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Reformists take the lead in Islamic party
June 3, 2007

The reformist faction in Malaysia's fundamentalist Islamic party ousted
most conservative clerics in the party elections Sunday.

The Pan-Islamic Party, PAS, Malaysia's biggest opposition group, decided
to retain its reformist leaders as it prepares for a showdown with the
ruling United Malays National Organization in the general election that
some expect to be called as early as next month.

The current government's five-year term expires in early 2009, but
speculation is rife that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will call
for an early vote to take advantage of strong economic performance and
while the opposition coalition is still fractured.

More than 1,100 delegates voted Friday in PAS's biennial election on the
sideline of its annual meeting in Kota Baru, the capital of Kelantan
State, the only state ruled by PAS. The election was billed as a fight
between the "Young Turks" and the "ulama" or Muslim clerics.

The Young Turks swept into the party leadership during its election two
years ago in the face of PAS's disastrous outing during the 2004 general
election. In the results that were officially announced Sunday,
Nasharuddin Mat Isa, 45, an urbane, former law lecturer, was retained as
the party deputy president, thwarting a strong challenge from 64-year-old
Harun Taib.

Harun, an influential cleric, represents the old guard who are not amused
by the Young Turks' moves to loosen up the party by holding pop concerts
and toning down the Islamic state agenda. The president, Abdul Hadi Awang,
won his post uncontested.

In the contest for the three vice presidential slots, Husam Musa and
Muhamad Sabu of the Young Turk camp retained their posts while the third
slot went to Ahmad Awang, a senior ulama.

Nasharuddin, after his victory, played down the perceived divide in the
party. "What is important now is for us to close ranks," he said. "Our
priority is to concentrate all our energies to face our political enemies
in the upcoming general election."

The young, progressive leaders may have made their presence felt in the
party, but the ultimate decision-makers are still among the orthodox
clerics in the religious consultative council "Majlis Syura Ulama" led by
76-year-old party spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.

Nik Abdul Aziz is also Kelantan chief minister. He banned gambling and the
sale of alcohol in the state and ordered women who appear in
advertisements to wear head scarves.

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