Sun., Sep 14, 2003

Islamic Party Ready To Rule Malaysia: PAS Leader

By Kazi Mahmood, IOL Southeast Asia Correspondent

Awang said the next general elections would be “the day of reckoning”
KUALA LUMPUR, September 13 ( - The Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) said Saturday, September 13, that it is ready to take over Malaysia and rule the country despite mounting criticism of its policies in the two states it runs and the apparent division among opposition groups on the role of Islam in the country and the government.
The party’s 49th general assembly, in session Saturday, is to be the steering point for the party to face the next general elections scheduled for 2004, said the Harakah newspaper in Kuala Lumpur.
The elections are, however, rumored to be in the making at the end of this year, after the resignation of Mahathir Mohamad as Premier in October.
The PAS also said it would win enough seats and states with its partners to dislodge the ruling coalition government headed by Mahathir, the National Front (NF), which has been in power since the independence of the country.
The PAS Saturday promised a tough battle on the ground and said the elections will be the most interesting in the country’s history since independence in 1957, and 1969, the year the ruling coalition almost lost to its opponents.
Its acting president Abdul Hadi Awang told the PAS general assembly Friday that his party has already set up a "shadow cabinet" based on the Westminster style of opposition and that this “election Cabinet” would mobilize the party to face its political opponents in the next general elections.
Malaysia's Parliamentary democracy will be dissolved after Prime Minister Mahathir's resignation in October this year, sources within the ruling coalition government, the Barisan National (BN), told IOL Saturday.
The PAS represents the largest and most tenacious opposition in the history of Malaysia having won two largely Malay-Muslim states while the party is said to be heading for more electoral victories in the next elections, due 2004.
In his “Path to Victory” speech Friday at the opening ceremony of the Party’s annual assembly held at its Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, the leader of the PAS, feared for his strict stance on turning Malaysia into a full fledge Islamic state, said victory for this party was at hands and that he will silence his critics.
Adding that the next general elections would be the “the day of reckoning”, Hadi said the PAS was here to stay because of its faith in the Islamic struggle.
It is confident on taking on the party of Mahathir the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and thinning the number of its parliamentary seats in Parliament, a feat it already achieved partially in 1999.
Analysts in Kuala Lumpur said the electoral successes of the PAS in the 1999 elections have pushed the UMNO to turn more towards Islam in recent years, forcing the government to compete with the PAS, with Islam as the object of much passion.
But it did little to force the regime in place to abandon its regular attacks against the PAS, while the war against terrorism emboldened the government to arrest several Islamic “militants” under the guise of their involvement in “terrorism”.
“Several members of the PAS are still incarcerated under the much criticized and repugnant law called the Internal Security Act (ISA) and this is to the advantage of the regime in place,” said a member of the PAS to IOL.
PAS said they will continue to struggle for the revocation of the ISA and the establishment of a “fairer” judiciary, another sector where Malaysia is heavily criticized for possible political encroachment in the decisions of judges in high profile political cases.
Hadi’s speech Friday did not deal with terrorism, an issue that has plagued Islam and allowed its enemies to harpoon it as the berth of modern day “terrorists”. He did not criticize the government for its stance on terrorism.
Nevertheless, he condemned the September 11 attacks on U.S. soil and defended his party saying the PAS was never related to any militant organization world wide.
However, in a twist in policies, the PAS seems to have deliberately kept its Islamic agenda discreet on the eve of the coming general elections.
Fearing backlash from its partners in the opposition and from heavier criticism against its Islamic-based policies by the government, the PAS leader did not mention the party’s Islamic State agenda or the “Hudud laws” (Islamic penal Code).
Pledging his commitment to the power sharing concept among the opposition in order to ensure straight fights in all seats in the general election, Hadi indicated there will be a solid and unified opposition to face the powerful machinery of the BN.
Hadi accused the Election Commission of gerrymandering and of appointing Puteri Umno members, UMNO’s Women’s wing, as temporary assistants for the general election.
He also defended his party’s stand on women, saying: “We have always been the punching bag of many organizations fighting for women’s rights.”
“Women were neither half of nor equal to men. They are simply unique, just like men are unique in their own right. I do not want to dwell any further on this precarious subject,” he added.
He said he was not a “radical Muslim” as he is being portrayed by his opponents adding that whether giving aid and land to the people, irrespective of race and religion, was considered radical.
“Instead of accusing me of being radical, people should look at how PAS is running Kelantan and Terengganu,” said Hadi, adding that both were model Islamic states.
He also said his party’s support for the Palestine-based Hamas group and Islamic Jihad was not a radical stance, but the party supports a just cause, especially in the case of Palestine, where innocent people like women and children are being killed and raped and have their houses burnt.
He said “Islam also supported bombers in Palestine, as they had no other means of defending their homes and families”.
He, however, said the suicide bombings in Bali could not be considered as shahida (martyrdom).
Awang is the Chief Minister in Terengganu, the oil rich state his party wrestled from the UMNO during the 1999 Elections.
The PAS predicts it will regain control of Terrengganu and Kelantan, the two states it controls and may even win in Kedah and Pahang “if the electoral processes are fair”, said the PAS member to IOL.