KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's two biggest Malay Muslim parties, Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), formally announced their political collaboration on Tuesday (March 6), officially burying decades of bitter political enmity.
Umno's acting president Mohamad Hasan said the two parties are "married" and will work on a political platform without attaching any conditions, especially in by-elections, in order to unite the Malay Muslims, who form some 60 per cent of Malaysia's 32 million population.
"We 'exchanged rings' in Sungai Kandis, were 'engaged' in Seri Setia and then we decided we wanted to get 'married' - this is the official ceremony. And now we are sitting on the dais," said Datuk Seri Mohamad, referring to two by-elections in Selangor when the two parties worked together against the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance.
Though both by-elections were won by PH, the combined Umno-PAS collaboration saw them emerge as winners in the most recent by-elections - in Cameron Highlands in Pahang and, last weekend, in Semenyih, Selangor.
Mr Mohamad said there will be a main joint committee at the apex of the collaboration, and an opposition caucus in Parliament.
But the two parties will not be forming a coalition.
He said at the end of a three-hour closed door meeting between senior Umno and PAS leaders: "This main committee will be chaired by both me and the PAS deputy president. There will be a technical committee chaired by the two vice-presidents of the parties.
"Umno and PAS have agreed that this is a cooperation, respecting each other, and finding the meeting points between the two parties for the sake of the unity of Muslims (ummah).
"Our agenda is not to create a Malay pact versus the non-Malays. We want to unite the Muslims and bumiputra (indigenous races) without sidelining any other race and religion."
The United Malays National Organisation (Umno) currently has 38 MPs in the federal Parliament and PAS another 18. Their combined 56 seats is a quarter of the 222 total MPs in Parliament.
In contrast, the ruling PH alliance of four parties have a total of 125 seats in the House, with another 10 MPs from two PH-friendly parties from Sabah.
A third large bloc of seats comprises the 19 MPs from Gabungan Parti Sarawak, comprising four Sarawak-based parties.
The unprecedented formal meeting involving Umno and PAS leaders was held at Umno's headquarters at the Putra World Trade Centre. The two parties were bitter political foes for some six decades until Umno-led Barisan Nasional was toppled from power at the May general election last year.
Mr Mohamad on Tuesday pooh-poohed suggestions that the two parties will use a common logo in the future. "Those who said that are from Hospital Bahagia (mental hospital)," said Mohamad.
PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man told the news conference that the meetings of the new committee will be alternately held at Umno and PAS headquarters.
"We are not only for the Malay Muslims but the interests of the whole country when we say ummah (Muslim nation)," said Datuk Tuan Ibrahim.
Among those present at the meeting were Umno vice-president Khaled Nordin, secretary-general Annuar Musa, Women's wing chief Noraini Ahmad, Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, and supreme council members Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Zambry Abd Kadir, and Pahang Menteri Besar Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail,
There were seven top PAS leaders including deputy president Tuan Ibrahim, vice-president Idris Ahmad, secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan and Women's wing chief Nuridah Mohd Salleh.