A GREAT deal is at stake for PAS at the “purple rally” tomorrow.
Politics is very much a numbers game and PAS needs to bring out big numbers to prove its critics wrong.
The rally, sporting purple as the theme colour, is supposed to be a show of strength for its controversial Private Member’s Bill ahead of the new session of Parliament next month.
The Bill, aimed at increasing penalties in Syariah Court rulings in Kelantan, has met with fierce criticisms from non-Muslims and even some Muslims.
The organisers need a massive turnout to show that they are on the right track and to send a strong message to their critics and rivals.
But events surrounding PAS the last couple of years suggest that the gathering to be held in Padang Merbok is more than just about the RUU 355, as the proposed legislative amendments are known as.
The rally, said political commentator Eddin Khoo, is also about reaffirming its place among Malay voters in the run-up to the general election.
“So much has happened, it’s hard to tell where the party is in the psyche of the people, especially the Malays.
“Even the party leaders are unsure about their standing among their traditional constituencies. The demo will be a test of that,” said Khoo.
PAS has been truly tested since its acrimonious party election two years ago.
The party split into two and those who lost left to form Amanah. PAS was expelled from the opposition coalition and Pakatan Rakyat became Pakatan Harapan.
Amanah replaced PAS in the new coalition and nothing has been quite the same since.
Its ageing president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang must have felt like a captain trying to steer a ship through choppy seas.
His only consolation is that Pakatan Harapan has also been like a ship lost at sea.
As such the rally is also for the party to show that it has recovered from the break-up, that its core support is intact and that its arch rival Amanah has failed to measure up.
And since the RUU 355 is specific to Kelantan, it is also about strengthening the hold over the state.
“It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers they can get but I’ve got to admit that PAS has a very organised machinery,” said Khoo.
The Kelantan government has declared Sunday a public holiday so that Kelantanese, especially civil servants, can attend the rally.
Mosque communities all over the country have been distributing flyers and displaying banners urging Muslims to support the gathering.
It is no secret the rally was inspired by the mammoth demonstration in Jakarta a few months ago to protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, who is on trial for insulting Islam.
PAS has also warned non-Muslims against commenting on or opposing the RUU 355.
PAS leaders are claiming there has been a lot of misconception that RUU 355 is about implementing hudud law.
They further claimed that it is to amend an existing law so that the Syariah Court in Kelantan can impose sentences that are more in line with syariah law.
“But there is a real basis for concern because this sort of processes have a tendency to unfold, evolving from one thing to another and you don’t know where it ends.
“It’s absurd to tell non-Muslims they need not be concerned or cannot comment. It can open up all kinds of avenues for further religiosity of our society,” said Khoo.
Umno MPs have played an important role in enabling PAS to fast-forward the Private Member’s Bill in Parliament and it points to the warming ties between the two parties.
There has been no official indication of support from Umno but Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom has confirmed he will be joining the gathering for prayers. That has been read as a tacit greenlight for Umno members to attend if they wish to.
Umno’s information bureau has been calling on members to support the amendments although the party has not mobilised members to attend.
“My take is that more than 90% of Umno members are for the amendments. We see it as our religious duty,” said Kapar Umno division chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah.
PAS has a lot to prove at tomorrow’s rally which it hopes will be a pivotal gathering of Muslims. But it comes at a price because it will further alienate the party from the non-Muslims.