They changed their image and their talking points, but did not repudiate the agenda they emphasized earlier. Western policymakers should take note, and ponder what lessons may be applied to the Palestinian Authority, and other purported bastions of "moderation."
"Analysts say Malaysian Islamic party wins big with gentler image," from Agence France-Presse:
KOTA BHARU, Malaysia: Malaysia's Islamic party made huge strides in weekend elections, by putting on a moderate face and dropping fundamentalist rhetoric that had alienated voters, analysts said Sunday.
The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) made a remarkable recovery after 2004 polls when its calls for an Islamic state to be imposed in the multicultural country were soundly rejected by Muslim Malays and minorities alike.
The conservative party of Muslim scholars absorbed that painful lesson, shifting away from its fire-and-brimstone rhetoric and even reaching out to Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
It was rewarded with a big win in its heartland of Kelantan state which it had held by a slim majority, and is expected to join opposition alliances to rule three of the four states wrested from the Barisan Nasional coalition.
It also claimed 23 seats in the national parliament, from just six before.
"There was a big shift in PAS's attitude by dropping any mention of plans to set up an Islamic state," said political analyst Shahruddin Badaruddin.
"Instead it concentrated on the idea of a compassionate and welfare-like state," he told AFP.
While the Barisan Nasional (BN) dangled billions of dollars in development projects for the impoverished Malay heartlands, PAS offered its brand of pious values and sedate economic growth.
Kelantan Chief Minister Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat hailed the "tsunami" of electoral support for the party in a victory speech that reflected its inclusive new approach.
"The people who are not Muslim, the Chinese, the Indians and (other minorities) now clearly accept our Islamic governance despite attempts by the BN's throwing of money and promises of development," he said.
PAS's last big gains were in 1999 when it captured northern Terengganu state, leading it to believe Malaysians were willing to accept a hardline Islamic government, Shahruddin said.
But its tough line, including prohibitions on nightclubs, skimpy clothes and alcohol, coupled with excitement over Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's new administration, saw it lose Terengganu in 2004.
And who is to say those rules won't reappear if PAS finds itself in a strong enough position to enforce them?