Growing calls in PAS to work with Umno after Melaka setback

Some see Umno as better ally than Bersatu to boost party's chances in general election

Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has found itself between a rock and a hard place following the Melaka state election - torn between working with Umno, the big winner in the polls, and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), its partner in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition.

A senior PAS member, Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, who is a Member of Parliament as well as the party's central committee, on Wednesday joined growing calls for PAS to work with Umno.

He said that it was time for a political realignment in Malaysia, reminding top PAS leaders that it was better off for the party to "lick its wounds" and team up with the Malay-centric party.

But PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said on Thursday that he was seeking a grand coalition of all three Malay parties.

The Islamist party is aligned to both Umno and Bersatu but through separate pacts - with Umno in Muafakat Nasional (MN) and Bersatu in PN.

Both Umno and PN help to prop up the government of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri who has a slim majority in Parliament.

Tan Sri Abdul Hadi said on Facebook: "PAS upholds the concept of unity in accordance with the Islamic perspective, which is the unity of Muslims, and also the unity among diverse people, including non-Muslims. Therefore, PAS rejects MN which involves only Umno and PAS.

"PAS also rejects the ideology that denies the existence of diverse communities, which needs to be addressed through a wider coalition which is PN."

He likened MN and PN to "two arms belonging to one body", saying they could not exist separately.

In the Melaka polls last Saturday, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition won 21 out of the 28 seats at stake to regain its two-thirds majority in the state legislative assembly.

The opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition took five and PN the remaining two.

PAS lost in all the seats it contested under the PN banner but the party claims that it got more votes in Melaka than the previous poll in 2018.

Political observers say that the defeat has led some PAS members to push for cooperation with Umno, believing that it will otherwise be difficult for the party to strengthen its position in the next general election.

"Only Umno is able to provide a brighter coupling compared to Bersatu, it's been proven in the Melaka election. So it's not surprising if PAS returns to MN when the time comes," University of Malaya sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Pawi told The Straits Times.

"There is no issue of being embarrassed for making a U-turn, it's not a foreign move in politics... as long as it can benefit and ensure their political position is not threatened," he added, claiming that PAS' grassroots prefer cooperating with Umno than Bersatu.

But Professor James Chin, who specialises in Malaysian politics at the University of Tasmania's Asia Institute, thinks otherwise.

"A lot of PAS members hold a deep animosity towards Umno and many of Umno's core supporters hate PAS. Both accuse the other of breaking Malay unity," he told ST.

The Islamist party, he added, may find it easier working with Bersatu's leader, former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, as there is no historical baggage between them.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2021, with the headline Growing calls in PAS to work with Umno after Melaka setback. Subscribe