A leading conservative Nasharudin Mat Isa in Malaysia's opposition Islamic party won in an internal election on Saturday.
Husam Musa, the 49-year-old vice president of the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and the leader of the reform faction, was defeated in a three-way contest by the incumbent Isa who enjoys the backing of the party's powerful conservative clerics.
PAS is one of three parties in the opposition People's Alliance, led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. Party delegates on Saturday voted in 10 reformers and eight conservatives to its 18-seat decision-making central committee.
The victory for Nasharudin, a 47-year-old Islamic law expert seen as favoured by the conservative party President Abdul Hadi Awang, comes as a blow to those who had hoped to see PAS consolidating more rapidly under the opposition People's Alliance, a move the defeated Husam had championed.
"The ulama (religious clerics) are still powerful ... the results show that PAS doesn't want to change too quickly, and the delegates voted for a deputy president who they felt more represented the party's interests," said Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia specialist at Johns Hopkins University, who was observing the polls.
Lifeline to UMNO?
PAS, long tagged as a conservative Islamic party, did not have any appeal beyond its rural Malay strongholds until 2005 when the reformers started winning key posts in party elections on a pledge to moderate the party to broaden its appeal.
The strategy paid off, with PAS winning support from mainly non-Muslim ethnic minority Chinese and Indians in general elections last year. Forty-five percent of the Southeast Asian country's 27 million population are non-Muslim.
Nasharudin's win could also revive hopes by the main government party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), that it could win PAS over to form a pact that would stymie Anwar's bid to win power in elections that must be held by 2013.
UMNO, the lead component of the National Front coalition that has ruled Malaysia for 51 years, vies with PAS for the Malay vote, and it suffered historic losses in national and state elections last year.
Nasharudin, who was part of Husam's team before striking out to side with the conservatives, has denied that PAS has intentions of joining UMNO or the ruling National Front.
Abdul Hadi, however, continued to defend his role in the discussions that took place after last year's general election to form a unity government with UMNO in two states.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Haziran 2009, 18:40