Pundits: ‘Himpunan 355’ turnout shows poor national support for PAS

Supporters attend the PAS-led Himpunan 355 rally at Padang Merbok in Kuala Lumpur February 18, 2017. — Reuters pic

Supporters attend the PAS-led Himpunan 355 rally at Padang Merbok in Kuala Lumpur February 18, 2017. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 — The smaller than expected crowd size at the “Himpunan 355” rally shows that PAS will have difficulties acting as the third bloc in the next general election, political observers said.

Because only about 20,000 people attended the rally to support a Shariah Bill as opposed to the 300,000 target, analysts said this indicated that PAS lacked supporters at the national level.

“The Bill is a bread and butter issue and if PAS had failed to attract the numbers it predicted, it shows that they lack supporters in the urban areas,” Faisal Hazis, associate professor at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies, told Malay Mail Online.

Faizal said although PAS may seem like the “largest Malay influential party”, it did not have a balance in political views as it did before with DAP and PKR under the now defunct Pakatan Rakyat.

Because of this, Faizal predicted that PAS would face massive defeats if it were to face the 14th general election alone.

PAS and several other Muslim groups organised a rally at Padang Merbok yesterday to gather support for PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s private member’s Bill to enhance Shariah punishments by amending the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Act 355).

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom was also one of the speakers at the event.

Oh Ei Sun, adjunct senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, also concurred that PAS as a third political bloc could mean disaster for the Islamist party unless it struck an electoral deal with Umno soon.

Oh also pointed that while PAS has a good number of supporters in some states and rural areas, they all mean nothing at the national level.

“They are now hand in glove with Umno, as evidenced in this Bill… and yes, in rural constituencies they will trample upon PH (Pakatan Harapan),” he said.

On whether the Bill will receive the nod at the Dewan Rakyat should it be tabled next month, Oh said it was difficult to say, but predicted most Muslim MPs would support the bill for fear of being painted as impious if they voted against it.

“PKR Malay MPs too… it is simply that (they) cannot afford to be portrayed as not being pious enough in a more and more conservative Malay social mindset.

“But not East Malaysian Muslim MPs as they are not ‘forced’,” he said.

Penang Institute political analyst Ooi Kok Hin, who also opined that PAS would face major defeats as a third alternative after the poor turnout at the rally, questioned if the party will form a tacit electoral agreement with Umno.

“Since Hadi has publicly rejected the offer to work with PPBM, they only have PKR left and it seems unlikely they will join the Opposition coalition.

“Has PAS decided to go ahead as third force (in which case they too will lose many seats) or have they formed some sort of electoral agreement with Umno?” he asked.

Ooi said PAS will continue to push for stricter Islamic laws and penalties because of its nature as an Muslim party, but pointed that it was unfair to label the party as a “one-sided party”.

“They have historically competed against Umno on grounds like corruption, secularism and abuse of power. They have also criticised GST,” he said, referring to the Goods and Services Tax.

The private member’s Bill aims to increase the limit of Shariah punishments to 30 years’ jail, 100 strokes of the cane and RM100,000 fines from the current ceiling of three years’ imprisonment, six strokes, and RM5,000 fines.

Although the police estimated the crowd at yesterday’s “Himpunan 355” rally to be around 20,000, PAS claimed that 300,000 people showed up to express support for the Bill. – Malay Mail

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