KOTA BHARU, (Reuters) – The outcome of next month’s election in Malaysia may hinge on the performance of a party that has strived for decades to turn the country into an Islamic state and enforce harsher penalties on Muslims for adultery, theft and drinking alcohol.
Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) is hopeful that it can win 40 of parliament’s 222 seats, enough to place it in the position of kingmaker. With the balance of power, it would be able to make policy demands as its price for supporting either Prime Minister Najib Razak, or the opposition alliance trying to oust him.
Even if PAS falls short of its ambitions, it is still likely to play a decisive role by dividing the opposition vote, handing a massive advantage to Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. If PAS does hold sway over the next government, some political analysts say it could stoke divisions in multi-ethnic, Muslim-majority Malaysia. The government could come under pressure to further entrench affirmative-action policies that favour ethnic Malays in business, education and housing, and to strengthen Islamic courts, they say.