MANY commentators have pointed out that the biggest spoiler in the next election will be PAS.
But a spoiler against which side?
Well, that depends.
PAS will spoil Pakatan Harapan’s chances, goes the conventional narrative. It’ll split the opposition vote because it’s still viewed as an opposition party, enabling Barisan Nasional to win a strong majority and retain power.
There’s no reason this has to be the case, though.
In the last few years, especially with the passing of spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz and the free rein of President Hadi Awang, PAS has acted more like an ally of BN than an opposition party. Who can forget its treachery even when part of the opposition coalition, with its central committee leaders scheming to jump ship and deliver Selangor to BN? Then there was its formal break with the opposition coalition, and its decision to contest in 130 out of 222 seats in the next general election. Then, just last Friday, PAS Selangor held a special prayer wishing for the death of Pakatan Harapan.
On the 1MDB corruption scandal, Hadi has been among Najib Razak’s most shameless apologists, demanding the production of four male witnesses to prove the embattled prime minister’s guilt, and defending him against “foreign intervention”, i.e. foreign corruption probes. PAS has effectively become BN’s lapdog.
At the same time, Umno has come to increasingly resemble PAS, tacking hard to the right, forfeiting the votes of minorities in favour of Malay ethnonationalism, and embracing the Islamic extremism that is PAS’ raison d’être. To court PAS, Umno has even promised to help Hadi pass a bill to to give more power to Islamic courts. Umno and PAS are now more similar to each other than they are to any other party.
Why, then, might PAS not end up splitting the establishment vote instead? Amanah communications director Khalid Samad pointed out months ago that three-cornered fight involving PAS could benefit Pakatan Harapan. He’s right. Let PAS split the Malay supremacist vote and the Islamist vote, and the opposition coalition, backed by liberals and moderates, will win.
For that to happen, a few things need to be done, though. Despite recent developments, PAS is still seen by many as an opposition party.
Pakatan Harapan needs to change that. Its major challenge going into this general election will be one of branding – more specifically, branding PAS as no longer a credible opposition party (which it isn’t), but as a lackey of BN, on par with MCA and MIC, complicit in its tyranny and its corruption (which it is).
“A vote for PAS is a vote for BN, a vote for PAS is a vote for BN” – opposition figures need to get out that message early, and often. The opposition – the real opposition – will have to devote at least as much time to attacking PAS as they do to attacking BN.
There’s little sign of this, however. DAP is the only opposition party that really attacks PAS, and even it doesn’t do it anywhere near enough. Though Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali has finally – shut the door on PAS, PKR remains reluctant to go all out against its former ally. Even Amanah, Bersatu, and Mahathir himself seem to be holding back.
Why? Perhaps there’s still a lingering hope that PAS might come around and coordinate election strategy with Pakatan Harapan (spoiler Alert: This will never happen, especially with Najib offering the hudud law amendments), or perhaps they’re afraid of alienating the Islamist vote (news flash: Those Taliban-wannabes are never going to vote for a moderate coalition in any event).
It’s obvious PAS will never be able to form a government on its own; its best strategy in this election is to be a spoiler, to confuse opposition voters and split their votes – and you can be sure Najib knows that. PAS is a liability; it’s a bomb, and it’ll hurt whoever happens to be closest to it.
In an interview with The Malaysian Insight, DAP leader Lim Kit Siang called on PAS to clarify its position “and not present a confused and muddled situation” ahead of the general election.
But the opposition shouldn’t wait for PAS to brand itself – it should do that for it.
There are only a few short months left for Pakatan Harapan to get that branding right, to flip the script and turn PAS into a spoiler against BN.
If it manages that successfully, no other factor – not 1MDB, not Mahathir – will prove more decisive, and it will have a real chance not just of holding its position in the coming election, but gaining ground, and, ultimately, forming the next government.
If it doesn’t, it will lose, probably pitifully, and the reason why will be painfully obvious. – March 18, 2018.
* Shaun Tan is a Malaysian writer. He enjoys reading, playing tennis, and talking about himself in the third-person.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.