Malaysia Muslim opposition quashes govt hopes of pact
KUALA LUMPUR |
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's Islamist party on Thursday ruled out forming a pact with the government and signalled that it would take a more aggressive stance within the three-party opposition, a move that could cause friction.
Leaders of the Pan Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) told its annual assembly they would turn down approaches from the National Front coalition to form a unity government, a move that would have killed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's hopes of wresting power in polls due by 2013.
PAS and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the main party in the coalition that has ruled Malaysia for 51 years, held talks last year over Islam and Malay unity, creating concern that PAS could quit the opposition.
"The party leadership never had any intention to join UMNO or the National Front ... we will instead strengthen and consolidate the People's Alliance," PAS deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa said late on Wednesday to cheers when opening the party's youth wing meeting at the nation's capital.
UMNO is still struggling to recover from big losses in elections last year. It and PAS are locked in a battle to win over the majority Malay Muslim who make up more than half of the country's 27 million population.
While PAS is the second largest political party in Malaysia in terms of mass membership, it is the smallest of the three opposition parties that form the People's Alliance bloc in parliament with just 24 seats out of 83 held by the opposition.
The rainbow coalition embraces Anwar's reformers and an ethnic Chinese party and differences between PAS and the Chinese party over issues such as Islamic law have in the past threatened to split the alliance.
Analysts say that PAS now has more to gain from chasing the Malay Muslim vote than from running after mixed seats which contain large numbers of ethnic Chinese and Indian voters.
"In discussing the future of the People's Alliance, we must realise that we are not just competing with the ruling National Front but also with our other partners in the People's Alliance," said Kamarudin Sidek, representing the central state of Malacca.
Prime Minister Najib Razak's father, Malaysia's second Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein, roped in the Islamists into the ruling National Front coalition in 1974. The marriage was short-lived with PAS pulling out acrimoniously four years later.
The cooperation issue is a controversial topic for PAS' assembly as well as its internal party elections this year.
Party delegates split in a vote for the youth wing on Thursday, picking six conservatives and six reformers onto the 12-member PAS Youth executive council, while the top two posts in the wing, which were uncontested, were secured by conservatives.
Nasharudin is being challenged by the party vice president Husam Musa who leads a reform group bitterly opposed to cooperating with UMNO.
A cleric, Nasharudin enjoys the backing of the party's conservatives and was among the PAS leaders who led talks with the government after the 2008 polls to jointly govern the economic powerhouse state of Selangor and the northwestern state of Perak.
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