The Permatang Pauh PAS (Islamic Party of Malaysia) division has given the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR — People’s Justice Party) an ultimatum to apologise to PAS over the latter’s stand on PAS’ plan to introduce hudud in the state it rules, Kelantan, by tomorrow (Saturday).
The division has threatened not to support the PKR campaign to win the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat which fell vacant when PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim, who was the incumbent Member of Parliament (MB) and who is currently serving a five-year jail sentence for sodomy, lost his family’s appeal to the Pardons Board for his pardon.
Permatang Pauh is an Anwar stronghold. No matter who of Anwar’s men or women stands there, his candidate will likely win. The question is by how much. In the 2013 General Election, Anwar held on to the seat but with a reduced majority. He won the seat by about 15,500 votes in 2008, but in 2013, he won by a majority of about 11,700 votes. The situation now is more fluid and PKR is less sure of its support. Hence, it would not want to antagonize PAS and erode further support.
I don’t know if the PAS division’s stand is mere political posturing or whether they really mean it. But PAS leaders have subsequently said they would support PKR. For the sake of winning the seat, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partners of PKR, DAP (the non-Malay, mostly Chinese party) and PAS may maintain an outward show of solidarity. But, it is very unlikely that PAS would be able to deliver its votes enbloc to the PKR candidate.
Conservative PAS members are sore with PKR (a Malay/Muslim-based party) for maintaining that hudud was never a part of PR’s policy framework. So, it is to be expected that PR would lose some PAS votes.
The important question now is by how many? My feeling is that it would not be a significant number. PAS is using hudud to be seen as conforming to its Islamic objectives in order to pacify its conservative factions. But, I am not sure if PAS leaders’ insistence on public acceptance of hudud is a reflection of what Muslim voters on the ground want. That may be the reason why the party does not want a referendum for the people to decide and is trying to impose hudud by legislative and religious bulldozing.
The Permatang Pauh by-election results will reveal if PAS’s insistence truly reflects voter sentiments.
This by-election will also be a chance for PKR to change its strategy and present itself to a predominantly Malay electorate as the best alternative to lead this nation. This is of utmost importance. PKR has to leave the Anwar factor behind and confidently offer itself as the alternative with a pluralistic base that would ensure the interests of all in the country and demonstrate the will and leadership to make it happen.
If PKR can get past the Anwar factor and show to the Malay electorate that it is ready to rule with respect for the laws of the land and Malay history, fairness and a magnanimous spirit, I believe it will get the Malay votes to make up for the loss of PAS votes. If PKR continues to stay true to course, more Malays will turn to it. And, PR will finally be worthy of its quest for Putrajaya.