Umno-PAS cooperation to dominate talk as Hadi opens muktamar

PAS members making their way into the Sukpa stadium in Pahang, ahead of the presidential address by Abdul Hadi Awang for the party’s 65th muktamar.

PETALING JAYA: Four years after PAS held one of its most divisive muktamar in its almost seven decades of existence, subsequent editions of its annual congress have been uneventful.

But going by the narratives in the run-up to its 65th muktamar, to be officiated today by party president Abdul Hadi Awang, things could get heated up – more so if former prime minister Najib Razak turns up, as he is scheduled to be in his home state of Pahang, where the muktamar is being held, today.

Last year’s muktamar was attended by Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Since then, ties between the two largest Malay parties have grown, and even borne fruit with a string of by-election victories.

Analyst Wong Chin Huat agrees that the PAS-Umno tie-up will dominate the muktamar.

The party’s influential ulama wing, and its boisterous Youth wing, have given their backing to the cooperation. Any protest from delegates is unlikely.

Wong suggests that the cooperation should not be dismissed.

“If Umno and PAS can converge in the next general election, assuming there is no swing, they can win 30 more seats in Peninsular Malaysia,” said Wong, who is attached to the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia.

Armed with a strong showing in the peninsula, Umno and PAS could then lure East Malaysian parties to form the federal government.

Wong says the ongoing muktamar will prepare the ground for the next election, and he predicts the playing up of racial and religious issues.

Such rhetoric, however, may undermine new PAS Youth chief Khairil Nizam Khirudin’s wish to strengthen ties with non-Muslim opposition parties such as MIC and MCA.

At the wing’s own muktamar two days ago, Khairil said they got along well with MIC although it was a bit more challenging with MCA.

Universiti Utara Malaysia analyst Kamarul Zaman Yusoff said the muktamar offers an opportunity for PAS to showcase its openness, especially in the context of non-Muslims.

“PAS leaders need to highlight the party’s ability to rule the country by providing its blueprint in the muktamar.

“More important is to assure non-Muslims that they will still get a good place in their scheme of things,” he said.

With a string of internal problems affecting Pakatan Harapan (PH), PAS leaders are expected to urge members to be on their toes for a snap election.

“Criticism of PH, especially its perceived inability to take care of the Malay Muslim interests, will abound,” he said, adding that PAS leaders will also be pushing PH to be more serious about resolving socio-economic problems.

One of PAS’ more vocal Muslim critics, Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa of the Islamic Renaissance Front, has a different view.

He said the muktamar should be a chance for PAS to do soul searching on what has gone wrong with the country after Umno’s long rule.

He also asked if PAS leaders were blind to this.

He said now is the time for PAS to charter a new course for its political struggle.

“They should not let their envy of the leaders that they once ousted, who now have become ministers in the new government, to engulf them.

“There is no place for political vengeance when they don’t even have a clear economic agenda on how to run this country.”