Opposition parties report surge of new members

More Malaysians looking beyond race and religion to sign up

By Hazlin Hassan, THE STRAITS TIMES

MR VINCENT Lee is a Christian and used to be with a Barisan Nasional (BN) party.

But later this month, the 40-year-old businessman will be appointed head of the Kuala Lumpur branch of the PAS Supporters Club.

Asked why he is backing the conservative Parti Islam SeMalaysia, Mr Lee said that ‘PAS really practises democracy, and it doesn’t do money politics’.

He was formerly a member of the Chinese-based Parti Gerakan, one of 14 parties in the BN coalition.

The PAS Supporters Club was set up in 2004. The party has never hidden its plan to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, which non-Muslims worry would restrict their rights as citizens. Yet the club has been attracting more members.

Said new member Madam N.S. Srivalli: ‘Religion does not matter to me. Everybody breathes the same air.’

And why did she, a professional in her 60s, not join BN? ‘It has neglected the minorities for so many years,’ she said.

Mr Lee and some other non-Muslims have shown interest in PAS especially after the opposition made big gains in the March general election.

The club saw a surge from 2,000 to 5,000 members just before the polls, its president Hu Pang Chow said. Today, it claims to be looking at applications from 10,000 prospective new members.

Some commentators believe the membership surge may reflect a new trend of Malaysians willing to look beyond racial and religious boundaries to openly declare their political affiliations.

‘They are very pragmatic and strategic people, they are not crazy. Beyond racial boundaries, they will choose the best for themselves,’ political analyst Shamsul Amri Baharuddin of the National University of Malaysia told The Straits Times.

But part of the shift can also be attributed to anger at the BN for its perceived arrogance and trampling of minority rights.

The trend of non-Muslims openly backing PAS was so novel just two months ago that many eyebrows were raised when Ms Kumutha Rahman, a Hindu and a member of the PAS Supporters Club, ran for the party at the polls.

But she had to contest under the multi-ethnic Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) because the PAS Constitution does not allow non-Muslims to run on its ticket.

And during the 13-day election campaign, Umno leaders remarked privately that they saw many Indians putting up PAS buntings and waving PAS flags.

PAS is not the only party reeling in new members.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s PKR, with 300,000 members before the polls, is processing 100,000 applications now, said party secretary-general Salehuddin Hashim.

Mr Tony Pua, an economic adviser with the opposition Democratic Action Party, said it has seen up to 10,000 new applicants and is printing 20,000 more application forms.

Before the polls, the party had fewer than 100,000 active members.

‘People are a bit more willing to be officially recognised now. Previously, our sympathisers outnumber the official members. There was a fear factor in being a member of an opposition party,’ Mr Pua told The Straits Times

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