What’s the puzzle in Anwar’s olive branch to PAS but with a line drawn?

COMMENTERS are puzzled about the intent behind Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s offer to PAS to join his unity government.

Anwar referred to the offer in an interview with TIME magazine where he was asked if he had invited the largest party in Parliament which is PAS to join his unity government.

With 49 MPs, the Islamic party is currently the largest single bloc in the Lower House (Dewan Rakyat), outranking DAP whose 40 seats makes it the largest party in Anwar’s unity government.

The TIME interviewer asked Anwar if he had invited PAS to join his government. The Pakatan Harapan chairman who is also PKR president replied in the affirmative, saying he would like to engage with them.

“Engage” is a favoured term in Anwar’s vocabulary, reflecting his desire to talk and presumably to come round to some understanding of any situation that separates him and his interlocutors.

When MIC said they were being kept out of the unity government, Anwar told them to hold on as he wanted to talk to them about plans he had for them. MIC not only deferred their implied withdrawal from the unity government but their president also pledged support until the next general election.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim during his special meeting with MIC leaders on Aug 2, 2023 (Pic credit: Anwar’s Facebook)

Similar expressions of discontent from MCA were also met with an Anwar suggestion that the party should give the PM time to work them into a consensual arrangement. MCA was thus dissuaded from taking its discontent to the level of disengagement.

Suffice to assume that Anwar is an “engaging” leader, often wanting to deflect potential adversaries from taking their stances to the breakpoint.

Likewise, his position with respect to PAS. He wants to talk to them and invite them to join the unity government in the interests of promoting national unity.

But he has one condition: that they accept the multi-racial, multi-religious feature of the Malaysian polity.

PAS does recognise this feature but according to Anwar this acceptance is hampered by the Islamist party’s “narrow” interpretation of Islam.

Anwar wants a broader interpretation. What this broader interpretation entails is hard to say. Worse, the debate about this can go on endlessly and inconclusively.

Still, it is good Malay cultural form to want to engage with co-religionists even if things lead nowhere. Anwar is being a good Malay/Muslim by wanting to “engage” with PAS. Some forms must be adhered to. – Oct 17, 2023


Terence Netto is a journalist with 50 years in an occupation that demands resistance to fleeting impressions.

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

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