The Leaderboard: Mohamad Sabu

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific.Who is he?

Mohamad Sabu, also known as Mat Sabu, is a well-known Malaysian opposition politician. He was formerly the deputy president of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). Mat Sabu was the first non-ulama, or religious scholar, elected to the party’s leadership in over 25 years. He has long been a moderate and advocated for the need to forge better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysian politics.

Mat Sabu. Source: Sham Hardy's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Mat Sabu in 2013. Source: Sham Hardy’s flickr photostream, cropped under a creative commons license.

Why is he in the news?

Mat Sabu and other moderate Islamic leaders on July 13 broke away from PAS to start a new movement called Gerakan Harapan Baru, or the New Hope Movement. The group of 18 progressive leaders, dubbed G18, were subsequently ousted from their party positions by the conservative ulama-led wing of PAS. They plan to register their movement as a political party in September and promote it across Malaysia.

Mat Sabu’s split from PAS’s ulama leadership and establishment of the New Hope Movement followed the dissolution of Malaysia’s opposition coalition, of which PAS was a member. Disagreements between PAS and the predominantly Chinese, secular Democratic Action Party over the former’s plans to introduce hudud, an Islamic penal code, in its stronghold in Kelantan State in northern Malaysia was the last straw that broke up the often bickering opposition partners.

Mat Sabu was one of PAS’s more popular leaders, especially among non-Malays. He is also known to be a charismatic public speaker.

What can we expect from him?

Mat Sabu can be expected to reinvent himself and the New Hope Movement in opposition politics, should the latter take on a more politically active role. He has pledged to make his movement a moderate Islamist party that aims to bring social justice to all Malaysians. Many observers will be watching closely to see if the New Hope Movement, DAP, and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party will forge a new opposition coalition without PAS.

Expect Mat Sabu to also be more critical of PAS’s religious moralism, which he warned would cause the party’s declining popularity.


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