, Perak’s capital.

“PAS will use Islam as the platform in its campaign for the upcoming GE14 [14th general election], where our fight is to show that all administrative matters have to be based on religion. Development too will have to be based on Islamic principles.

“We are strict on this and the Islamic principles cannot be bulldozed … We respect the ideologies of other parties but when it comes to Islam, we cannot tolerate that and everyone has to respect this basic principle. This has been PAS’ platform since the beginning, and this will be the thrust of our struggle.”

PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang (center, in dark green top) stands with local PAS leaders at a partisan assembly in Permatang Pauh, Penang state, April 15, 2018.
PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang (center, in dark green top) stands with local PAS leaders at a partisan assembly in Permatang Pauh, Penang state, April 15, 2018.
Fairuz Mazlan/BenarNews


‘PAS will only be with those who support Islam’

PAS has been governing the northern state of Kelantan for the last three decades. Nightclubs and cinemas are banned in the state, which is religiously conservative and predominantly Muslim. At supermarkets in the state, there are separate checkout lines for men and women.

Three years ago, state lawmakers unanimously passed a bill aimed at enforcing harsh penalties for criminal offenses under an Islamic criminal law known locally as “hudud.”

Criminal cases are currently handled by federal laws in Malaysia, where Muslims account for more than 60 percent of the 30 million population.

Critics warned that enforcing Islamic criminal law at the state level could ultimately divide the nation along religious and ethnic lines.

At the time, PAS was a member of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance, but its hardline stance on the hudud issue led to the bloc breaking up in June 2015.

PAS also proposed a controversial parliamentary bill in May 2016 to give Islamic courts in the country more clout in increasing punishments meted out by them. The bill received preliminary backing by Najib’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, but was criticized by human rights advocates as potentially infringing on the country’s secular constitution.

“PAS will only be with those who support Islam,” Hadi told a large crowd of supporters in Penang on Sunday. “Why PAS is out of Pakatan Harapan? Because they rejected  Sharia Islam.”

Malaysia’s main opposition bloc is now known as Pakatan Harapan. But because Malaysia’s Registrar of Societies recently rejected its application to be registered as a coalition and de-registered Mahathir’s Bersatu party, the bloc’s member parties say they will contest the coming elections under the banner of the People’s Justice Party (PKR). That party is led by jailed de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

In the interview, Hadi denied allegations that his party had accepted a donation of 90 million ringgit (U.S. $23.1 million) from Najib’s party.

"[I]t’s a lie. How can BN donate 90 million ringgit to PAS, a party that would never be with them in the coming election?” Hadi told BenarNews.

During his speech in Penang the day before, the PAS president took a verbal shot at Malaysia’s elder statesman, 92-year-old Mahathir, suggesting that the ex-prime minister who was trained as a professional physician should quit politics and return to medicine.

On Tuesday, Mahathir fired back, saying Hadi did “not know anything about politics,” according to Malaysian news reports.

“Hadi should not have joined politics. He should be an ustaz, teach in villages. [This would] suit him better,” The New Straits Times quoted Mahathir as telling reporters.


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