A faction led by the Islamist PAS' No2 opposes move to bring him into the fold After fighting hard to free Anwar Ibrahim from a lengthy jail sentence, Malaysia's main opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) is deeply divided over the former deputy prime minister's imminent return to politics. A faction led by PAS deputy president Hassan Shukri is campaigning for the party to keep its distance, siding with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who continues to claim Mr Anwar is unsuitable for high office because of his alleged homosexuality. Mr Hassan allegedly told a closed-door meeting of party members last week that they should shun any political allegiance with Mr Anwar, because the judges who quashed his conviction on sodomy charges in September did so on a legal technicality. Mr Hassan retracted the statement after angry PAS members publicly attacked him. Meanwhile, a moderate faction of western-educated professionals led by Mustafa Ali, the party's elderly vice-president, wants Mr Anwar to head the PAS-led Alternative Front opposition coalition. 'I know Anwar very well - he is not a homosexual,' Mr Mustafa said. 'The accusations are nothing but a political conspiracy.' Although Mr Anwar is technically barred from holding political office for five years because of his conviction on a corruption charge, the moderates want him to serve as a spokesman for the PAS cause. The party unashamedly courted Mr Anwar when he was a youthful Islamic firebrand in the 1970s, but Dr Mahathir beat them to it, persuading him to join Umno. PAS maintained an uneasy but friendly relationship with Mr Anwar during his years in the government and when he was imprisoned in 1998, they quickly exploited the resulting widespread anger and mobilised multiracial support to free him. PAS benefited immensely from the voter backlash that followed Mr Anwar's imprisonment, but in the general election in March, it surrendered most of its gains to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, whose campaign to right many of the perceived wrongs under Dr Mahathir's rule won widespread support. 'PAS now wants to ride on Anwar's popularity to revive their fortunes,' a political analyst said. The United Malays National Organisation would be worried if PAS tied up with Mr Anwar, the analyst added. There is intense speculation over Mr Anwar's plans when he returns to Malaysia after medical treatment in Germany. However, political analysts do not expect him to make any major moves that may upset Mr Abdullah's apple cart. Many have predicted Mr Anwar will work the media, and alternate between the domestic and international lecture circuits now travelled by Dr Mahathir, gradually regaining lost ground before launching a bid for power.