KUALA LUMPUR: The Parti Islam Se-Malaysia general assembly is usually a crowded affair, with delegates from all over the country arriving to meet with party leaders.
Last weekend, the party held its first general assembly, also known as "Muktamar", since becoming part of the federal ruling coalition.
Given the need to comply with strict health protocols due to COVID-19, the meeting was smaller compared to previous years.
The size of the assembly in Kelantan - about 400 delegates reportedly gathered inside the main hall, was not the only noteworthy point.
Based on the resolutions adopted and speeches by party leaders, the Islamist party might be going through a change in political direction, said analysts interviewed by CNA.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the annual gathering:
HUDUD MAY NOW BE A LESSER PRIORITY
PAS' president Abdul Hadi Awang's Private Member’s Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355 has appeared seven times in the parliamentary order paper, only to be deferred to the following session time and again without any debate.
Having been on the parliamentary agenda since 2015, the Bill which has been read by Mr Abdul Hadi three times, was supposed to have become a federal Bill in March 2017. However, then prime minister Najib Razak had said that it would remain a private member’s bill.
The party's insistence on advancing the Bill had led to the fracture of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition back in June 2015.
When PAS joined hands with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) last September, it was believed that the Islamist party had partnered with UMNO as part of a broader push for Hudud.
Last weekend, however, Mr Abdul Hadi urged his party grassroots to stop questioning the timeline for the tabling, let alone the passing of the Bill.
Punishment under Hudud law includes the cutting off of one’s hands for theft, as well as stoning to death for extramarital sex.
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak political analyst Jeniri Amir said: “It is very different when you are in the opposition and in the government. Now that it is a part of the government, PAS needs to do what is good not only for itself but for the coalition and the government as a whole."
“Given that situation, the party cannot be advocating or seen pushing an extremist agenda like the Hudud Bill,” he said.
Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a political science professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, noted that PAS may have moved away from being an Islamist party to being a political party first and foremost.
“It is understood at a practical level that is it neither easy nor advisable in certain times to bulldoze through legislation or bills which can potentially split the support within a governing coalition.
“Previously it was a part of the opposition, but now as part of the government, it needs a semblance of non-Malay support. In addition, Sabah and Sarawak parties are not for this kind of legislation, they have always been that way regardless of whether with Barisan Nasional (BN), Pakatan Harapan (PH) or now Perikatan Nasional (PN),” he said.
He added: “However, this action by PAS does not leave a good impression of the party leadership to the hardcore supporters. Whether or not the support for PAS will dwindle, we will see in the next General Election.”
READ: From opposition to Cabinet - PAS politicians pledge to prove mettle in Muhyiddin administration, call for racial unity
NOT ROCKING THE PERIKATAN NASIONAL BOAT
At the Muktamar, Mr Abdul Hadi called for party members to learn from the fall of the PH government. He stressed that the take over by the long-time opposition was short-lived due to infighting within PH.
“Strong cooperation is needed in preparing for the 15th General Election to ensure a strong government is formed,” he said.
Another significant move taken by the PAS leader is to stand down from nominating candidates for the Sabah state election which would take place on Sep 26. Observers see it as a way of ensuring unity in Muafakat Nasional (MN), a coalition formed with UMNO and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Mr Abdul Hadi also said at the Muktamar said PAS would mobilise its machinery to help its PN allies in the state election.
“You must understand that participating in government does not necessarily mean being an elected representative, standing in an election. In politics, there is a technocratic government, among others," he was quoted as saying by Malaysian media.
“What is important is that PAS is feared. It is a party that is respected, a party that is not a nuisance. This is important so please be patient.”
Dr Ahmad Fauzi noted that while PAS had previously given the impression that it was always ready for a fight on the political playing field, the party has now pivoted towards retaining power.
“If you look at the past, the Islamist party had made many statements which contradict the current stand of the Perikatan Nasional government or certain parties in it. An example would be the disagreements on UEC (Unified Examination Certificate) which they have had with the Malaysian Chinese Association.
“But now, simply put, they are playing on the safe side. If we look at it in a rational manner, this is the safe position for them to take rather than ruffling the feathers in a coalition which is surviving on a slim majority,” he said.
SUPPORT FOR MUHYIDDIN
PAS has been one of the most vocal supporters of Mr Muhyiddin from the time he took over as prime minister.
Mr Abdul Hadi said at the weekend that PN had agreed to enter into a straight fight with PH as this was the best way to recapture Putrajaya.
“We have decided that we must get the people’s mandate through a democratic general election. Looking at our survey of all the parties and their leaders, we then agreed that Tan Sri Muhyiddin is to be the prime minister," he said.
Earlier this month, the prime minister said in a speech that Mr Abdul Hadi was the first member of parliament to sign a statutory declaration n support of his bid to take power. PAS has also publicly backed Mr Muhyiddin's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In explaining this, Dr Ahmad Fauzi said PAS was merely doing what it needed to ensure it had the “best seats”.
“PAS has very much realised that Muhyiddin is a key person that they have to latch on to for their survival in the governing coalition. A recent survey by Merdeka Centre shows that Muhyiddin was the key man in getting public support.
“He (Mr Muhyiddin) is someone that would definitely appeal to the PAS grassroots because 10 years ago he made a statement, ‘I am Malay first then a Malaysian’ and that is the kind of statement that would strike a chord with the people,” he recounted.
At the weekend gathering, PAS' secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan also urged party members to broaden their perspectives and think beyond the party.
“Following the political changes that took place early this year, a number of PAS leaders have been given positions and entrusted with various posts in the government and its agencies.
“Hence, PAS has more and heavier responsibilities because the party is also responsible for all Malaysians,” he had said.
To this, Dr Ahmad Fauzi said the situation was ironic.
“The awakening that PAS has had, why are they only saying this to their party members now? They should have said this all along, especially given that leaders like Takiyuddin, a well-educated lawyer was more in tune with the multi-racial nature of the country.
“Yet, all this while they went hardline to secure votes. And now when you are in a position where you are forced to secure support, you spew such rhetoric,” he said.
He pointed out that the leaders who now make up Parti Amanah Negara were all ousted from PAS because they stood for such moderate principles.
“Five years ago, they (Amanah members) were dishonourably voted out and yet five years later PAS is saying things that they were saying, points on which they were vilified.
“This would definitely lead to a struggle for the grassroots because they would increasingly notice the changes in the PAS leadership after becoming the government,” he said.
SECURING MORE VOTES IN PERAK
The party youth wing suggested last weekend that PAS should be given a minimum of 50 per cent of Malay majority seats in Perak, of which 20 per cent should be represented by youth, Bernama reported.
PAS has hitherto focused on the northern states such as Kelantan and Terengganu. It currently holds three seats in the 59-seat Perak state assembly.
Commenting on this goal, Dr Jeniri said: “Of course overall it (Perak) is not a PAS state, but what they want to do is ensure they can assert their control on all Malay states and that includes Perak."
"They will be targeting the more rural seats of course, the areas where there are larger populations of Malay Muslims, but how they are going to make compromises with UMNO on this is a different story.”
Dr Ahmad Fauzi added: “It is unfortunate that PAS is trying to control Perak based on Malay Muslim votes, instead of portraying itself as an all-encompassing religious party, where they are not only protecting the Muslims but the minorities."
“Some areas in Perak are very much non-Muslim, so this move by PAS is very much a message of domination rather than a message of reconciliation,” he said.