KUALA LUMPUR, April 25 — B. Balendran is just like any other devout Hindu who celebrates Deepavali and does not eat beef. But in his free time, he attends political rallies by PAS and helps to recruit new members for its Supporters' Club.
And he actively campaigned for the conservative Islamic party during last year's general election.
The 25-year-old engineer has roped in two of his sisters and several friends to join what he says is the best party to govern Malaysia.
Balendran's view: “If PAS takes over Malaysia, I will be very happy because there will be no more corruption and Malaysia will be in a good situation.”
The PAS Supporters' Club for non-Muslims was founded in 2004 with just 100 members, said its founder, Hu Pang Chow.
Its membership was at 10,000 last year, but has surged to 50,000 since the opposition made big gains in the general election and PAS joined the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance, he said.
Unlike ordinary party members, those who join the Supporters' Club become associate PAS members and cannot vote in office bearers.
So why do non-Muslims opt for PAS, instead of the secular DAP or the multi-racial Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)?
Hu said those who join the club see PAS as “being the most principled and sincere”. The bulk of the members are ethnic Indians.
Some members are avoiding PKR, which is seen by some Indians as not being strong in supporting Indian issues. And some Indians feel that DAP is too Chinese-centric.
Said N. Balasubramaniam, chairman of the Indian chapter of the club: “DAP and PKR have their own rules, but whether they follow them or not is up to them.”
He said it is different for PAS, which has to strictly follow Islamic teachings.
PAS has always been demonised by ruling Barisan Nasional coalition leaders as the party that will implement its strict version of Islam in Malaysia.
But Balendran said he is not worried about the PAS aim of setting up an Islamic state or implementing syariah laws — including hudud, which prescribes amputation and stoning — because he says such laws would apply only to Muslims.
The increasing acceptance of PAS by non-Muslims was displayed during the general election in March last year when Kumutha Rahman ran for the party. She contested under the PKR flag as the PAS constitution does not allow non-Muslims to run on its ticket.
Although she lost, her candidacy was seen as a breakthrough for both the Islamic party and the Indian community.
And during that election campaign, non-Muslim Indians and Chinese were openly waving the flag of the Islamic party and helping in door-to-door canvassing.
To be sure, part of the enthusiasm to join a political party by the Indians was a follow-up from the mammoth rally organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force in November 2007, which was met with police water cannon and tear gas.
Many of the party-less Indians opted for the opposition parties after losing hope in the MIC led by the unpopular Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu.
The steady 18-year rule by PAS of Kelantan has also boosted trust among some non-Muslims, said Hu.
Social scientist Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia also credits PAS's religious credentials for its popularity.
“It has religion as its backbone and the perception is that it is more sincere and will be able to uphold equality and the welfare of the people,” he said.
PAS has also toned down its rhetoric on an Islamic state with the emergence of more moderate-minded young leaders.
“It will become an alternative on its own in the future if Pakatan Rakyat fails to maintain its coalition with PKR and DAP,” he told The Straits Times.
PAS is now working towards setting up a full-member wing for non-Muslims within the party.
This is expected to happen by next year, pending approval from its central chiefs and an amendment to the party constitution.
“PAS leaders now realise, in this multiracial community, that they cannot survive alone. They need the support of the non-Malays, or else there is no way for them to win,” said Hu. — Straits Times