Najib has Umno nod to seek polls pact with PAS

Tie-up between the Malay Muslim parties could alter Malaysia's political dynamics

Tan Sri Annuar Musa says an Umno-PAS pact will be backed by many Malays who are concerned about Malay unity.
Tan Sri Annuar Musa says an Umno-PAS pact will be backed by many Malays who are concerned about Malay unity.

KUALA LUMPUR • Umno information chief Annuar Musa said the party has given the mandate to its president, Prime Minister Najib Razak, to negotiate an electoral pact with opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the first time the idea of an alliance between the two biggest political parties in Malaysia has been floated.

He said such a pact will be supported by many Malays who are concerned about Malay unity.

The vote of the majority Malays, for decades split between just Umno and PAS, are now divided five ways with the entry of Parti Keadilan Rakyat led by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, PAS splinter Parti Amanah Negara, and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Umno is still open to cooperation with PAS despite being openly snubbed by the party recently, Tan Sri Annuar told reporters after attending an Umno event in Kuala Lumpur on Monday evening.

"(The door) is very much open, in terms of having electoral cooperation with PAS. We have given the full mandate to the president," he was quoted as saying by The Malaysian Insight news site. "So we will wait for his decision."

Mr Annuar did not elaborate on how the two parties might go about facing the general election if they were to form a pact, a crucial issue for the opposition because PAS has threatened to contest in most seats. This would result in three-cornered fights involving the ruling Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN), PAS and the main opposition alliance - a situation which would likely hand victory to BN.

PAS, an Islamist party that aims to turn Malaysia into its version of a strict Islamic state, has been inching closer to Malay nationalist party Umno since leaving an opposition alliance in June 2015.

Both parties target the same Malay vote and have found common cause in Islamic issues such as speaking out against the mistreatment of the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar. Umno leaders helped PAS present a controversial Islamic Bill in Parliament.

The presidents of PAS and Umno - Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and Datuk Seri Najib, respectively - have sat side by side at several public functions, a move lauded by conservatives seeking "Muslim unity".

With most Chinese voters seen to be firmly behind the opposition parties, putting the two Malay Muslim parties in one basket - even in an informal pact - could spike further the rhetoric on race and religion, and weaken non-Malay representation in government.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2017, with the headline 'Najib has Umno nod to seek polls pact with PAS'. Subscribe