“PAS’ over-confidence to push aside Bersatu, pursue gov’t collapse narrative might be its undoing”

IT IS tempting to think of Perikatan Nasional’s (PN’s) rise as a linear trajectory to Putrajaya as PAS now stands at the peak of its powers. But if we have learned anything from history, it is that we should never underestimate PAS’s ability to get in its own way.

The internal rupture between PAS and Bersatu is already starting to show. PAS had started to assume the role of de facto senior partner in PN – contesting the majority of the seats in the Aug 12 state elections (126 out of 245 seats) and winning most of them (105 out of 126).

Soon they will not be comfortable with inequality between seat count and leadership positions with Bersatu currently assuming key leadership positions in PN such as the chairman, parliamentary opposition leader, and secretary general.

Before the Aug 12 six state elections, PAS presumed that Bersatu was still necessary to give the coalition a veneer of professionalism so that it could appeal to the broader electorate, chiefly the urban centres of West Malaysia.

Bersatu president and Perikatan Nasional chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin

However, the Aug 12 state election might just fuel PAS’ over-confidence that it could contest in all Malay majority seats on its own.

Bersatu losing its shine

For instance, in Negri Sembilan, a state deemed near-impossible for PAS to win before the six state polls saw PAS making more effective gains than Bersatu. Out of the five state seats won by PN, three were won by PAS even though the party contested in fewer seats than its partner (13 against Bersatu’s 17).

As is characteristic of PAS – a party that prioritises political expediency under its president Tan Sri Hadi Awang – they are starting to perceive Bersatu as a partner delivering less than what it takes.

In Kedah’s state government, PN was only willing to give Bersatu just three executive council positions (down from five positions previously). This created an uproar in the backroom during negotiations.

Bersatu’s relevance to PAS will continue to fade as it loses its funding value to the coalition after its party bank accounts were frozen in January and subsequently seized in April. Without a state government to its name, Bersatu will constantly rely on PAS’s goodwill to build its influence.

It is no surprise why PAS is now actively reaching out to UMNO again. Previously, PAS had worked with UMNO under the Muafakat Nasional charter, only to see the relationship end after two years with lots of name-calling and bad blood.

PAS recognises the fact that it could not complete the last mile to Putrajaya without either absolute control of Malay-majority seats (120 out of 222 seats) or substantial non-Malay support. The latter is unlikely to be delivered by its multi-racial counterpart Gerakan any time soon. This means that PAS is re-looking at combining the Malay parties of PAS, Bersatu, and UMNO is its current strategy.

The only problem, of course, is PAS’s unenviable track record in party and coalition partnership. It is the only mainstream party that has never stayed with any entity it has worked with.

This is unlike the coalition of PKR, DAP and Amanah or the coalition involving UMNO, MCA, MIC and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS). PAS also has the tendency to be domineering by bulldozing its way even in situations demanding equal partnership.

Tan Sri Hadi Awang

Desperate Hadi

But Hadi is a man in hurry, and his constant need to sell the “government collapse” narrative is a sign of his voters’ impatience. Throughout the Aug 12 state elections, Hadi told voters to choose his PN coalition as state government for the six states as an impetus to overthrow the federal government.

This is despite the fact that coalition compositions at the state level do not affect the federal level or the two-thirds majority in parliament held by the federal government – the first time this has happened in 15 years – makes it unlikely for defections to succeed.

At any rate, the anti-hopping law makes it procedurally challenging for defections to happen without legal consequences. In the end, the unity government bloc retained its three states and a collapse did not materialise.

To underscore his desperation, Hadi did the same for the recent Pulai by-election, arguing that winning one additional seat would create the momentum to change the federal government, however incredulous this is.

PAS voters have been unusually impatient since last year. When PAS was in federal government between 202 and 2022 – the first time in its history – its state constituencies received allocations of RM3.5 mil per year.

Now as the opposition, PAS seats are deprived of this allocation and voters in these areas are growing impatient. Former PAS ulama council member Datuk Dr Khairuddin Aman Razali has said that Hadi needed to give these voters the impression that their allocations were coming soon, hence the only way was to sell the “government collapse” narrative.

When the “government collapse” did not materialise after the Aug 12 state elections – and it remains status quo in the aftermath of the Sept 9 Pulai parliamentary by-election – PAS’s desperation will grow.

This was evident in the numerous attempts to elicit defections to change government at the unity government-held Perak state before and after the Aug 12 state elections.

The unity government could consider giving equal funding to all seats to assuage some of Hadi’s impatience. Or it could wait and see where Hadi’s anger leads him. Either way, PAS’s over-confidence may be ruining its chances. – Sept 12, 2023


James Chai is a visiting fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly Institute of Southeast Asian Studies). This article was first published in the FULCRUM Analysis on Southeast Asia website on Sept 7, 2023.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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