KUALA LUMPUR,. By all accounts, Amanah profited richly from the 14th general election; almost all of its 11 MPs are in the government and the party can count five ministers and four deputy ministers in its stable.
But as Amanah heads into its national convention in Ipoh, a majority-Chinese tin mining turned gentrified town in Perak, the three-year-old Islamic party still appears to be searching for a unique identity that will not only set it apart from PKR and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), but also appeal to the coveted Malay-Muslim voter who lives in the villages of Kelantan, Terengganu, and Kedah.
Formed by the progressive exodus from PAS, the party is viewed as too liberal for the conservatives but also too conservative for the liberals, limiting its appeal at either end of the political spectrum.
“Amanah has no support base,” Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political analyst Datuk Mohammad Agus Yusoff said bluntly.
“They can’t compete with PAS even though they have five ministers.”
He noted that Amanah has no leaders in Kelantan and observed that the party’s success in the west coast was because of support from the Chinese, not Malays. The Malay middle class, he said, tended to support Pakatan Harapan (PH) and not Amanah per se.
Agus said it is fine for Amanah to be a progressive Muslim party, but it needs an “ideology”, just like how PAS — the conservative Muslim party that Amanah leaders had broken away from to form their own party — has its own belief system.
Pacific Research Centre principal adviser Oh Ei Sun also noted that Amanah has yet to find its “niche” “with the urban, middle-class-or-above Malay support covered by PKR and Bersatu, and the rural, lower-class Malay support cornered by Umno and PAS”.
PAS retained Kelantan and took over Terengganu from Umno in the 2018 election, while Umno retained the Malay heartlands of Perlis and Pahang. Amanah’s sole mentri besar is Adly Zahari in Melaka.
Universiti Putra Malaysia analyst Jayum Jawan said Amanah’s support base, judging from the distribution of its elected representatives, did not bode well for the young party’s future.
Amanah has 11 MPs, 5 per cent of the 222-seat Parliament. It also won a handful of state seats in Johor, Selangor, Perak, Kedah, Negri Sembilan, Penang, and Melaka. But Amanah does not have a single federal or state representative in Kelantan or Terengganu.
“Amanah is essentially a splinter of PAS and so far, it doesn’t seem that it is successful in drawing ‘good/ reputable’ PAS leaders to its side,” Jayum told Malay Mail.
“On the impending party convention, it will heat up as people vie for position. This is expected as the party could in some way sway the spoils to members because the party is part of the power at the federal level. So, people are competing not so much to want to contribute and strengthen the party, but for the expected goodies that would come with positions in the party,” he added.
What Amanah leaders think should be done
Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs, said Amanah had its own identity — a progressive and inclusive “party for the future” — but acknowledged the need to improvise.
“New Malaysia demands new thinking in policies and politics,” Mujahid told Malay Mail. “Amanah intends to lead that frontier.”
Amanah, he said, seeks to promote a “new narrative” for Malays: “progressive and understanding the context of a multiracial environment, self-reliance, and adopting a culture of honesty and trustworthiness.”
Malays must also get out of their “siege mentality”, said the Amanah vice president.
But will Amanah’s “progressive” message — alluring in metropolitan cities but overlapping with stances taken by multi-racial PKR and PPBM, the less right-wing twin of Umno — appeal to Malay-Muslims in monoethnic rural areas?
Amanah communications director Khalid Samad believes it will, saying most Muslims feel that the party’s understanding of Islam lines up with theirs.
“But of course, our problem is that we got some of the more traditional ‘ulama’ coming up with their more right-wing messaging,” Khalid told Malay Mail.
“But I think this will end when Hadi is being shown as what he is; when it becomes more apparent that PAS has received funding from Umno and it’s closer to Umno,” he added, referring to PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.
“It’s just a matter of time.”
Amanah deputy president Salahuddin Ayub said six months after the May 9 election, Amanah had the opportunity to position itself in the government.
“We try to be down-to-earth people,” he told Malay Mail.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to bring ourselves and to ensure that our image is still preserved and together with the government to ensure good governance.”
Malay-Muslims, he said, would judge for themselves which party they wanted to join at the end of the day.
Deputy Entrepreneur Development Minister Hatta Ramli said Amanah’s “middle path” in Malay politics and Muslim concerns was not populist rhetoric, but a “rational, Islamic and responsible approach towards nation building”.
“The support from Malaysians post-GE14 is very heartening, including from former PAS members and non-Malays. Our perceived good standing in the government is helping us to break into difficult terrain in Sabah and Sarawak and also PAS strongholds in Kelantan and Terengganu,” the Lumut MP told Malay Mail.
Whether Amanah can win over conservative Malay-Muslims — especially after last weekend’s rally here organised by PAS and Umno that saw over 50,000 Malays demonstrate in favour of Malay privileges and Islamic superiority — remains to be seen.
For James Chin, director of Asia Institute at University of Tasmania, current events are largely irrelevant until 2020 when PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is expected to succeed Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister.
“[Anwar] has always a bloc of Islamists following him, so it will be interesting to see how he will position the PH government in terms of Islamic vote.
“[Mahathir] is the opposite. He has always taken on the Islamists and that is why Hadi Awang and PAS refused to work with him.”