Malaysia Islamic party moves to embrace non-Muslims

Arab World Materials 14 November 2008 15:50 (UTC +04:00)

Malaysia's opposition Islamist party PAS is opening its doors to non-Muslims to bolster its support in the nation where just over half of the people are Muslims, its deputy chief said on Friday.

By constitution, Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) -- largely run by Muslim clerics but gradually being taken over by young, moderate leaders -- is out of bounds to non-Muslims as direct members, reported World bulletin.

But a surge of support by Chinese and Indian voters for the party outside its home base in the watershed March 8 general election has prompted PAS to change its tack, PAS deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa said.

"We have to expand the membership to all especially with the March 8 support that we received," he told Reuters. "It's a matter of implementation once the technical issues are resolved."

Politically, the PAS move could further unsettle the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled the country for 51 years, analysts said.

A resurgent opposition and a voter discontent caused the Barisan to stumble to its worst result in March, losing its key two-thirds majority in parliament and five of 13 states.

PAS, which is traditionally strong in the Malay heartland in northeastern Malaysia, scored unprecedented electoral gains, including winning several urban seats in the west coast states.

In the last election, it shied away from this long-standing objective in its campaign and instead pushed for a "welfare state" agenda to attract non-Muslim voters.

Under the membership plan, PAS will directly admit non-Muslims as members but they will not be allowed to contest in internal party elections, officials said.

"But they run for general elections on PAS ticket, or become senators," Nasharudin said.