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Pan Malaysian Islamic Party – democratic Islamists, or illiberal ethno-nationalists?

When PAS won state elections in Kelantan and Terangganu in 1959 it was the first time an Islamist political party anywhere in the world had won office in a democratic election. Since then it has continued to dominate Kelantan government, and established itself as the second most important Malay political party after the ruling UMNO.

Apart from brief membership of the ruling National Front coalition (1974-78) PAS has remained in opposition. But a split between a pro UMNO Malay nationalist and religious faction, and more liberal ‘professionals’, has gained momentum since the 2008 general election. The nationalists led by party head Hj Hadi swept party elections in 2015, forcing the professionals to establish their own Amanah party.

How has PAS changed since its establishment in 1951? Does Hadi’s PAS remain committed to democratic rules, or a radical Islamisation of Malaysian politics? How can it influence UMNO and the opposition?

Find out more from the ANU Malaysia Institute


CLIVE KESSLER is Emeritus Professor, Sociology & Anthropology at The University of New South Wales.
He has been pursuing research in and about Malaysia since the early 1960s. His work in this area has focused upon the study of Islamist politics, and especially PAS, in the wider context of the social, cultural, intellectual, religious development of Malay and Malaysian society in modern times. He is the author of various works including Islam and Politics in a Malay State: Kelantan 1839 – 1969 (Cornell U.P., Ithaca NY, 1978).
His brief presentation will be concerned with: “Studying PAS – why and how I got into it, what I thought then, and how much of what I then thought still holds today.”

NORANI OTHMAN taught sociology and anthropology at UKM: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia from 1973 and retired as Senior Fellow and Professor of Sociology with special reference to Islam in IKMAS: Institute for Malaysian and International Studies, UKM in 2010. She was also a founding member of SIS: Sisters in Islam, a prominent women’s rights research, action and legal defence NGO in Malaysia. She is the author/editor of a number of works including: Shari'a Law and the Modern Nation-State: A Malaysian Symposium, 1994; Gender, Culture and Religion: Equal Before God, Unequal Before Man, 1995; Capturing Globalization, 2001; Sharing the Nation: Faith, Difference, Power and the State 50 years after Merdeka, 2008; and [the once banned, now deemed by the Federal Court of Malaysia to be fit for public consumption] Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism, 2005.
Her presentation will review SIS’s experience of state policy and power. It will address the question: “Are PAS policies now being implemented by an UMNO-led government?”

JOHN FUNSTON is a visiting fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, ANU. He has worked on Malaysian politics since the late 1960s, particularly on UMNO and PAS. His publications include Malay Politics in Malaysia: A Study of UMNO and PAS (Heinemann, Kuala Lumpur, 1980); and “UMNO – From Hidup Melayu to Ketuanan Melayu”, in Bridget Welsh (ed) The End of UMNO? Essays on Malaysia’s Dominant Party (Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 2016).
His presentation will focus on the origins of PAS, and key phases in its subsequent evolution.


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