By Murray Hunter

BANGKOK, Thailand-Parti Islam Se-Malaysia president Abdul Hadi Awang’s latest antics are causing a ruckus in Malaysian politics. Many are claiming these are the beginnings of an extremist uprising, out of disappointment of not becoming the legitimate federal government of Malaysia.

In what appears to be an open defiance against the Selangor, Perak, Johor, and Terengganu rulers, critics are saying Hadi is treasonous towards the monarchy.

As the Sultans are head of Islam in their respective states, their decrees are mandatory to obey. Hadi lecturing Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin of Terengganu, that the prophets were known to give such lectures in mosques, is defiant against the Sultan.

This is not the first time PAS leaders have made the rulers lose face in front of their subjects, at the hands (or mouths) of PAS. In 2020, Perak PAS assemblymen ignored  summons to the palace by Sultan Nazrin Shah, when discussions were being held on the formation of a new state government.

Former religious affairs minister Idris Ahmad advised Muslims not to attend the Bon Odori Japanese festival in Selangor last year, contrary to Sultan Sharafuddin Idris of Selangor advising the Selangor Islamic Department (JAIS) and the Shah Alam City Council to allow the festival. PAS insisted the Sultan was wrong, and minister Idris at the time refused the Sultan’s directive to attend the Bon Odori festival to see for himself.

Even though these events can be construed treasonous, police stood by idly on these incidents, and the Council of Rulers also made no comments. Tensions from PAS are coming to a head when their behaviour is construed as extremist.

There is method in the madness here

These latest rantings are all about the coming state elections.

PAS sabre rattling and marching, along with Hadi talking about toppling the government, either through elections or inside the parliament, have a goal in mind. These actions are aimed at motivating youths to come out and vote for Perikatan Nasional (PN) in the coming state elections.

Six states, Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, Penang, Selangor, and Negeri Sembilan are due to have elections before September. PAS already holds three of the six states and is planning to win two more of them.

In Negeri Sembilan 23 out of 36 seats are in play. PAS kampongs are well established in many of the rural communities within the state. Selangor will be a bitterly fought state as well. If by any chance PN takes the state, this would take away the jewel of the peninsula., just like Pakatan Harapan took Selangor from the Barisan Nasional back in 2008. This would wound the image of the unity government, and force Anwar Ibrahim to work much longer on re-establishing a sense of legitimacy.

Hadi and Muhyiddin know that UMNO and PKR are electorally weak in Malay majority seats at this time. Opinion polls haven’t shown much change, since the last general election.  This PN will attack hard. This is an opportunity they can’t pass up.

These six coming state elections involve 42 percent of the national population. Around 10 percent of voters are youths aged between 18-24. This is the cohort Hadi has been focusing upon.

The Malay youth has been educated in Islam, many attending Islamic schools, madrasas, and part time Islamic education. This group also doesn’t have the same social ties to the Malay monarchs their parents did. They have been subjected to Islamic views from teachers over the last generation, that Hadi is attempting to tap through his rhetoric.

Hadi’s rhetoric and confrontation will motivate many young Malay voters to come out to support PN. Within this youth cohort worldview, voting for Islam is the natural thing to do. If Hadi can motivate this group to come out and vote, as much as a 5 percent swing towards PN could be achieved in many state seats, enough to influence the outcome of the elections dramatically.

For example, even in the PH stronghold of Penang, a 5 percent swing will influence the outcomes in as many as 21 seats, in the 40 seat assembly. This could give PN as many as 10-12 seats in Penang. Gerakan also believes they can win a seat.

PAS will retain Kelantan and Terengganu and after the election will consolidate and extend their Islamization of government and society. PN will consolidate their position in Kedah, and begin to follow Kelantan and Terengganu. This is an opportunity for PAS to extend its vision of an Islamic Malaysia.

Many pundits see Hadi’s outbursts as a rise in Islamic extremism. Perhaps Hadi’s antics can better be seen as a retaliation to what PN sees as persecution through legal investigation, and placing charges against top PN leaders.

In this light, the first salvos for the coming state elections have been fired by both sides. The unity government has been smearing Bersatu, while PAS is mustering up the youth cohort for a ‘political-jihad’ vote in the coming elections.

Although many are portraying Hadi as delusional, this is dangerous. His reckless rants have a firm objective. Hadi is a cunning fox. So, it would be careless to write them off as just rants. This could be a very successful strategy for PN.