PASIR SALAK (Perak) • Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has called for a merger between his Malay nationalist party and its long-time political nemesis Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), six months after the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition was ousted from power in national polls.
"Let us set aside our differences in the name of Islam, Malays, Malaysia and bumiputera, and merge," he said last Saturday evening, as quoted by The Star newspaper. "It was a mistake for us to fight each other."
He was speaking at a gathering in Perak to discuss a joint protest involving Umno and PAS against a government plan to ratify the United Nations' International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
Both Malay-Muslim parties have taken the stand that the anti-discriminatory ICERD will weaken the position of Malays and Malay rulers, and dilute the role of Islam in the country.
The previous BN government did not ratify ICERD but the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has said it plans to do so as part of fulfilling its election manifesto.
The six-month-old PH government is also making another big step in removing the death penalty to fulfil its election promises.
The merger offer by Zahid will need to be cleared by top leaders from both parties, which are traditionally suspicious of each other.
But the offer is radical in Malaysian politics because the deep split in national politics and among the majority Malays in the last five decades was caused by the competing political visions of Umno and PAS.
Umno, the lead party in the multiracial BN coalition for decades, supports a more moderate version of Islam, while PAS wants to turn Malaysia into an Islamist state, including chopping off the hands of thieves. But Umno and PAS have, in the last few years, been getting politically closer as they face up to the PH alliance.
The rapprochement comes at a time when Umno has been severely weakened by its loss of power in the May general election, with many party bank accounts frozen by the Mahathir government in its investigation into the 1MDB affair. Zahid, former Umno president Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor, and former party secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor are facing separate multiple charges in court linked to financial dealings.
Umno has been losing its lawmakers to defections. It won 54 federal Parliament seats in the May polls, but currently has 48 MPs, with roiling speculation of more defections.
Today, Umno controls only the state assemblies of Pahang, the home state of Najib, and tiny Perlis. PAS has 18 MPs in Parliament, and controls the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu.
Zahid, in calling for the Umno-PAS merger, said a "grandfather" was to blame for the hate felt by Umno towards PAS, in a jab at Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was Umno president for 22 years between 1981 and 2003.
"He taught us to hate PAS, DAP (Chinese-majority Democratic Action Party) and other parties, but now they are together. We have been lied to for 22 years," Zahid claimed, as quoted by The Star.
Still, his call for a merger was not mentioned by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, who spoke after Zahid.
Datuk Seri Hadi touched only on their joint objection to ICERD and the plan for a joint protest in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 8.