Malaysia's Islamist party PAS, for the first time, has a lawmaker in Sabah's state assembly

KUALA LUMPUR – The Sabah government on Thursday (Oct 8) appointed a representative of Malaysia’s Islamist party as a lawmaker in the state assembly.

The controversial move has been attacked by critics as it was the first time Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has an assemblyman in the Borneo state, and followed a controversy in Parliament where a PAS MP had belittled the Christians’ holy book.

Mr Aliakbar Gulasan, secretary of PAS in Sabah was sworn in on Thursday as one of six nominated assemblymen, local media said.

Sabah has 73 assemblymen who won their seats in the Sept 26 state polls.

Its state Constitution allows for the appointment of six more lawmakers into the local legislature by the state’s ruling alliance.

The six lawmakers have the same rights and voting powers as the other 73.

Last month’s state polls was won by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) alliance that included his Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition.

PAS is a member of PN.

The Islamist party has had dismal showings in all its previous electoral contests in Sabah, and did not participate in last month’s polls. This followed a controversy involving one of its MPs, Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh, who in August claimed that the Bible was “distorted” while debating in the federal Parliament, causing widespread anger among Christians.

He has repeatedly refused to apologise for the remarks, despite being castigated by Christian groups in Malaysia.

More than a quarter of Sabah’s 3.5 million population are Christians.

This week, the Sabah Council of Churches cited Mr Zawawi’s remarks in a letter it wrote to Sabah’s Deputy Chief Minister Jeffrey Kitingan, in urging him to oppose a PAS appointment to the state legislature, Malaysiakini news site reported.

The GRS alliance is led by Chief Minister Hajiji Noor from Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s PN.

In a tweet, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang thanked Sabah chief minister Datuk Seri Hajiji and PM Muhyiddin for appointing Mr Aliakbar.

“PAS believes this inaugural appointment as opening a new chapter for Sabah PAS to have better ties with Sabah’s multiracial multiethnic community,” Datuk Seri Hadi said.

The ruling GRS alliance consists of PN which also included Sabah’s Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (Star), Umno-led Barisan Nasional and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).

A Sabah opposition leader Jannie Lasimbang said Star and PBS should pull out of GRS after failing to stop the nomination of the PAS lawmaker.

“Both PBS president Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili and Star president Datuk Seri Jeffrey Gapari Kitingan have vehemently denied that this would happen,” said Lasimbang, who is from the Democratic Action Party.

“Supporters of both Star and PBS would not have agreed to allowing PAS, an Islamist party, to be a member of the DUN (state assembly) just as so many members of the public, institutions, NGOs and political leaders have expressed in the last few days.”

In his response, Mr Kitingan said the PAS assemblyman isn’t in the state Cabinet which would have been a different matter. “To me, it is a non-issue as the nominated assemblyman is a small role,” he told The Star online news when contacted.

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