KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7 — PAS’ sudden representation of Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar as a candidate to be its prime minister was the Islamist party’s acknowledgement that it must still court the moderate and non-Malay vote for this to happen, according to analysts.
Despite the party’s embrace of communal politics heading into last year’s 15th general election, they said PAS understood that the two groups’ support was the missing piece that prevented Perikatan Nasional from taking control of the federal government last year.
“I think at this point, PN, generally, and PAS, particularly, is at the verge of taking over the federal government, and in PAS’ — but not necessarily Bersatu’s — mind, what is needed to push its momentum over the edge, and thus attain ruling power, is an ‘X’ factor,” senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun told Malay Mail when contacted.
Oh said PAS was nearing the point of diminishing returns in appealing to its traditional Malay-Muslim base that, while formidable and still increasing, would need reinforcement from other groups in the country for the Islamist party to achieve its ambitions.
This was already apparent in the latest PAS Muktamar or annual congress, when party president Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang called on the delegates to woo non-Malays in a bid to win the 16th general election.
This sentiment was also echoed by Universiti Sains Malaysia’s political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, who proposed that Ahmad Samsuri can act as a bridge between PAS and non-Muslims and urban middle-class Malays in states held by Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) such as Selangor, Melaka and Johor.
"Furthermore, Ahmad Samsuri is English speaking, a professional, has a good track record at Universiti Putra Malaysia as an aerospace engineer, is young by Malaysian standards at 53, and has managed Terengganu relatively well so much so that no seat was given to PH-BN at all in the recent state election,” he said.
Holding up both Ahmad Samsuri’s qualifications and his administration of Terengganu, Oh said the MB could be the type of personality to help PAS reach voter groups who were wary or suspicious about the party’s traditional leaders.
“Dr Sam, with his impressive qualifications, and less domineering and more technocratic demeanour, could be just such an ‘X-man’,” Oh said, using Ahmad Samsuri's moniker.
Can Ahmad Samsuri appease PAS grassroots?
Unlike the religious leader that is typical in PAS, Ahmad Samsuri is a former head of the Aerospace Department of Universiti Putra Malaysia and holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University Of Leeds, United Kingdom.
Also known as Dr Sam among his supporters, he had also been one of the main sources of reference in the discussions into the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and the downing of Flight MH17.
According to Syaza Shukri, assistant professor of political science at International Islamic University Malaysia, PAS was leveraging Ahmad Samsuri’s image as a technocrat to tell voters that the party was serious about wanting to govern the country.
While she agreed he could be effective in such a role, Syaza said it would still not be enough to convince the moderates and non-Malays that the party would not go in the direction dictated by its usual rabble-rousers such as his Kedah counterpart, Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor.
“This is the conundrum. But I think PAS supporters will abide with whoever Hadi Awang personally picks,” she said, before adding that everything still required Ahmad Samsuri to establish himself as a credible candidate to be the prime minister.
Meanwhile, the University of Malaya’s sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi said that Ahmad Samsuri was touted as the future candidate merely to attract PAS supporters to continue voting for the party in the by-election.
“We know that PN is not strong right now. There is no chance to change while the unity government is in power and there is no reaction by the Opposition that can affect the current government.
“The Opposition were merely playing the sentiments and garnering sympathies. I think there are better and more experienced candidates than Ahmad Samsuri in PN for the prime minister post,” he said.
Still far for PAS to think about its PM candidate
However, senior fellow at the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR) Azmi Hassan said that the reason Ahmad Samsuri was touted as the next prime minister for PN was merely to deflect the popularity of BN’s candidate Gen (Rtd) Tan Sri Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor in the recent by-election.
Azmi also added that it might take another two terms for PN to form the government not any time soon.
“The candidacy for PN’s prime minister must also be discussed within the coalition as Bersatu also have their own prime minister’s candidacy,” he said.
He also suggested Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia would be a superior choice for PN.
Azmi also said a soft-spoken and low-profile leader like Ahmad Samsuri would have problems corralling the support needed to govern Malaysia in its current political climate.
“That’s not the kind of prime minister that we need. We need a prime minister with a vision, and brave enough to make bold decisions. We did not see it in Dr Samsuri’s tenure as menteri besar, this term or the last term,” he said.
Awang Azman concurred, naming PAS secretary-general Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan as his choice.
“Ahmad Samsuri’s influence can’t be compared to the influences that the current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have. Anwar is well respected and has vast international connections in the Arab, Western and Chinese world,” he said, referring to Anwar.
Furthermore, Oh was also conservative in his reading of Ahmad Samsuri and said that while his leadership in Terengganu was better than what the party has managed in Kelantan, the bar was low.
He also said Ahmad Samsuri’s ability to lead a nation was also an unknown factor at this point, and would require Malaysians to have faith that he would be up to the task.
“You never know the true capability and character of a leader until you put him on the pinnacle of power,” he said.
Ahmad Samsuri won last month’s Kemaman by-election for PAS by a landslide, beating his challenger from Barisan Nasional by over 37,000 votes.