KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 7 — Last week, Barisan Jemaah Islamiah Se-Malaysia (Berjasa) announced it is contesting the November 16 Tanjung Piai by-election in a move that shocked and infuriated ally PAS.
The two Islamist parties are members of a loosely formed coalition dubbed Gagasan Sejahtera, a self-styled “third force” that PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said was formed as an “option” to the Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional schism.
But bar PAS, no serious political observer had deemed Gagasan a real political force.
Berjasa, a PAS splinter party formed in 1977 by disgruntled former leaders close to the then ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, had long lost its influence and was revived only recently as a “space-filler” campaigning platform for sympathisers to help PAS in the 14th general election.
The bloc’s third member, Ikatan, a small band of unknown politicians founded by former Umno leader Datuk Seri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, is seemingly content with a passive supportive role, which only served to obfuscate the party further.
So when Berjasa president Datuk Badhrulhisham Abdul Aziz said the party intends to wrest Tanjung Piai, public attention turned toward the little-known party.
At the risk of collapsing the Gagasan bloc, Berjasa said it would stand against the PAS-BN “consensus” because the latter had betrayed the “aspirations” of Tanjung Piai’s Malay-Muslim voters by fielding a non-Muslim, MCA’s Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng.
Badhrulhisham also played down PAS’ claim that it did not seek blessings before contesting the Tanjung Piai by-election.
“It is a small matter and we have a bigger agenda to think about,” he said when met during his campaign rounds at Masjid Parit Selangor in Pontian here on Monday.
Badhrulhisham also expressed his disappointment that PAS and Umno did not discuss with Berjasa that Barisan Nasional (BN) would field an MCA candidate for the Tanjung Piai by-election, even as the two have no formal ties with his party.
The 56-year-old former university professor said it was unfair that there was no consensus on the matter.
“We have also asked PAS to discuss the matter of BN’s candidacy with us but nothing happened. When we contested, they claimed they did not give their blessings and this is unfair.
“It’s this attitude that must be changed as if we have such an ego with another [political] party, we will go nowhere,” said Badhrulhisham.
Who are the leaders of Berjasa?
Who sits among the Berjasa leadership may explain the party’s motivation: nearly all their 18 central committee members are either current and former members of the hardline Islamist movement, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), or its student wing Pembina.
Badhrulhisham himself was until recently on the Isma’s committee as its Strategic Planning and Human Resources Bureau chief.
Berjasa’s vice-president Mohd Hazizi Ab Rahman was also previously information chief in Isma.
Isma, which claims to represent “moderate Islam”, have been mired in numerous inter-faith controversies over the years as it gained notoriety as a borderline extremist group that pushed conspiracy theories about secret plots by mostly Christian minorities to usurp Malay-Islamic rule.
Isma’s current president Aminuddin Yahya, however, have denied allegations that his group had hijacked the party, although he admitted that many of the movement’s former members now form Berjasa’s leadership.
At some point after 1977, the party forged an alliance with the then ruling coalition BN, contested and won several seats owing to the internal strife that has dogged the mainstream parties throughout the decade.
But its influence slowly waned as the major political parties consolidated.
The party sank further into obscurity since the 80s after it quit in protest of the inclusion of Parti Hizbul Muslimin Malaysia into BN in 1986, but stirred some interest when several Isma leaders announced their intention to contest the 13th general election under the Berjasa ticket.
Three years later, at the time already having significant number of Isma members onboard, Berjasa said it would join Gagasan with the plan to contest the 15th general election,
while building up its base until then.
So its decision to contest Tanjung Piai came as a surprise to observers. To some analysts, the move reflected Berjasa’s ambition to become a major political force by galvanising the conservative voting bloc on a hardline platform.
“Berjasa has always contested Malay dominated seats and it is contested here to stress on its political ideology — Muslim-Malay centric,” Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Sivamurugan Pandian told Malay Mail.
“Even though it is a part of Gagasan Sejahtera, it also shows PAS could not bring it to compromise when it comes to issues close to its ideology.
“It will remain a third force as what is important to it is not to win but to protect its political belief.”
Others felt it was meant to split the conservative votes as a way to pressure PAS and Umno to stay the so-called Malay-Islamic course.
“Berjasa's decision to put a Malay candidate will split the Malays vote especially amongst the moralistic communities,” Kartini Aboo Talib of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaya’s Ethnic Studies told Malay Mail.
“Berjasa may look tough on PAS-Umno to set a course for Malay-Islamic agenda but the move is too narrow and myopic.”
And past results have shown just that. In the 2018 general election, Berjasa contested in three parliamentary seats — Cameron Highlands, Selayang and Tanjung Piai — on a Malay-centric campaign platform but lost all three.
Analysts saw the party’s defeat as testament of voters’ unwillingness to support hardline politics. On record, Aminuddin had always denied that Isma’s brand of Islam is extreme, even as it continues to push for exclusive theocratic politics.
After Berjasa’s Badhrulhisham announced his candidacy, PAS secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Ismail said the party had directed all its members not to “give a single vote” to its Gagasan ally.
Pundits said the firm statement effectively raised questions about the two parties’ ties and the future of Gagasan.
Polling is scheduled for November 16, with six candidates including Pakatan Harapan’s Karmaine Sardini and Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng.