PAS risks losing the support of women voters over the issue of its divorce oath, or “bai’ah talak tiga” – a religious vow Kelantan PAS lawmakers made years ago that requires them to divorce their wives should they defect from the Islamist party for another one.
The Islamist party is using the oath against their Kelantan MPs, as leaders such as Kuala Krai lawmaker Dr Hatta Ramli deserted the party in favour of the new Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah).
But observers say that women, who make up the majority of voters in Malaysia, are up in arms over how the party is abusing religion and treating spouses as collateral in its politics.
“Our quick poll conducted on women voters in the Klang Valley showed that almost all of them were angry with PAS for using religion for politics and power,” said Hisomuddin Bakar, a political analyst and executive director of think-tank Ilham Centre.
“Based on the observations by Ilham Centre’s research panel, if this issue is dragged out for a long time, it will erode their support towards PAS.”
The divorce oath was first introduced in 2004 by then-Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, in a bid to save the state from falling into the hands of rival Malay-Muslim party, Umno.
After the oath proved to be a success in binding state legislators to the party, Kelantan PAS has kept up its secret tradition of directing lawmakers to swear to divorce their wives with the “third talak” if they switch parties, ahead of each general election.
The “talak” is a declaration Muslim men make to dissolve their marriages. Once a husband has recited the “talak” for a third time, he may only remarry his wife after he weds another woman and divorces her.
The late Nik Aziz had kept the practice among Kelantan lawmakers under wraps, and even denied it existed when former PAS vice-president Datuk Dr Hassan Ali disclosed it to the public.
But with the party now splitting into two, PAS leaders have abandoned all pretences and are now using the divorce oath to prevent its lawmakers from deserting the party.
The split came about following the collapse of opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat, after PAS severed ties with its secular ally DAP, chiefly over its desire to implement the Islamic penal code, and the unilateral ways of its president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.
However, PAS’s latest political gamble may backfire, as women in Islamic non-governmental organisations voice their disapproval over the practice.
“Women, who should be held in high esteem in a Muslim family institution, have become relegated to commodities in their game of politics,” said Ikram Malaysia women’s chief Datin Paduka Che Asmah Ibrahim.
“Their actions not only lower women’s dignity, but it is also against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, who declared that men and women are equal before the eyes of God.”
Hisomuddin said the revelation was exacerbated by PAS’s apparent disregard for the wishes of its supporters and that of Pakatan Rakyat.
He said PAS’s refusal to join the recent Bersih 4 rally, and the fuss it made over a protester stepping on a photograph of the party president and prime minister had angered non-Malay voters, particularly the Chinese.
“The incidents suggest that the Chinese will not support PAS in the next general election. Add that to the divorce oath issue, which will cost women’s votes, and we can see that PAS’s chances to win more seats in future are further jeopardised.”
Hisomuddin said voters wanted PAS to focus on bigger issues, such as the rising cost of living, inflation, the goods and services tax (GST) and numerous scandals surrounding the government.
He said the party was only adding to the people’s troubles when it chose to pass judgement on others and harp on sensitive issues that could destroy marriages.
In their survey, Ilham Centre had asked respondents whether they would choose a party, which enforced a divorce oath on its lawmakers, and whether this issue would influence their decision.
“Based on the feedback we received, they unanimously rejected PAS. They also said this was one of the main factors that would influence their choice.
“The respondents also urged non-governmental organisations and the women wings of the party to come out with a firm statement condemning and rejecting PAS’s use of divorce oaths in national politics.”
The respondents also said that if they let the issue slide, it was akin to condoning PAS’s practice of belittling women, said Hisomuddin.
On Tuesday, PAS confirmed that 22 of its leaders including Hatta were no longer its members the moment they joined Amanah that was unveiled on August 31.
Kelantan PAS on Thursday claimed the divorce oath its elected representatives swore was valid under Islamic law.
However, PAS deputy president Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man has urged all quarters to revert to the Shariah Court over the matter, as it involved Islamic laws and had wide implications. – September 6, 2015.