Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is holding internal elections at its annual congress next week, with expectations that key leaders will retain their posts unchallenged as members close ranks ahead of the next national polls.
Malaysia’s second biggest Malay Muslim party picks its leaders every two years, with the April 27 to May 1 meeting in Kedah likely to be its final muktamar (congress) before the general election.
The last PAS elections held in Selangor in 2015 were divisive as the ultra-conservatives roundly defeated liberal-leaning leaders, forcing them to leave to form a new party.
About 20 per cent of the party’s then 1 million members also left.
This time around, party leaders and analysts see the conservatives rallying around president Abdul Hadi Awang and his deputy Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man to avoid internal divisions.
Mr Hadi, 69, and Mr Ibrahim, 56 – cleric-politicians who are pushing for a hardline interpretation of the Islamic law for Malaysia – have retained their posts unchallenged.
The three vice-presidents were originally to defend their posts against two contenders, but one has already dropped out.
“It is likely that all the top five posts would be uncontested,” a party leader revealed, referring to the positions of the president, deputy president and three vice-presidents.
On Sunday, PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan dropped out from contesting the vice-president post.
“I am confident that the current composition would be able to take PAS towards a brilliant future, especially in facing GE14 later,” Mr Takiyuddin said in a statement, referring to the 14th general election, widely expected to be called later this year.
The remaining contender is PAS information chief Nasruddin Hassan, who may drop out too.
Two of the three current vice-presidents are clerics Idris Ahmad, 53, and Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, 57. The third, former architect Iskandar Samad, 56, is one of the few non-clerics in the top hierarchy.
There will also be elections for the 18 coveted posts in PAS’ central working committee, with a total of 40 candidates.
“I do not think there will be campaigning or canvassing of votes in this muktamar, with a quarter of the central committee candidates expected to withdraw from contesting,” the party leader added.
There will also be contests in its ulama (clerics), youth and women wings.
After abandoning its former opposition allies, PAS leaders are keen to present a unified front to the public.
The Islamist party now has growing ties with Umno – a staunch rival for Malay votes for five decades.
“It is unlikely that they will openly say they will work with Umno,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, visiting senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
“They will continue with the claim of ‘we will support Islam, and anybody who supports Islam is our friend’ and leave it vague at that.”
Apart from calls to strengthen Islam in Malaysia, the congress is expected to discuss strategies to retain Kelantan and score wins in other Malay-majority states, such as Kedah, Terengganu and Perlis, while playing a kingmaker role in Selangor.
Some members want to discuss whether PAS should break ties with fellow opposition party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which PAS is working with to rule Selangor.
First published in the Straits Times on April 18, 2017.