PAS’ double-faced approach to the electorate has put it in a dilemma, with conservative Muslims denouncing it due to its attempts to curry favour with other groups.
PAS’ popularity is sliding among conservative Malays in the Malay heartland states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah.
This is because of its liberal policies since winning big in the 2008 general election. It is beginning to show its intolerant face in an attempt to win back voter support.
In 2008, non-Malays abandoned their fear of PAS and embraced the Islamic party as part of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition which eventually won five states.
But now there is fear that PAS is back to its old habits as intolerance fuelled by its policies mounts in small but significant ways – forcing women in Kelantan to wear the hijab, banning cinemas in Bangi and boycotting today’s Himpunan Sejuta rally organised by Muslim NGOs.
The policy flip-flops are an attempt by PAS to distance itself from ally DAP – which is against such policies – ahead of the forthcoming general election.
It is also partly due to the realisation that support for PAS is sliding among conservative Muslims as a result of the party’s liberal policies that had gone down well with non-Muslims.
PAS is attempting to return to its roots as an Islamist party dedicated to defending Islam.
Its eyes are on the sliding rural vote where PAS battles Umno for their hearts and minds.
It is also an admission that by gaining non-Malay votes with its liberal policies, it has been haemorrhaging traditional Malay voter support.
That’s the dilemma of PAS – it can’t have both the Muslim and non-Muslim votes.
It has to choose, and led by spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the party has chosen to save its traditional Malay hardcore support base by seeking to implement hudud laws, openly disagreeing with DAP and stepping up policies like forcing women to wear the hijab in Kelantan and banning cinemas in Bangi.
These are all signs that PAS is returning to its roots as an Islamic party.
But it also wants to win the non-Muslim votes and that desire is seen in its double-faced policy on the Himpunan rally.
While it is allowing the PAS Youth wing under Nasrudin Hassan Tantawi, which is rabidly pro-Islamists, to attend, it is banning the rest of the party from attending to satisfy the Christian groups who are opposed to the rally.
PAS’ shifting policies challenge DAP, which acted as its “guarantee” to the Chinese voters that the party has changed for the better.
In 1990, DAP and PAS could not see eye to eye over hudud and other PAS policies and they parted ways.
But in 2008, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim used his charms and brought the two disparate groups together to form a loose coalition with his PKR.
They won big and later together formed Pakatan Rakyat.
PAS played along by pretending to be a liberal animal and put aside its Islamic state agenda for a welfare state and even elected liberal leaders to positions of power, such as Mohamed Sabu as deputy president.
But the hardliners are rebelling now and have had enough of the liberal policies.
With the general election around the corner, the old intolerant ways are beginning to surface again as the conservatives ulama battle for control of PAS policy.
Besides, the conservative PAS leaders have also given up on Anwar as a magnet for the Malay voters and with his Sodomy 2 trial coming to a close, they feel he might be found guilty or worse, jailed.
Anwar’s pull with the non-Muslim voters is still there but in the rural heartland, he is counting for far less these days.
Under these circumstances, PAS has decided to return to its old, intolerant image in an attempt to keep its hardcore conservative voters base from slipping away.
The DAP is confident of its Chinese voter base, but with PAS increasingly bent on resurrecting old, discarded policies, the DAP is finding it hard to explain PAS’ stand to the Chinese voters.
The recent episode involving Mohamed Sabu, who likened communist fighters who killed many policemen at Bukit Kepong in 1950 to “heroes”, was a public relations disaster.
It does not go down well in the Malay villages where years of government propaganda made the communist the bad guys.
The impact of such grave political “errors” on fence-sitters, who form about 20% of voters who decide the outcome in rural constituencies, is immeasurable.
They are a giveaway to Umno, which has been playing them to the hilt.
Despite two attempts by Anwar to reconcile PAS’ insistence on hudud with the DAP’s vociferous opposition to it, there has been no solution.
Each party agreed to disagree, with the DAP threatening to resign en bloc if hudud law was included in Pakatan’s common policy framework and PAS insisting Kelantan will implement hudud with Nik Aziz forming a committee to look into its implementation.
The “agree to disagree” formula does not say much for Pakatan as a coalition.
It is too loose and informal and should work at becoming a real coalition.
It is just a disparate group brought together to grab federal power, a goal that is keeping together the coalition.
Even Anwar is unable to tame PAS, and finally joined it in supporting hudud, albeit in a personal capacity ... What more of DAP.
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