Perfect storm lifts PAS to new heights

Jahabar Sadiq

PAS looks set to grow its influence as a member of a minority government following the hung results of the general election. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Nazir Sufari, November 20, 2022.

* Commentary by Jahabar Sadiq 

MANY predicted a hung Dewan Rakyat and the mixed results of GE15 have confirmed it.

Barisan Nasional was the biggest loser and PAS profited the most from what has been called a “Malay tsunami” in an election with the largest turnout ever – thanks to Undi18 voters and automatic voter registration. 

A snapshot of the results so far shows Pakatan Harapan and partners leading with 82 seats, followed by Perikatan Nasional and PAS with with 73, and BN 30. Sarawak’s GPS has 22 seats, PN’s Sabah GRS has six, Warisan three and KDM one. Two Independents won.

The GE15 scores are the result of years of patient preparation, ignorance and two events – Undi18 and Covid-19 – to BN’s detriment and PH’s chagrin. 

In a recent interview with The Malaysian Insight, the astute former finance minister Daim Zainuddin alluded to PAS’s growing strength from rising religiosity among the majority Malay population and a lack of leadership among other Malay parties. 

“If we are not careful, PAS will get more seats,” said the 84-year-old former finance minister in July, saying disunity in Umno and PH would push voters to the Islamist party. 

Daim said PAS and its version of Islam appeal to the Malays because when Malay voters are uncertain, they tend to err on the side of religion.

“As the Malays get older, they will begin to think of Allah and how PAS is their salvation,” he added. 

Beyond his remarks, PAS had an early start in setting up religious schools that catered to rural and some urban communities - giving them a head start in promoting their brand of Islam and politics. 

These tahfiz schools were also supported by the recently pious after years of a Western or hedonistic lifestyle. 

Umno, in power since Merdeka, had focused on national schools and some religious schools but was no match for those that also offered boarding facilities for children from poorer families. 

The series of lockdowns Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 also led to children staying at home and using the internet to either play games or immerse themselves more into their faith. 

That came on top of the Undi 18 movement that began after PH won the 2018 polls. Allowing automatic voter registration for those turning 18 from 2020 meant producing voters without any political education during the pandemic and change of government by the Sheraton Move that unravelled the PH administration and brought in the PN regime that included PAS. 

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang addresses supporters as Perikatan Nasional leaders convene early this morning after an unexpectedly good showing in the general election. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, November 20, 2022.

With a growing national profile and influence in the Ismail Sabri Yaakob government, PAS took control of federal Islamic agencies to promote itself across the land. 

And when Ismail acceded to party pressure to call for snap polls, the final part of the perfect storm took place.

Umno’ demands for PAS to pull out of PN and break ties with Bersatu pushed the Islamist party closer to Muhyiddin Yassin’s hastily set up pact. PAS insisted on using its own logo on the peninsular east coast but agreed to carry the PN logo on the west coast to win over those concerned about its puritanical stance. 

Young voters from religious schools and those who spent the better part of the lockdowns turning pious at home became the perfect vote bank for PAS, which campaigned on an Islamic and anti-graft stand. 

Thanks to social media, PAS has been able to reach out to a wider audience, especially those disillusioned by Umno’s corrupt image and infighting that led to a number of party warlords dropped from the GE15 slate. 

In the past two weeks, financed by the PN war chest, the considerable PAS grassroots machinery worked tirelessly in rural and semi-urban areas to snatch seats from Umno and even PKR. 

That led to the rout yesterday that saw PAS becoming giant killers with several notable scalps such as Nurul Izzah Anwar in Penang, Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Langkawi and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in Kelantan.

The PAS victories have put it as a dominant and influential ally in PN and earned it a bigger say in any coalition government in the future. 

PAS will be careful not to ask for the top job but a position in any federal government will only cement its influence for the next decade or so. 

On the flip side, the youth who went to national schools and received scholarships are a minority compared to the masses in religious schools. And a fair number of them are more attracted to Muda or PKR rather than Umno, which is still run by leaders from the Mahathir era. 

That is unless Umno can refresh its talent pool to compete with PAS or even Muda. 

But that is years from now and Daim did mention it will take a decade or so before there is a government or leadership that can cut through racial and religious division. 

For now, yesterday’s Malay tsunami means PAS is in the driver’s seat and playing kingmaker to get the government of its dreams.  – November 20, 2022.

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