GRS has come under fire after the appointment of a PAS member into the state legislative assembly on 8th of October 2020, after denying speculations of its inclusion.
Many Sabahans, especially the KDMs that have voted for GRS, felt betrayed. Well, perhaps they should have been informed from the start that GRS has PAS in the coalition even though none are contesting for the ADUN seat in Sabah. This inclusion of PAS into the state legislative assembly perhaps acts as a courtesy call and treating all the coalition members fairly. Besides, from the perspective of GRS, I believe it is only fair for them to include PAS into the fold – they have a relationship within an institution to maintain and also to maintain federal-state relations.
As for the reaction of many KDMs and non-Muslims, even among Sabahan Muslim themselves, judging from my Facebook and Twitter timeline, many have seemed to reject PAS. I believe this rejection is based on a precedent, with the recent one being the sensitive remarks made by a PAS leader in the recent parliamentary sitting regarding the legitimacy of the Bible. Not only that, even during Christmas in 2018, it was reported that PAS Tawau branch had protested against Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. With Sabah being well-known for religious harmony, this had come off as a surprise and a threat to Sabah’s peaceful religious relations. Every religion in the state would of course have different stance on their religious doctrines, but by being sensitive and respectful of each other’s right to profess and celebrate religious celebration openly, it is this fundamental act that is vital to maintain peace and harmony within a community. Fortunately, PAS Tawau have since apologized. As for the recent remark regarding the Bible however, the PAS leader has not retracted his statement. Hence, the Sabahans’ disdain for PAS.
So, most Sabahans have set their judgments on PAS based on precedents and PAS’s ideology. Basically speaking, PAS’ ideology is using Islam as political mobilisation. If non-Muslims are concerned about Islamisation, USNO, Berjaya, and UMNO have already beat PAS to it since the 1970s. I guess the dominant narrative is the concern that PAS would cause some religious conflict in the religiously harmonious Sabah. Although Islamisation has been successful in Sabah, with the state turned into a majority non-Muslim state to a majority Muslim state in the 1980’s and 1990’s due to the influx of immigrants from Southern Philippines as well as the federal government exporting the BN/UMNO model into Sabahan politics , religious relations in Sabah have been peaceful throughout as compared to our West Malaysian counterparts. It seems like Sabahans, non-Muslims and Muslims alike, are very resistant to have PAS in Sabah state administration.
Thoughts on the appointed PAS ADUN in particular
From what I have gathered, Dr. Aliakbar Gulasan had criticized the PAS leader in the event where he had expressed an insensitive remark regarding the Bible during the Parliamentary sitting in September 2020. He said :
“Kami berada di Sabah dan Sarawak berhadapan dengan masyarakat yang pelbagai kaum. Yang mungkin bahasa-bahasa tesebut (yang dikeluarkan oleh pemimpin Pas) hanya sesuai di Terangganu, Kelantan dan Kedah (dan) ia sangat tidak sesuai di Sabah dan Sarawak .”
This shows that he is well-grounded in the religious relations in Sabah. However, though, he is still subjected to the ideology that PAS represents so to think that he will not entertain the demands of his party defeats the purpose of him being a member of PAS.
My comment on the reactions of some non-Muslims on Facebook
This picture above was shared on Facebook and was accompanied by assumptions that it serves as a precursor to what will happen to Sabah in terms of religious relations. When I read through the content of the article, which was copied wholesale from Harakah Daily , it was a response to Sabah’s Council of Churches stating their concern regarding the effort to increase the numbers of Islamic religious teachers in Sabah. Doesn’t this seem hypocritical from the non-Muslim’s side? Some claimed that it interferes the religious harmony in Sabah but with reactions like this coming from non-Muslims, doesn’t that already initiate tensions? Besides, increasing the number of teachers is a typical procedure to be taken when there is lack of manpower to teach a particular subject.
Denying PAS means anti-Islam?
On the surface, it is easy to pinpoint that anyone who denies PAS means they are anti-Islam. This is false. PAS is not a religion, it is a political party that uses religion to mobilise its aims. In short, it is using religion as political mobilisation. We must learn to differentiate between religion and the use of religion for political mobilisation. Non-Muslims and Muslims have been living peacefully in Sabah but the use of religion for political mobilisation is a threat to the peaceful religious relations in the state. Doesn’t matter what religion, when it is used for political mobilisation, it is bound to discriminate adherents of other religions. Examples of the use of religion as political mobilisation are the Christian Right in 19th Century America and the most current example would be Buddhism in Myanmar.
It is still too early to tell whether this one PAS ADUN alone will have a high degree of influence in the law-making process in the state legislative assembly. As much as many Sabahans are disappointed over the appointment, the only approach that we can have now is the wait-and-see approach. Based on past elections, seats in Sabah where PAS have contested had never won. But this was when PAS contested as a single party, not a coalition. Imagine if GRS only placed PAS as a representative for GRS, voters who are against the opposition party will certainly vote for that one PAS candidate. We will just have to see how GRS strategizes in allocating candidates in the next state or general election and also see whether there will be new policies introduced by GRS which will cause a strain among the different religious adherents in Sabah.
 Exporting BN/UMNO model: Politics in Sabah and Sarawak by James Chin (2014)