Is Amanah due for a leadership change or will Mat Sabu continue to lead the Islamic progressives?
AMONG all the political parties in Malaysia currently, Amanah seems to be the most low-key, which can be confusing to most in the dramatic local political landscape.
Even with its upcoming polls slated to happen next month, things have been quiet, with a sprinkling of party members expressing their support for its President, Datuk Seri Mohamad Sabu, or his popularly known moniker 'Mat Sabu', to continue helming the splinter party formed by dissidents from Pas.
Amanah entered Malaysia’s political scene as an underdog in 2016. A splinter party formed by what were considered the more 'progressive' leaders in Pas and championing a more progressive approach to Islam, Amanah won 11 parliamentary seats in GE14 in 2018, mostly on the peninsula’s west coast.
It was part of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration during the 22 months that it held power.
For GE15, Amanah is considered safe in five of the 11 seats it now holds.
These seats—Pulai (Johor), Hulu Langat, Shah Alam, Kota Raja, and Sepang (all in Selangor)—are multi-ethnic constituencies with considerable numbers of non-Malay voters, which were won in GE14 with a large majority, or which had already been in the candidates’ hands since their days in Pas.
Support from its PH partners, such as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and DAP, played an important role in Amanah’s success.
The component party of the federally ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition will be holding an internal election to choose its next leadership line-up in December, in conjunction with its 2023 national convention.
Many party members seem to not be keen on any major changes in the party leadership, with communications director Khalid Samad saying that the decision to pass the baton to someone else was up to Mat Sabu himself.
“To me, Mat Sabu’s been there for eight years. The name Datuk Seri Mohamad Sabu has been synonymous with Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) for the past eight years, but it is not his party," he said in an interview with a Malay daily.
Temerloh division Amanah chief Azizul Shah Mohd Noor had also expressed his hope that every party member would continue to support Mat Sabu for one more term.
He said that the party still needed Mat Sabu's leadership before transitioning to a new leadership, which will certainly happen when the time comes.
"Elections and contests within the party are mature and democratic processes. I believe party members and representatives can assess wisely. But let Mat Sabu continue and complete his last term as president," he said.
However, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Political Science Professor Datuk Dr Jayum Anak Jawan was of the opinion that Amanah could benefit from a new leader.
"Mat Sabu can no longer bring Amanah to any better position or greater height. He has done what he could, which was to found the new party, a breakaway from Pas. Now, Amanah needs a new leader to bring it forward and prepare the party for the coming GE16," he told Sinar Daily.
Jayum went on to say that Mat Sabu had done all he could for Amanah, and for the party to move beyond and carve its place in national politics, a new, more progressive, and media-savvy lieutenant is needed to carry the torch further.
"The late Salahuddin Ayub could have been one such person, but with the passing of the former, there are a few that might fit the bill; perhaps the person could be its veeps, such as Mujahid or Mahfuz," he said.
He added that Amanah had a bright future and was a much more preferred alternative to Pas, especially for non-Malays and non-Muslims.
It is considered a much milder version and more palatable.
On what would happen to Amanah if Mat Sabu was no longer the president, Jayum said that the party already has a steady following, even though it might seem limited.
Jayum, however, stressed that any party needs a leader—one man with a vision who has the pull, magnetism, and charisma to pull together the leadership and move the party forward.
Meanwhile, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) political analyst Associate Prof Dr Syaza Shukri said the Mat Sabu leadership seems secure, but it needs to be seen whether or not he himself would want to continue in the role.
"We will have to see what unfolds during the party polls. I think Amanah does have the longevity to stay in Malaysian politics, but its effectiveness can be, and has been, questioned.
"A lot of Malay voters do not understand what Amanah stands for. I think all parties should pass the leadership baton more frequently. But in Malaysian politics, that is seldom the case.
"But with Amanah, I think it is not a huge problem if Mat Sabu is no longer the president because it is less of a personality-based party than others. I do agree that Amanah, more than other parties, has strong group leadership. Besides Khalid Samad, there’s Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Dr Dzul (Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad), and even Adly Zahari, a rising star.
"So Amanah is not short of leaders. It’s just about translating their ideals to the masses," she said.