AFTER a messy divorce from its ally and being accused of going to bed with Umno, its age-old enemy, PAS is taking a low-key approach to the next general election.
The grassroots are quietly rebuilding the party machinery after the Islamist party lost several of its most influential and experienced members to splinter party, Amanah.
Much has been said by analysts about PAS’ expected poor electoral performance without PKR and DAP and this is beginning to dawn on party activists as they prepare to face the 14th general election (GE14) without their former allies who are now in Pakatan Harapan (Pakatan).
What this means is that voters will likely see multi-coalition contests, which history shows benefit the ruling Barisan National (BN).
“We are going to fight everyone, BN or PH,” said Shah Alam PAS division chairman Halim Omar, calling Pakatan by its initials, on the party’s election strategy.
“And our message is that we are the best coalition to rule this country,” Halim told The Malaysian Insight.
PAS broke up with ally DAP in 2015, effectively ending the Pakatan Rakyat pact. In May, it ended an 18-year alliance – and its most enduring one – with PKR. PKR and DAP have since formed Pakatan, the main opposition coalition, with Bersatu and Amanah.
PAS will now be in another opposition bloc, Gagasan Sejahtera Rakyat(Gagasan), the party president Abdul Hadi Awang has said.
The coalition, which is expected to comprise Parti Cinta Malaysia, Barisan Jemaah Islamiah Se-Malaysia, and Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia will be officially launched in September.
But this has not fended off the accusation that PAS is working with Umno of BN.
“We are committed to fighting BN. We are not taking money from Umno,” said PAS vice-president Idris Ahmad.
Some PAS leaders have been accused of accepting money from Umno hoping to win the Islamist party over. Sarawak Report has claimed to have proof of such a transfer of funds, and PAS is suing the whistleblower website for defamation.
Social media replaces ceramah
With less than a year to campaign for the general election, PAS is eschewing big, headline-grabbing programmes for small
meet-the-voter sessions and more aggressive use of social media.
This approach contrasts with the BN’s attempts to endear itself to the youth through its Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) town halls meetings. Pakatan, meanwhile, is trying to build up anti-BN sentiment through its 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal roadshows.
Federal Territory PAS Youth member Anas, who declined to give his full name, said the party was going back to basics with hiking trips and motorcycle convoys for young people.
To reach out to older folk, the party is staging religious talks in the Klang Valley’s numerous surau.
“Our message is that our brand is mature and our politics harmonious (politik matang dan sejahtera). We want to replace BN and form an
Islamic country,” said Anas.
Kedah PAS activist Helmi Khalid said the party state apparatus was ready to take over the Kedah government.
Kedah is a state PAS intends to wrest control of, along with Selangor, Terengganu, and Perak, while retaining Kelantan.
“The reason why we are not seen as aggressive is because we have limited funds. We are saving our money for when the election is officially called. Then, we will break out our banners and flags.”
The other reason for the low-key approach is because much of the campaigning is happening on social media, said Helmi.
“One – it’s cheap, two – it can be done on a daily basis. And unlike a ceramah, the message can be continuous.”
All of those interviewed said they were confident that PAS and Gagasan were an even match for Pakatan, which now has more recognisable figures such as former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and ex-deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
“If voters compared us to BN and PH, we have a better track record, having administered Kelantan for two decades,” said Halim of Shah Alam PAS.
Internal PAS critic Mahfuz Omar is unconvinced.
“They’re not doing anything different than what they are supposed to be doing with or without the elections. These programmes are routine,” the lawmaker told The Malaysian Insight.
“PAS does not have a clear message that can win over the public in the next general election.”