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IT was undeniable that tens of thousands of people turned up for PAS’ two-day Fastaqim 2.0 mega-gathering in Terengganu over the weekend, which was a testament to its ability to mobilise and draw vast numbers of supporters from across the country.

What is less clear is what the Islamist party achieved other than a show of force.

Aimed at showcasing its strength after parting ways from its allies in Pakatan Harapan, and losing its progressive members and leaders to splinter party Amanah, the Fastaqim (uprising) was PAS’ vehicle to announce that it was no spent force and would be leading a third political bloc, Gagasan Sejahtera, which comprised smaller parties Ikatan, Berjasa and Parti Cinta Malaysia.

After all the sound and fury, here’s the substance of what we know, and don’t know, from the Fastaqim.

What we learnt

  • PAS has shown it is still able to pull in large numbers of supporters to gatherings. The party has 880,000 members and played an important role in drawing in the crowds as past Bersih 2.0 rallies that it participated in. PAS members who turned up for the Fastaqim came from all parts of the peninsula, not just Terengganu.
  • PAS still maintains highly disciplined workers and volunteers who run these mega events. At the Fastaqim, it had 3,000 security personnel and thousands more volunteers running the booths, media centre and organising family-oriented competitions.
  • PAS also drew on the strength and manpower of its affiliated entity, Pusat Asuhan Tunas Islam (PASTI), which runs kindergarten services. PASTI teachers were required to attend the rally, and brought their spouses and children along. PAS runs religious schools and its wealthier members fund tahfiz schools, many of which required the students and teachers to attend.
  • PAS is able to mobilise a volunteer workforce and at relatively little cost. Many supporters appeared to come to the Fastaqim on their own dime. Families travelled together in vehicles and tens of thousands of youths arrived on their motorcycles. No fuel or food chits were given out and many PAS members stayed in the homes of other members in Kuala Terengganu during the duration of the gathering.
  • PAS remains ideological to its core, reflected in PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’ parting words to supporters in his closing speech which was a reminder to the grassroots that Islam was paramount, even over the desire to win seats in the election.

“PAS has been tested many times, but it stands firm, growing stronger by the day. We will not die if we lose the election,” he said.

“PAS will not budge and will remain steadfast in upholding Islam despite being deluged with various challenges, including the demand for PAS not to use the word Islam in its name.”

“We will not bow to that pressure,” Hadi also said.

What we don’t know

Despite the grand show of strength, no one is the wiser on how the party actually plans to fight in the 14th general elections.

  • No mention was made by the party’s leadership on seat distributions and the number of seats targeted other than Hadi’s comment that “as many (seats) as possible” would be contested.
  • Which are the front line states that PAS will be contesting in. Aside from attacking DAP, there was no mention by the party leaders where PAS would mobilise its machinery. No mention was made as to which states would be marked as priority. As a contrast, Bersatu has said that it wants to target Johor, Perak and Kedah.
  • Who PAS thinks its main enemy is. Hadi never mentioned the Pakatan Harapan (PH) component parties by name in his speech. Throughout the two-day rally, the largely Chinese-based party was the singular name that was mentioned as PAS’ foe. And yet, it is unlikely that PAS will face DAP in direct contests. However, Hadi did not mention Umno either.
  • Whether a large membership base can translate into votes, seats and power. PAS has the second largest membership among political parties in the country, trailing Umno’s 3 million members. Yet the Islamist party has 14 parliamentary seats, compared to DAP’s 36, despite just having about half a million members. Analysts expect PAS to contest at least 83 seats in Peninsular Malaysia or as many as 140 seats nationwide.
  • Whether PAS will go at it alone in the election. The Fastaqim does not reveal the portion of Malay support it expects to get in multi-cornered fights as those who turned up were overwhelmingly PAS members or supporters. PAS is likely to lose much of the non-Malay votes, from the recent rhetoric of its leaders and the party’s wholesale support of hudud. But what about how many Malays would vote for the Islamist party when they have the options of BN, PH and perhaps a locally-based party?
  • Why the anticipated “prominent leaders” did not join the party. Former Selangor menteri besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, as well as former top civil servants including former MACC deputy chief commissioner Zakaria Jaffar and former Road Transport Department deputy director Abdul Rahim Che Daud had been tipped to join PAS, but this didn’t materialise. Embarrassingly, PAS organ Harakah had reported that both Zakaria and Abdul Rahim had joined the party on Saturday, but this was corrected by both men and party information chief Nasrudin Hassan.

Another rumour that former Umno women’s chief Siti Zaharah Sulaiman would be joining PAS was also debunked by herself. – October 2, 2017.

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