PAS faces tough balancing act now, say analysts

How PAS handles itself over RUU355 could determine the coalition’s chances, say analysts.

PETALING JAYA: A tough balancing act awaits the Islamic party PAS as its leaders take up positions in federal power again, after a lapse of four decades.

Universiti Malaya analyst Awang Azman Pawi said party leaders could say anything they wanted while they were in opposition, but must now “tweak” how they carry themselves, from the highest level to the grassroots.

“They need to show they can be more moderate and that they have national interests in mind.”

He said a huge challenge for PAS would be the proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, for which PAS had tried to obtain parliamentary approval.

“In the past, they accused DAP of trying to obstruct their efforts, now they are in government, if they fail to push the amendments through they risk being seen as insincere or not serious about it,” he said.

PAS could be punished by their voters if the law failed to pass, he added. “At the same time, if they push too hard for it, they risk causing cracks in Perikatan Nasional.”

‘PAS can’t dominate Cabinet’

Chandra Muzaffar

Political scientist Chandra Muzaffar said it was unlikely that PAS, with three ministers, could dominate the new Cabinet, more so since the party did not hold the religious affairs portfolio.

That portfolio is held by Federal Territories Mufti Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, who Chandra says is widely seen as being inclusive, balanced and open-minded.

“So in terms of PAS being able to exert influence or dominating the religious discourse in the Cabinet, there will be limitations.”

Chandra also noted that PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang recently spoke on the need to address the issues faced by Sabah and Sarawak, reducing the wealth gap and corruption.

Still, he said, it was too early to say if this meant PAS would tone down their rhetoric, or if they will face the same issues which resulted in PAS being kicked out of Barisan Nasional in 1977, when the two parties struggled over control of Kelantan.

“Circumstances are different now, so it is hard to say. What is interesting is that no one from PAS was made a senior minister.”

Chandra said this could be because Muhyiddin is sensitive to how others view PAS or the Islamic party declined such a position. However, without a senior minister from their ranks, PAS would be less powerful among Perikatan Nasional partners.

RUU355 and Sarawak tsunami

Wong Chin Huat

Wong Chin Huat of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia said he believed PAS grassroots will naturally expect the party to push for the shariah court amendment (known as RUU355) since the party’s secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan is the de facto law minister.

However, investors and tourists could be scared off, and passage of the law might even trigger a “tsunami” of protest votes against GPS in the coming Sarawak state elections.

“PAS will soon be trapped in the DAP dilemma, the dilemma of market repositioning, moving from a radical position when in opposition to a moderate one when in government, only to incur the wrath of the base.

“The best possible outcome is that PAS will soften its stand on shariah law, like what happened to DAP after two years in government, and become more acceptable by the national mainstream.”

But, he said, PAS could also flip-flop and alienate voters on both the moderate and hardline ends.