PETALING JAYA: The Islamic party PAS will need to do a lot more than issue greetings for Christmas and Thaipusam to win over the support of non-Malay and non-Muslim voters, say political analysts.
James Chin of the University of Tasmania said that at best the latest PAS “public relations moves” would convince only a very small number of non-Muslims who retain hope that the party would “become moderate” when in government.
“In terms of getting new people to support them, the answer is no, it would not work, simply because every time they try to do something like this, a few months later or a few weeks later their party leader Abdul Hadi Awang will say something very nasty about the Chinese and Indians. Then all this work will be (for) nothing,” he told FMT.
Among Hadi’s controversial remarks were his labelling of non-Malays and non-Muslims as the “biggest plunderers” in Malaysia and saying they make up “the majority of those involved in ruining the country’s politics and economy”.
Last month, PAS raised eyebrows when it extended festive greetings on Christmas eve to all Christians celebrating Christmas.
In contrast, the party was roundly criticised in 2018 after one of its leaders told Muslims to stay away from Christmas celebrations and refrain from extending festive greetings to Christians for the occasion.
On Jan 24, PAS issued a statement addressed to all Malaysian Hindus in conjunction with the Thaipusam festival which fell on Thursday.
Chin attributed the party’s change in tune to the results of an internal analysis which suggested that Perikatan Nasional would have won the 15th general election and the subsequent six state elections if not for its inability to attract non-Muslim voters.
“They’ve got the Muslim vote locked in for the next general election, (or) at least that’s what they’re hoping for. The only thing stopping them from winning outright with Bersatu is the non-Muslim vote,” he said.
Another analyst, Chin Yee Mun of the Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Social and Policy Studies at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar), said PAS has not been able to shed its hardline image despite its recent efforts.
Asked if a change in leadership would allow PAS to pull in the non-Malay and non-Muslim votes, Yee Mun said the party must go further and demonstrate moderation.
“A good example of a moderate PAS was when the party was led by its spiritual leader, (the late) Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat. It was during his time (that) we saw the non-Malays supporting PAS,” he said.
He said non-Malays at the time had no problem supporting PAS because the party was accommodating, tolerant and had an inclusive vision which took into consideration the needs of the community.
Yee Mun said PAS must project itself as a progressive party by championing bread and butter issues. “If they are able to produce a workable plan to steer our economy, the non-Malays would perceive this party more positively and may even support it if the party partners up with other political parties that are favoured by them.
“But all these require PAS to make drastic changes to its current political stance, which is somewhat difficult,” he said.