POLITICS AND ISLAM IN MALAYSIA

POLITICS AND ISLAM IN MALAYSIA

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “The real Malay dilemma today is that democrats need the Islamists: Malay liberals and secular Chinese and Indians cannot form a governing alliance without religious and rural Malays. And the only serious contender who can patch over the differences between secularists and Islamists for the sake of reform is Anwar, a liberal Malay with impeccable Muslim credentials. “He is our last chance,” Zaid told me, as he celebrated the victory of PAS in Kuala Terengganu. When I repeated this to Anwar, he looked thoughtful and said, “Yes, and that’s what worries me.” [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 <>]

Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times in 2006, “The politics of Islam in Malaysia are defined by the hand of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who governed for 22 years before stepping aside in 2004. He left a country that, in contrast to many others in Southeast Asia, gives the impression of actually working — big roads, new factories — and that recovered smartly from the regional economic downturn of the late 1990's. In order to keep at bay the leading Islamic party, Parti Islam se-Malaysia, Mr. Mahathir poured resources into the religious bureaucracy, giving it powers in the states and at the federal level on all matters to do with Islam. Malaysia is an Islamic state, unlike neighboring Indonesia, which rejected Islam as part of its Constitution at independence from the Dutch. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, February 19, 2006 <<>>]

“When Mr. Abdullah took over as Mr. Mahathir's successor in 2004, he was seen as a reformer who would soften the increasingly rigid Islam of the religious courts. But so far, Mr. Abdullah has taken few steps to curb the powers of the religious leaders. Instead, the government closed a provincial newspaper, The Sarawak Tribune, on Feb. 9 after it published the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and made it an offense to own or copy the cartoons. But Ms. Zainah said she believed that Mr. Abdullah would be forced to moderate the policies of the religious leaders to save Malaysia's reputation. She also said the prime minister, who is chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, is genuinely progressive. <<>>

“In an embarrassing incident in January 2006 Islamic religious authorities insisted on giving a Malaysian celebrity an Islamic burial, even though his family testified that he remained a Hindu until his death. The man, known simply as Moorthy, was the first Malaysian to scale Mount Everest. After Muslim authorities took away his body for burial, his wife appealed to a civil court. Her plea was refused. But soon after, the prime minister announced that the attorney general would consult with a cross section of society to establish a new policy on the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam.” <<>>

Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS): Islamic Party of Malaysia

The Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) is the primary Islamic party of Malaysia. It considers itself the guardian of Islamic values in Malaysia which it says have been lost in the pursuit of wealth and economic prosperity. It wants to make sharia (Muslim law) the law of the land. .It is known in English as the Islamic Party of Malaysia or the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party is Malaysia.

In the early 2000s, PAS had 800,000 registered members, half of them women. The party has traditionally been strong in northern Peninsular Malaysia in Kedah, Perlis and Pahang states and is the dominate party in Kelantan, where it has passed laws banning alcohol sales, gambling and unisex hair salons. PAS want to Sharia law, which includes stoning, caning and amputations, the law of the land in moral matters for Muslims in Malaysia. Non-Muslims fear they will be affected by Islamic law. PAS has said it supports the Taliban in Afghanistan.

PAS has a reputation for being honest and not corrupt. It has renounced terrorism and said it is committed to democracy. However it did declare jihad over American attacks in Afghanistan. It is supported by middle class Malays, professionals and university graduates as well as farmers, fishermen and working class Muslims. Some have called the party Taliban Lite.

Efforts by Mahathir and the UMNO to Undermine PAS

Seth Mydans wrote in New York Times, “Malaysia's ruling party, known as UMNO, advocates a more moderate form of Islam, which it calls "hadhari," and it is offering that nationwide alternative to the voters. "PAS is Islam; UMNO is also Islam," Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said at a recent campaign rally here. "The question is what sort of Islam do you want?" [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, December 6, 2005]

In the 1990s, Prime Minister Mahathir Mahathir was more aggressive and direct in his approach to Malaysia’s Islamic politicians. He used September 11th and the general threat of terrorism as an excuse to go after Islamic political rivals. He linked PAS with terrorism in a successful efforts to draw moderate Muslim and ethnic Chinese to his party. PAS members were arrested on terrorism charges. PAS supporters say the party has nothing to do with terrorism and Mahathir used terrorism as an excuse to crack down on his opponents. In 1999, after the publication of “Shit,” a book critical of the Mahathir government, Sahon Ahmad was forced to resign at the university where he taught. Ahmad was a member of PAS.

According to The Economist: Mahathir “attempted to defuse criticism from Islamists by building mosques, promoting religious education, increasing the role of religious courts and supporting Islamic financial institutions. He also drafted popular Muslim leaders such as Anwar Ibrahim, his one-time deputy, into UMNO, the ruling party. But the adoption of each successive “Islamic” measure simply encouraged UMNO's rival, PAS, to demand another. At the same time, Dr Mahathir tried to paint PAS as extremist by accusing its members of plotting against the state. Even before the attacks of September 11th 2001, he had denounced dozens of members of PAS as terrorists and locked them up without trial, in what many Malaysians believe was a political smear campaign. Thus PAS earned support from those who might normally shy away from its political agenda.” In 2002, “he stopped state funding for private Islamic schools, has shut down many of them, and is encouraging their students to move to state schools, putting religious education in the hands of the state. [Source: The Economist , May 29, 2003]

Arrest of PAS Members

In August 2001, AFP reported: “The son of PAS spiritual leader and Kelatan chief minister Nik Abdul Aziz was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) yesterday, bringing the number of arrests to 10 in three days. The new wave of arrests under the ISA, which allows indefinite detention without trial, have prompted an outcry from opposition leaders. Nik Adli Nik Abdul Aziz was detained under the ISA early yesterday in Kelantan on grounds of national security, a federal police spokesman told AFP. The 34-year-old religious school teacher was suspected to be involved with a terrorist Islamic group waging a "holy war," the spokesman said. At least five others detained were also PAS members. [Source: AFP, August 5, 2001 >><<]

“The arrests came as PAS defied a two-week-old police ban on open-air public rallies and pledged to continue with its political gatherings. Inspector-General of Police Norian Mai said the detainees were part of a so-called "Mujahideen Group" who received military training in Afghanistan. He said more may be arrested as investigations showed the group had more than 50 members in Malaysia. >><<

“Nine members of the group were linked to a spate of crimes including robbery, murdering a politician and bombing a church and Hindu temple, have been held since June. Opposition leaders and rights groups have condemned the use of the ISA. Six have been sent to a prison camp for up to two years, while four have been freed. Two student activists were also arrested last month under the ISA but have since been released. "Whoever is guilty should be tried in an open court. I am just sad that the ISA was used as it is a law drafted during barbaric times," the Sunday Star quoted Nik Abdul Aziz as saying. >><<

“PRM president Dr Syed Husin Ali, voiced concern that the arrests were part of a massive crackdown against the opposition. "The government is not only using the ISA but has acted cruelly to block peaceful assemblies ... this is to cover-up a split in ruling parties and shift attention away from political and economic problems," he said. >><<

“Meanwhile, DAP national chairman Lim Kit Siang said the arrests appeared to be politically motivated amid PAS defiance of the police ban on rallies. "There is potential for a frame-up and trumped up charges. If there is evidence, they should be charged in court and put through an open trial," he said. >><<

“Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi denied the arrests were a crackdown on PAS. "PAS members were not the target of these arrests but it so happens that several of those detained are PAS members," he said yesterday. Recently, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had said there were some "extremists" in PAS who were prepared to use violent methods to oust the government. >><<

In September 2007, two members of an Islamist hardline opposition party were wounded after police fired to disperse rioters at a political rally in Kuala Terengganu in Terengganu state. Malaysia's opposition parties called the incident the country's worst political violence in recent years.

Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) Gains and Loses Strength

In parliamentary elections in 1999 PAS tripled the number of seats it held in the Malaysian parliament to 27 and took control of state governments, including the oil rich province Terengganu. After the election the Mahathir government began to view PAS as a legitimate threat and stepped up their effort to present its self a voice or reasonable Islam and characterize PAS as fanatics.

In Terengganu PAS has tried to get a larger share of the state’s oil money which goes primarily to the national government but was blocked from doing so and punished by having the oil money they usually get denied them and put into a special fund controlled by the national government.

In the election in March 2004, PAS collapsed, with its number of seats in parliament dropping from 27 to 7. It lost control of Terengganu, which it gained in 1999. With Mahathir gone and the Islamic-school-trained Abdullah in power the PAS could not attack UNMO like it had in the past.

PAS retained control of Kelantan, but number of seats it held in the local parliament was reduced to 24, compared to 39 it held in 1990. Malaysia’s ruling coalition held 21 in the local parliament. A special election was called when one of the PAS. A loss of that seat would have left PAS with a majority of just one seat.

PAS After Its Poor Showing by PAS in 2004 Elections

Reporting from Pasir Mas, Kelantan after PAS’s dismal showing in the 2004 elections, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “A blizzard of streamers and bunting fills the streets of this rural town as a small election with big implications approaches, but after dark its streets are as empty and silent as a wartime blackout. By day there are crowds and motorcades and speeches by major political figures from elsewhere. At night Pasir Mas shuts down, like everywhere else in northeastern Kelantan state, where a regional Islamic government has banned most kinds of evening entertainment. For more than a decade, Kelantan has been the home of Malaysia's experiment with Islamic government, an anomaly in a country that is seen as an exemplar of modern, moderate Islam. That experiment is now in retreat, and a special election here, involving just 18,000 registered voters, has become an intense battleground as a gauge of the national mood. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, December 6, 2005 +=+]

“On one recent day, much of Malaysia's cabinet was touring the rural constituency of Pengkalan Pasir, led by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who promised, among other things, to build a university here in one of the country's poorest states. "In the last general election the ruling party managed to put a halt to the so-called green march," said Abdul Razak Baginda, executive director of the Malaysian Strategic Research Center, a research firm in Kuala Lumpur, referring to the color associated with Islam. The Islamic party, Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, lost control of neighboring Trengganu state, the only other place it had gained power. +=+

“Malaysia's ruling party, known as UMNO, advocates a more moderate form of Islam, which it calls "hadhari," and it is offering that nationwide alternative to the voters here in the special election. "PAS is Islam; UMNO is also Islam," Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said at a recent campaign rally here. "The question is what sort of Islam do you want?" In an interview, Hatta Ramli, a liberal member of PAS, distanced the party from fundamentalist talk. "The issue of implementing Shariah law is not top in our campaign," he said. "Kelantan is our model. It's all in place here in Kelantan. People can come in and observe and if they are fearful they can see what is going on." If this is the model, it is a retreat from the time when PAS had ambitions of creating a strict Islamic state with segregation of the sexes and laws sanctioning stoning and amputation. +=+

“The PAS candidate in the special election is a moderate businessman, Hanifa Ahmad, rather than a religious leader, and the party has focused its campaign on development and social justice, instead of religion. The former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, a moderate Muslim with a large popular following, has joined the campaign in support of PAS, along with the opposition party Keadilan.” The Kelantan campaign marks Anwar’s return to electoral politics. +=+

“Despite its broad national implications, the election in Pasir Mas is a reminder of the local nature of politics. The race is so close that analysts say the decisive ballots are held by 938 ethnic Chinese voters, who are mainly Buddhist. Their vote, in turn, has been influenced by a recent national scandal that has nothing to do with Islam. Last month four Chinese women accused the police in the capital of forcing them to strip and perform a series of squatting exercises. The government in Kuala Lumpur is investigating the incident vigorously to calm an outcry both within China and among ethnic Chinese throughout the region. +=+

Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), Islamic Law and Non-Muslims

PAS has is struggled to broaden its appeal. The party has long campaigned to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, which turns many non-Muslims off. "What we're doing now is trying to narrow the gap between PAS and the non-Malay, non-Muslim community," PAS deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa told Reuters. "We're going to defend the culture of all minority groups, the language, the schools."

In a major speech in August 2004, the leader of PAS said that it had not given up the fight despite its poor showing in the March 2004 election and was committed to making Malaysia a strict Islamic state. In efforts to form an alliance with the Chinese-dominated parties, PAS has reached out to the Chinese community in the areas they control by giving them money for social programs.

"In the last years a more moderate face of PAS has emerged," Abdul Razak Baginda of the Malaysian Strategic Research Center told the New York Times. "This is a clear sign that even PAS recognizes that in Malaysia you have to go into a moderate mode. To go on a more radical and extreme view of Islam will not cut any ice with the public." This is true of Southeast Asia in general, said Chandra Muzaffar, a leading political analyst in Kuala Lumpur. Although Islamic radicalism has made itself felt in recent years, it has not gained a large public following. "This would be against the grain with the way Islam is practiced in this region," Chandra said. "I think Malaysian Muslims, like Indonesian Muslims and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, are not comfortable with this sort of very rigid, dogmatic approach to religion." [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, December 6, 2005]

Islamic Rule in Kelantan

PAS has been in power in Kelantan in northeast Malaysia since 1990, Liau Y-Sing of Reuters wrote: Due to its population make-up -- 94 percent of its 1.4 million people are Muslims -- Islam plays a big role in Kelantan. Historically part of the Thai kingdom of Patani and the ancient seat of Islamic civilization, Kelantan has an appearance of piety and austerity. Many villagers live in rickety wooden homes and till the land, go to sea or sell farm produce for a living. With its strong emphasis on the afterlife, the state has more Islamic religious schools than other parts of Malaysia. Gambling joints, cinemas and nightclubs are not allowed in the state and alcohol can only be sold to non-Muslims. Dikir barat, a group recital of catchy poems, is said to be a typical pastime. But some locals say real entertainment -- illicit drugs and cheap sex -- abounds across the Thai border. [Source: Liau Y-Sing, Reuters, February 5, 2008]

Reporting from Kelantan, Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “ Islamic laws have been introduced there for Muslims, though they are not always enforced. Muslims cannot drink alcohol. The lights must stay on in movie houses, and only morally acceptable films can be shown. (Some movie houses have gone out of business.) But nobody has been stoned for adultery or had limbs amputated.[Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 <>]

“Kelantan has hardly any huge buildings. Everything in the state capital, Kota Bharu, near the border with Thailand, is built on a modest scale. I met the PAS vice-president, Husam Musa, at the party headquarters. Husam, an economist by training, is not an imam but one of the new breed of professionals in Islamist politics. He was polite, if a little defensive. On the question of an Islamic state, he said this goal was often misunderstood: “We don’t mean a state ruled by clerics but one guided by the holy books. Without the books, we’d be like UMNO and just grab the money. The difference between us and them is that we believe we will be judged in the afterlife.” <>

“He said that Islam was “pro-progress,” and that American democracy was a good model. (“Unfriendly people will accuse me of being pro-American for making this statement.”) He also said that discriminating against ethnic minorities was “un-Islamic,” as was government corruption. “People should be treated the same, and that includes the freedom of religion,” he said. What about Muslims “” were they free to renounce their faith? He averted his eyes. “I have my own opinion about that, but I will reserve it,” he said. “Media in Malaysia will interpret it in the wrong way. Everything here is turned to politics.” He used “politics” as a pejorative term. “I am not a politician,” he said. “I’m a Muslim activist.” <>

“Few people in Kelantan, even the Chinese, openly complain about the PAS government. Non-Muslims don’t feel hampered by religious rules that don’t apply to them, and the lack of corruption is widely acknowledged. Still, given the chance, many young people leave for Kuala Lumpur. Several young Malays told me that it was “no fun” living in a place where you can get arrested for buying a beer. “This is a place for old men,” an unemployed building contractor said. “They can sit around and pray all day.” <>

Softening of Islamic Rule in Kelantan

After PAS’s poor showing in the 2004 elections, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Alcohol, dancing, movies and gambling are still forbidden today in Kelantan, and most women cover their heads in compliance with local government directives. On a billboard advertising shampoo in the state capital, Kota Bharu, a row of seven smiling women hide their hair under Muslim head scarves. But the Kelantan government has softened its religious pronouncements and has begun to loosen its bans on evening entertainment, allowing traditional theater and shadow-puppet plays. It has even staged a rock concert and a fashion show. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, December 6, 2005 +=+]

“It appears to have stopped trying to enforce one of its more showy decrees - separate supermarket lines for women and men. In the Pacific Hypermarket, as in other markets in Kota Bharu, men and women stand together at checkout counters, ignoring little stick-figure pictures overhead that indicated who should go where. "At first, the authorities enforced the rule," said Rusmini Hakim, assistant manager of cashiers at the market. "But people made a fuss. And now no one comes around any more to check on us." +=+

Razak Ahmad of Reuters wrote: “PAS, long tagged as a conservative Islamic party, did not have any appeal beyond its rural Malay strongholds until 2005 when the reformers started winning key posts in party elections on a pledge to moderate the party to broaden its appeal. The strategy paid off, with PAS gaining support from mainly non-Muslim ethnic minority Chinese and Indians in general elections in 2008. [Source: Razak Ahmad, Reuters, June 6, 2009]

“PAS is the smallest party in the three-member Alliance holding just 24 of the opposition's 83 seats in Malaysia's 222-seat parliament, but is the biggest in terms of membership. Observers note a growing assertiveness and awareness in PAS of its kingmaker role.

Honest Islam Versus Ruling Party Money in Kelantan

Liau Y-Sing of Reuters wrote: The political battle lines are clear in Malaysia's predominantly Muslim state of Kelantan: religion versus money. The federal government has promised millions of dollars of investment in a bid to win the state back from an Islamist party that has ruled the rural backwater for 18 years. But for many of Kelantan's voters, material wealth -- or the lack of it -- may not count for as much as religious piety and a corruption-free environment. [Source: Liau Y-Sing, Reuters, February 5, 2008 ~~]

"Islamic rule is very generous," said Mrs Tan, a tiny 50-year old ethnic Chinese, as she peered over her half-moon glasses while poring over newspapers in her modest auto spare parts store. "They follow religious laws. There is no corruption and they are more fair and honest." Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's Barisan Nasional coalition is targeting poor voters in Kelantan in a bid to shake them off from the grip of the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) that governs the northeastern state.

“A small farming area of 1.4 million people, Kelantan has seen few fruits of the country's rapid economic growth in the last decade. In 2004, a tenth of its people lived in poverty, the third highest rate among Malaysian states, official figures show. The government hopes to change this under a $34 billion plan to create a farming, energy and tourism hub encompassing the states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang and parts of Johor. The blueprint -- the first large scale development involving the country's east coast -- pitches a vision of Kelantan as a booming farming centre with thriving goat, fish and kenaf farms. ~~

“But for many the "purist" appeal of the PAS remains the biggest draw. "Kelantan is strongly religion-orientated," said Syed Husin Ali, an opposition party leader and former university professor specializing in rural poverty. "As far as they are concerned, what is important is not material things, but the spiritual. PAS, of course, appeals to this kind of religious conservatism." ~~

Central to PAS's appeal is its 77-year old spiritual leader,Nik Aziz Nik Mat, who is also chief minister of Kelantan. An iconic figure garbed in flowing robes and a skullcap, the bearded Egyptian-educated scholar is seen as morally upright and accessible to the common folk, living in a modest brick and wooden home in a traditional Malay village. This is in stark contrast to what many locals see as the opulent lifestyles of the ruling coalition's leaders.

"A more effective approach for Barisan Nasional is quite simply to spend more time, more money and more planning based on Kelantan's situation," said Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, the founding director of the government-created Institute of Ethnic Studies. "They should not use the approach that is seen from outside." Ultimately, the outcome of the battle for Kelantan may be decided by indifferent locals such as toy store owner Lim. "It doesn't matter who wins," he said over a simple meal of fish and rice in a cramped corner of his shop. "No one will help us, we just have to make our own living."

PAS in the 2008 Election

In March 2008, Anwar led a three-party opposition alliance—made up of the Islamic party PAS, the pro-Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan, led by Anwar’s wife— to unprecedented gains against the ruling UMNO party in general elections Anwar's three-party opposition alliance won an unprecedented 82 of Parliament's 222 seats — 30 short of a majority — as well as control of five states.

Anwar helped form an alliance made up of the PAS, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan, led by Anwar’s wife. Anwar's opposition alliance is the only significant rival to the government coalition that has been in power since independence in 1957. Associated Press reported: “Of the opposition parties, PAS appeals most to Malaysia’s majority ethnic Malays, Muslim by state definition. The DAP, backed mainly by ethnic Chinese, has more parliamentary seats but it is PAS that worries the government. PAS became aligned with Keadilan before Anwar was released from prison in 2004. Both parties both received a drubbing at the 2004 election, making them eager to talk about alliances with DAP, although DAP supporters have deep misgivings about PAS’s Islamic agenda.

In 2005, Anwar was invited by Islamic politicians to form a coalition. Jalil Hamid of Reuters reported: Malaysia’s Islamic party invited Anwar to galvanize opposition parties into an alliance to challenge the ruling party. Malaysia’s disparate opposition parties see Anwar as their best hope yet to mount a serious challenge to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s multiracial coalition, which has ruled since independence in 1957. Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), an opposition force until it was crushed in 2004 polls, is ready to accept Anwar into the opposition fold, party chief Hadi Awang told the PAS faithful. “He has charisma and credibility that can strengthen us,” Hadi said at the PAS annual assembly in the party’s stronghold, the northern state of Kelantan. “We accept him as a leader.” The blunt-speaking bearded cleric also dismissed the government’s anti-corruption drive as mere rhetoric and called on Badawi to immediately lift a political ban on Anwar. [Source: Jalil Hamid, Reuters, June 4, 2005]

“Hadi, 57, also told the assembly that PAS would not compromise on its struggle to turn Malaysia into a strict Islamic state. “PAS is at a critical crossroads. I would like to remind you that our struggle is based on the Qur’an,” he told about 3,000 party members. PAS in theory wants Malaysia to be an Islamic state based on Shariah law. Anwar, who skipped the assembly, has said PAS is misunderstood in the West as an extremist party.Hadi agreed. “We don’t go about and bomb discos unlike in other countries,” Hadi said, in an apparent reference to attacks by suspected militants in Indonesia and Thailand. [Ibid]

PAS After the 2008 Election

In July 2009, PAS won a special legislative election in its rural stronghold in Kelantan, but by a far smaller margin than last time, which some analysts said was of the ruling party gaining strength in PAS strongholds. Associated Press reported: “PAS, defeated Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling party by 65 votes to retain a state legislative seat in northern Kelantan, a sharp decline from the 1,352-vote margin of victory that PAS had in the 2008 general elections. More than 10,000 votes were cast. The seat in Kelantan fell vacant after the PAS incumbent died of a heart attack in May. [Source: Associated Press, July 15 2009]

The gains by Najib's ruling coalition could indicate a broader national trend in favor of the coalition among ethnic Malays. "This is a sign that a wind of change is blowing strongly," Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said. Hatta Ramli, a senior PAS official, said voters were swayed by Najib's pledges of political and economic reforms as well as UMNO campaign promises such as offering to build a new bridge in the underdeveloped district. "We were the underdog all along. For us to hold on and win is a great achievement. Despite all that they did, they failed to defeat us," he told The Associated Press.

Leadership of PAS

The influential leader of PAS, Fazil Noor, died in 2002. The leader of the party after that was Abdul Hadi Awang. The spiritual leader of PAS is NokAziz Nik Mat, who is also chief minister of Kelantan, made headlines when he advocated polygamy to rescue unmarried women from becoming "aged virgins." Despite this many in Kelantan respect gim Reuters reported: “An iconic figure garbed in flowing robes and a skullcap, the bearded Egyptian-educated scholar is seen as morally upright and accessible to the common folk, living in a modest brick and wooden home in a traditional Malay village.”

In June 2009, a leading reformist in Malaysia's opposition Islamic party lost in an internal PAS election.Razak Ahmad of Reuters wrote: “Husam Musa, the 49-year-old vice president of the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and the leader of the reform faction, was defeated in a three-way contest by the incumbent Nasharudin Mat Isa who enjoys the backing of the party's powerful conservative clerics. Party delegates also voted in 10 reformers and eight conservatives to its 18-seat decision-making central committee. The victory for Nasharudin, a 47-year-old Islamic law expert seen as favoured by the conservative party President Abdul Hadi Awang, comes as a blow to those who had hoped to see PAS consolidating more rapidly under the opposition People's Alliance, a move the defeated Husam had championed. Nasharudin polled 480 votes to Husam's 281 and the third candidate's 261. [Source: Razak Ahmad, Reuters, June 6, 2009 <=>]

“Nasharudin's win could also revive hopes by the main government party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), that it could win PAS over to form a pact that would stymie Anwar's bid to win power. Nasharudin and Abdul Hadi took part in talks in 2008 with UMNO to discuss the possibility of forming a unity government in two states. Nasharudin reiterated PAS's commitment to stay with the People's Alliance and said there was no question of the party joining UMNO. "But we will not shut the door to discussing with anyone whether political parties or with non-governmental organisations," Nasharudin told reporters. <=>

"The ulama (religious clerics) are still powerful ... the results show that PAS doesn't want to change too quickly, and the delegates voted for a deputy president who they felt more represented the party's interests," said Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia specialist at Johns Hopkins University, told Reuters. <=>

PAS in the 2013 Election

In May 2013, the the Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front) coalition of Prime Minister Najib Razak won a majority of seats in the lower house of the Parliament but otherwise looked weak in an election that could be viewed as a kind of failure for both sides as the BN failed to improve its tenuous position and Anwar Ibriham’s opposition coalition failed to take a majority and did not improve much on the progress it made in 2008. The BN won 133 seats (60 percent of the seats) in the 222-member parliament. Anwar’s Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) took 89 seats (40 percent of the seats). [Source: AFP, May 5, 2013]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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