With snap polls a looming possibility, divided Islamist party must decide whether to honour vows to Muafakat or Perikatan
GEORGE TOWN : PAS was once the darling of the Malay political base, holding the “kingmaker” status for both Bersatu and Umno.
But now, the Islamist party is at a crossroads after both of its strategic partners showed signs of separation amid the uncertainty that may emerge if Parliament sits soon.
Insiders told The Vibes that this has resulted in the emergence of two schools of thought within PAS leadership circles.
Followers of president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who leads the high-powered Dewan Ulama, are battling it out with those more inclined to support PAS’ Muafakat Nasional partner Umno.
Hadi – through his spokesman, party secretary-general Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan – has often vouched for Bersatu, even on the issue of when Parliament should sit.
MN was on a winning streak before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, claiming seats in a string of by-elections throughout the country, with the last being the Slim polls in Perak.
Deciding between lesser of two evils triggers rift
An insider, who requested anonymity, pointed out that now, PAS’ problem is simply that both Bersatu and Umno are not exactly popular – Bersatu for its failure to protect the country against Covid-19, and Umno for its past sins and historical rift with the Islamist outfit.
The issue is exacerbated by Hadi, who is besieged with health woes. The 73-year-old is wrestling with heart complications, and was recently warded at the National Heart Institute, his third hospitalisation in the last two years.
Insiders said there is a rift over how PAS should progress, as much is at stake.
It is now the third-biggest party in the Perikatan Nasional administration, besides holding three state governments: Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.
Numbers-wise, it is the second-largest party in the country after Umno, with over one million members.
“PAS holds the distinction of being the only party to have worked with all the mainstream political parties,” said an insider.
“It is often seen as a bridesmaid, and now a bride, because both Bersatu and Umno want to marry this party of ulama.”
PAS must choose with whom it wants to “cohabitate”, especially with the possibility of a snap general election being called to address the ongoing political imbroglio, which has impeded the country’s ability to grow its economy and contain the coronavirus crisis.
Grassroots prefer Umno, but is Hadi an obstacle?
The two schools of thought have split PAS down the middle.
However, said the insiders, most party supporters are inclined to stay with MN, where grassroots support lies, than Bersatu, which is seen as a group of people who dislike opposition chief Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim but lack the maturity of a political force with a strong ideology and base.
Recently, one faction tried to drag Bachok MP Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz into the fray, with a report claiming that he was contemplating leaving the party with his allies from Kelantan.
Nik Abduh has denied the allegation, but insiders said in private, he is worried about PAS’ direction as it is now in no man’s land.
Politically, he is seen as not having inherited his late father’s acumen.
“We must remember the leaders and technocrats who exited PAS to join Amanah,” said one insider.
“PAS is now mostly a cult-like party, following the ulama. There are more followers than leaders. Hence, Hadi remains in control.”
Smooth leadership transition needed, but can Tuan Ibrahim rally support?
With Hadi being unwell, there is concern about whether party members can accept his deputy: 60-year-old Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, a likeable personality who is environment and water minister.
“But for PAS to move forward, Tuan Ibrahim needs to be decisive and make a stand, perhaps reach out to former leaders for their return,” said the insiders, adding that the Pahang leader was the most disappointed when PAS broke into two some six years ago, leading to the formation of Amanah.
Political scientist Sivamurugan Pandian in an interview said PAS’ role as kingmaker has diminished simply because both Bersatu and Umno can no longer see eye to eye.
But with 18 parliamentary seats, the Islamist party is still a player in the scene, but how big of a role it plays remains a question, he said.
He said PAS should consider arranging a smooth leadership transition to invoke confidence in its ability to manage crises – not just the pandemic, but also the huge decisions the party must make.
For now, the debate remains whether PAS will stay with or leave PN.
It seems that the political turmoil and disagreement over the party’s direction when it comes to Bersatu have plagued not only Umno, whose conflicting opinions thunder across social media, but also PAS, whose leaders whisper among themselves of their discontent.