PAS return to conservatism – strategic or opportunistic?

Emmanuel Joseph

PAS has undergone significant adjustments to meet the changing political landscape. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, February 22, 2023.

ONE of the original players in the Malaysian political scene, PAS is an old hand at the perception game and a master at controlling the religious narrative.

As with most parties in Malaysia, it has undergone significant adjustments to meet a changing political landscape.

Many of the changes, though, seem hypocritical or like flip-flopping to the average urban voter, ridiculous and unfathomable even. But the everyday Malaysian must realise that these stunts aren’t meant for them in the first place. 

Just 15 years ago, PAS took a significantly more moderate stance in Pakatan Harapan.

It was not uncommon in those days to see urbanites wear a t-shirt with Tok Guru Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat on it to Bangsar bars. Nor was it strange to see pork sellers chopping up their less than halal meat to the backdrop of a green flag and white moon. 

Is PAS’ return to conservatism accidental? Hardly.  

In fact, apart from returning to the hardline Islam PAS was known for in the 1990s, the party has now taken on an additional role – as defenders of Malay culture and rights, a role previously played by Umno. It is a position PAS leaders themselves previously criticised as “assabiyah”,  or tribalistic, which goes against the tenets of Islam, which promote the universality of the ummah. 

This didn’t happen overnight either. 

Indeed, PAS made good use of its time in the opposition with Umno during Pakatan Harapan’s 22-month reign.  

PAS played up racial issues, blowing them out of proportion, sometimes capitalising on people’s ignorance and other times keeping mum when untruths were spread. It was also not averse perpetuating and propagating lies. 

It carefully shadowed Umno, learning the social intelligence gathering techniques, fund-channelling and organisational structure of its then ally. It made new connections with the corporate sector and government-linked companies and learnt how to use grassroots-connected government machinery. 

PAS used its newfound resources to bolster its already formidable cadres.

It did not choose Bersatu as an ally by accident.

PAS knew Bersatu lacked the branding it needed to make inroads into the east coast and rural seats. 

Not only did the Islamist party mobilise its machinery for its partner, it lent Muhyiddin Yasson’s party its credentials and even a few seats.  

PAS has graduated from the role of a quiet source of manpower and support to one of real power behind Perikatan Nasional, which serves as a palatable cover for both PR and diplomatic purposes.

Membership in the coalition gives PAS a semblance of multiculturalism and makes it presentable on the international stage, without spooking investors and the corporate world. 

At the same time, PAS is building its own troops of youth comprising TikTok content creators, influencers and key opinion leaders, all touting the message that PAS is the wholesome alternative.

Its leaders are a mix of professionals such as the Terengganu menteri besar and street fighter-types like the Kedah leader.

Even the controversial “cosplay” parade in Terengganu was calculated. Giant Styrofoam props, fake swords and cardboard armour may seem childish and cheap to the average city dweller but it managed to get 50,000 people riled up. 

Its opportunism, coupled with its strategic know-how and ambition, is a potent combination. 

It looks like it is only a matter of time before the party weaponises the so-called green wave that swept across Malaysia in the 2022 general election.  – February 22, 2023.

* Emmanuel Joseph firmly believes that Klang is the best place on Earth, and that motivated people can do far more good than any leader with motive.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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