Radical Islamist units in Syria are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists' goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country. Special Report
INTERVIEW - Malaysia Islamist to protect free market, minorities
KUALA LUMPUR |
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - An influential opposition leader running for a key post in Malaysia's Islamist party has "guaranteed" a commitment to a free market economy and protecting the rights of the country's multi-racial communities.
Husam Musa, vice-president of the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), the country's second largest party in mass membership, is vying to be PAS deputy leader at its five-day annual conference which starts on Wednesday.
The three-way contest for the PAS deputy presidency has been billed as a clash between conservatives and reformists in a party long demonised as hardline Islamist.
PAS, part of Anwar Ibrahim's three-member People's Alliance, is the only party apart from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) able to anchor itself on the Malay Muslims who represent 55 per cent of the electorate in this Southeast Asian country of 27 million people.
"We won't change the system but how it is implemented. PAS cannot rule Malaysia alone because we need help from our non-Malay friends, so this is our guarantee," Husam told Reuters in an interview.
"We will not make drastic changes or change in a manner that can be regarded as rough or unacceptable (to non-Muslims)," he added. Malaysia has significant minorities of ethnic Chinese and Indians who are generally not Muslims.
HOW PAS GOT ITS GROOVE BACK
PAS holds 24 of 222 seats in Malaysia's parliament and controls two of 13 states in the country.
For decades it insisted on establishment of a strict theocratric state, its appeal never extending beyond rural Malay enclaves.
In 2005 Husam, a 49 year-old economist, led a reform team to victory in party polls, promising to moderate the party, and he has been tipped by some as a future party leader.
Observers have watched for clear signs of social and economic policies the party will push in the event of an opposition win in the next polls.
Husam said the priority would be to cut the cost of doing business in the country by stemming corruption and patronage and dismantling a decades-long policy of affirmative action.
The policy that favours the majority Malays in economic and social opportunities has been abused by the government and bred corruption, said Husam.
"Help should be given without consideration of any factor, even race, just need. Get rid of this and all the economic potential of this country can be fully unlocked," said Husam.
Despite shows of unity, PAS's relations with its other People's Alliance partners, especially the stridently secular, ethnic Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP), have been marked by occasional public spats.
The biggest unknown about PAS remains whether it is really willing to allow its goal of a theocratic state to lie in perpetual dormancy.
The party enacted strict Islamic criminal laws in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu both of which it at one point held.
The laws would ultimately have included amputation as punishment for theft and has not been enforced. A legal challenge over the laws' validity is still pending in court.
Husam said PAS would opt for a very gradual approach aimed at winning public acceptance in Malaysia's multi-racial society.
"Islamic governance covers a wide spectrum encompassing many issues that have to be addressed first such as rule of law, social and economic justice."
"If you move in the political arena without this wisdom, you will do damage to the cause itself," he added.
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