As PAS cries for Malay unity before Malaysia's GE15, Umno response remains lukewarm

Umno president Zahid Hamidi said the collaboration PAS offered did not take into account the needs of the people. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA - Calls to revive Malay-Muslim cooperation under a Muafakat Nasional alliance ahead of the 15th General Election (GE15) are getting louder, but with the most vociferous calls coming mostly from Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS).

The response from ruling party Umno's top leaders has been lukewarm, while Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) has yet to make an outright decision.

At the 68th PAS muktamar (general assembly) over the weekend in Alor Setar, the party declared that the Muafakat pact - made in 2019 between the Islamist party and Umno - was still intact and might feature in the upcoming GE15.

Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan was unimpressed.

He said there had been many attempts to reconcile with PAS since the Umno general assembly in 2020, but PAS had repeatedly issued strongly-worded statements against Umno, especially recently.

"Umno is not looking for enemies, but we are being treated as one. Any decision on this will be made by the party's top five leaders or the supreme council," he said.

On Sept 3, Umno had seemingly shut the door on the Muafakat pact, saying it was time to move on without PAS.

Umno president Zahid Hamidi said the collaboration PAS offered was a superficial one and did not take into account the needs of the people.

Kedah's Barisan Nasional chapter poured cold water on the PAS battle cry of ummah unity for the upcoming GE15.

Its communication chief Datuk Shaful Hazizy said PAS could not have the best of both worlds by working with both Umno and Bersatu at the same time.

"Stop creating a narrative that PAS is a party fighting for the unity of ummah (Muslim community) by bringing all Malay political parties together," he said.

"By joining Perikatan Nasional in the Johor and Melaka state elections, you have killed the charter of Muafakat Nasional. PAS should just focus on its cooperation with allies within the Perikatan coalition."

However, senior Umno leader and Cabinet minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa believes Umno should continue working with PAS, which controls the state governments in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.

He said PAS had adopted a strategic decision to continue cooperating with Umno and Barisan Nasional at the muktamar.

"Strategies for GE15 should be effective, not based on emotions or self-interest. We must have a winning formula. Expediting the election for any other reason would be a kamikaze move for Umno," he said, adding that Umno's top priority was Malay unity.

"The core must be based on solid Malay politics," added the communications minister. "Umno should not enter GE15 without strengthening Malay unity, let alone try to go solo."

There seems to be some PAS-Umno talks going on behind the scenes.

PAS secretary-general Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan has indicated that talks are ongoing both at official and unofficial levels, although Umno deputy president and election director Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan has denied any such engagement.

After forming Muafakat in 2019, ties between Umno and PAS became strained after PAS joined the Bersatu-led Perikatan Nasional coalition.

PAS also contested against Barisan in the Johor and Melaka state elections under the Perikatan banner.

However, PAS was now planning to bring Umno and Bersatu together under a revived Muafakat Nasional, said Dr Azmi Hassan, senior Fellow at the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research.

"What I can see is that such cooperation is not likely to happen before GE15. It may happen if a coalition needs allies to become a dominant force after the elections."

Dr Azmi said PAS had not completely shut its doors to Umno.

"I think it's an implicit message that PAS could be the best party to work with after GE15. That is what its grassroots desire. Some are still keen to work with Umno," he added.

Another analyst said the all Malay-Muslim alliance touted by PAS would not have much impact as it had already happened when they formed the government in February 2020.

Prof James Chin of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, Australia, said the Islamist party wanted to form a coalition just to solidify its position as a part of the government.

"We already have a Malay-Muslim government (now) when the three big parties (Bersatu, Umno and PAS) got together after toppling the Pakatan Harapan administration in 2020.

"This is an all Malay-Muslim government, and that is what PAS is trying to do ... keep its position intact in the government," he said.

Prof Chin said PAS' idea of unity was odd as it only referred to a union of Malay-Muslims while disregarding others, including the bumiputera in east Malaysia.

"When they talk about unity in Malaysia, it's very weird because it's only among the 'ummah' and does not include non-Muslims or people of Sabah and Sarawak," he said.

He said the non-Muslim community had always held negative views of PAS as they believed the party would marginalise non-Malays.

"The (racial) tension is already there. What we're seeing now is the overall rise of political Islam across the country. The rise is not only in PAS but also in Bersatu and Umno. The moment the religious card is brought into politics, everything becomes irrational," he added.

Dr Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia said any such cooperation would only work if all parties were willing to make compromises and sacrifices.

"Looking at the Melaka and Johor state elections, PAS and Umno are not willing to work on seat negotiations.

"If seat allocation is a stumbling block, then we may see three or more corner fights (in GE15)," he said. THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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