As Sabah Poll Looms, PN-Linked Parties Seen Paying Price for Silence over PAS Man’s Bible Remarks

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PAS MP Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh’s claim that the Bible was “distorted” could cost Perikatan Nasional (PN) and allied local parties votes in the state election due to their refusal to criticise him, according to observers.

In Parliament last month, Nik Zawawi from PAS claimed the Bible has been distorted from its original meaning and outraged Christians including those in Sabah that will head to the ballot box on September 26.

Multicultural Parti Bersatu Sabah has been the only PN-friendly party to openly criticise him, calling his remarks seditious and “unforgivable” while trying to dissociate themselves from the conservative Islamic party.

Its information chief, Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, sought to dismiss PAS as inconsequential here by noting that the Islamist party has not had any electoral success of note.

“We may be together in the federal government administration but politically we have nothing to do PAS…we are neither a component member of PN and BN (Barisan Nasional),” Bangkuai said.

When asked whether Sabah voters would see it that way during the state election, Bangkuai pointed out that PBS was contesting under its own banner.

PBS had been part of the BN coalition but abandoned it along with other East Malaysian components following its 2018 general election defeat.

“We are contesting using our own symbol and not PN or BN symbol…that should be clear enough,” he said.

However, not all believe this distinction alone would let PN-linked parties escape the fallout of Nik Zawawi’s comments.

UITM political analyst Tony Paridi Bagang said those allied with PN and the related Muafakat Nasional (MN) will have to do serious damage control or at least present a credible counter-narrative if they intend to fare well during the September 26 poll.

Unlike the peninsula where racial polarisation was more prominent, he said both Sabah and the neighbouring Sarawak were known for their moderation, multiculturalism, and multi-religiousness.

“PAS’s comment would make PN efforts to be more challenging in convincing the non-Muslim people here,” he said.

Despite this prognosis, however, only PBS has openly condemned Nik Zawawi over the incidents.

According to Bagang, this could expose PN-linked parties as voters may interpret their refusal to condemn the PAS lawmaker as tacit approval for his remarks.

“Perceptually, this is not good for their party’s image. It does not give advantage to PN especially PAS as this may create a negative perception and harping the sentiment over identity politics.

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“This issue has been picked up by their opponents to be capitalised as a political issue,” Bagang said.

As the UiTM analyst noted, parties aligned with the ruling coalition under Parti Warisan Sabah have seized on their local rivals’ inability or unwillingness to criticise the PN federal lawmaker over the incident.

Among others, United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) information chief Albert Bingkasan agreed that this was certain to erode voters’ faith in any party with ties to PAS, be it directly in PN or through an informal arrangement.

“Yes, it does dent those parties especially because they hardly spoke up against such a bigoted comment.

“I do know many people of other religions who are aghast at PAS — and Umno, for that matter — as well as all those aligned to PN and Semenanjung; the PAS comment kind of heightened the people’s anger,” he said.

Bingkasan said that in Sabah, Muslims were against insults to other religions, deeming them out of line.

He noted, however, that politicians in the peninsula had little qualm against using race and religion, especially around elections.

While debating the Road Transport (Amendment) Bill 2020 to propose heavier fines for drink-driving offenders, the Pasir Puteh MP asserted that the Bible has been perverted or corrupted, which immediately drew condemnation from other MPs

The Christian Federation of Malaysia, the Sabah Council of Churches, and Association of Churches in Sarawak have all criticised the unrepentant Nik Zawawi, who suggested the Christian community had “no right to be offended” as his claim was a “fact”.

Despite the apparent anger, PN and its leaders have remained largely silent about both controversies.

Christians form a significant portion of Sabah, representing over 26 percent of the state as of 2010 versus 9.2 percent nationally. – MMO