Malaysia's ruling party Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) are working out a pact to take over Selangor in the next general election, a move that could shake up voting patterns nationally.
Prime Minister Najib Razak and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang have been in near-daily contact for several months, with plans afoot to cooperate in Selangor at a general election due within a year, sources say. Closer ties between the Umno president and his counterpart from the opposition Islamic party have so far been to champion the interests of the Malay-Muslim majority for their mutual benefit.
But coming to an arrangement in Malaysia's richest state could prove a launch pad for further agreements between the two parties nationally. And it could well turn the tide against the Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance, which is already seeing some discord after influential former premier Mahathir Mohamad was unveiled as its chairman last month.
However, both Umno and PAS still need a credible candidate to head the state.
A source familiar with the plan told The Straits Times that former menteri besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, who was removed by his own Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) in 2014, is being courted. PKR has led the Selangor administration since 2008. "He has been seen at the Prime Minister's Office several times recently," the source said, adding that Tan Sri Khalid is being cajoled to accept PAS' advances.
Independent assemblyman Khalid, a former corporate captain who gained a reputation for transparent and thrifty governance during his six years in charge of Selangor, confirmed that he had met PAS and Umno officials as well as those of other parties, "but all discussions were for the betterment of the rakyat". "As an independent, I have the freedom to meet any party. For myself, there is no plan to run in the next elections," he told ST in a written response. "I am most thankful that PAS has stood by me till the end (of my administration). But to date, there is no plan to join the party."
STATE OF SELANGOR
Pakatan Harapan has 29 assemblymen in the 56-strong Selangor legislature. PAS has 13 and their support gives Menteri Besar Azmin Ali a three-quarters super-majority. Umno has 12, and there are two independents including former chief minister Khalid Ibrahim.
An Umno-PAS pact, including the two independents, would be just two shy of forming a majority.
According to the last census, 58 per cent of the population are Muslims. A combination of the two Malay-Muslim parties could have a galvanising effect on the crucial vote bank.
Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told The Star in an interview that Umno and most of the Barisan Nasional component parties have submitted their shortlist of candidates for the 14th general election to coalition and party leaders.
56 SEATS IN SELANGOR
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR): 13
Democratic Action Party (DAP): 14
Parti Amanah Negara (PAN): 2
Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS): 13
Umno and PAS traditionally contest against each other in Malay-majority areas. But ST understands that one plan being mooted in Selangor is for PAS to field candidates in at least 42 seats, more than double the seats it contested in 2013, depriving Harapan of significant pro-opposition Malay votes. Umno and PAS combined would have been just two seats shy of a majority, going by the last elections.
Sources from both the opposition and Umno-led federal government told ST that Datuk Seri Najib and Datuk Seri Hadi have continued to speak regularly on the phone, even while the latter was recovering from heart surgery in May.
That same month, PAS broke ties with PKR, leading to calls for the Islamic party to resign its state government positions. PAS also replaced its Selangor chief Iskandar Abdul Samad - seen as being supportive of a continued pact with PKR - with Hadi loyalist Sallehen Mukhyi.
"Sallehen has assured Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali that PAS is committed to his government. But once an election is called, it is up to Hadi," said a source close to the Menteri Besar, who is also PKR deputy president.
Last Sunday, Mr Hadi asserted that PAS would not cooperate with Harapan as it is made up of Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) and its allies. In an interview with Umno-controlled Berita Harian, he said "our decision is clear when we see the hardline stance against Islam that is displayed by DAP".
Umno's top brass have descended on Selangor in recent weeks to talk up their chances of wresting back the prized jewel they ceded in 2008.
PM Najib could face an internal revolt if ruling coalition Barisan Nasional only narrowly retains its control of Parliament. But winning back Selangor, regardless of what happens elsewhere, could ensure his longevity.
"We will prepare a manifesto for Selangor. We have repented and humbly offer ourselves to Selangorian voters to be a better government," the Premier said in state capital Shah Alam on Aug 6.