By Tay Tian Yan
Several days ago, a PAS leader predicted that his party would win 80 parliamentary seats in the 14th general election, while Umno would win 40.
So, PAS and Umno, plus several parties in East Malaysia would set up a coalition government with PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang as the prime minister.
What high hopes. But the reality could be this: PAS would win fewer seats than what it did last time (21 seats).
PAS is currently in a very embarrassing position. While it is not a part of the ruling coalition, it works closely with Umno, the dominant party in the coalition, and is leaning towards supporting the government’s policies.
While it is definitely an opposition party, it lacks the opposition roadmap. In its stead, it opposes all other parties in the opposition camp.
So, what on earth is it?
To the voters, this remains a very big question mark.
When it comes to the actual election, the party will face the fierce onslaught from both the ruling and opposition camps. How is the party going to tell the voters which side it stands on?
Skepticism from Malay voters and abhorrence from non-Malay voters will put the party under a massive test. Before Hadi even gets to become the PM, he will have already stumbled hard.
I’m not trying to belittle the party’s strength. On the contrary, I believe the party is still very strong and will get even more powerful in the foreseeable future.
Mainstream Malay politics belongs to either Umno or PAS, and there isn’t any sign that other parties will get a significant share of it. Not PKR, nor Amanah and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).
Umno still claims the lion’s share of this mainstream, but time doesn’t seem to be on its side now.
In the future, when the country’s Muslim population exceeds 70% and when conservative Islamic forces gain in momentum, PAS will emerge as the most dominant political force, and could even overtake Umno one day.
But, this will only happen something like 15 or 20 years down the road, probably during GE17 or GE18.
Of course, Hadi may not be the party’s president at that time, but his son Muhammad Khalil, who has just announced his decision to run for PAS Youth chairmanship, will have the chance to witness this historical moment. Who knows, he could be the party’s leader one day.
Under Hadi, PAS has been purging the reformists in the party and distancing itself from the opposition camp. As if that was not enough, the party even steered a dramatic turnaround by working with Umno.
All these actions could be attributed to personal sentiments including Hadi’s hard feelings towards its former deputy president Mohamad Sabu and DAP, etc, along with his Islam-first inclination.
But from the aspect of strategy, this shows that Hadi is prepared to sacrifice the party’s near-term interests for its long-term objectives.
PAS is well aware of the increasing frustration in the Malay society towards Umno, which is suffering from sliding approval. Given such a trend, it is only a matter of time before PAS eventually takes the place of Umno.
The Umno-PAS tie-up will allow these two parties to more effectively crush the other Malay political forces that include PKR, Amanah and PPBM, especially Amanah which PAS must destroy at all costs in a bid to restore its lost territories and dignity and clear Hadi’s name.
Of course, PAS might have expected that Umno will be the ultimate winner in a multi-cornered fight, but what’s so wrong with letting Umno win GE14 again this time?
The real battle, for PAS, will be GE15 or later.
So, how is Umno going to react?
Umno is an exhaustive kind of party. Rival factions within the party are pitted against one another for existing resources. They only look at short-term interests and survival and will hardly set their sights beyond GE14 and the party elections thereafter.
Just get hold of PAS and get over GE14 with it. And this is almost the only way they can be assured of survival.
Few leaders in the party would think about the future. To them, the future is way too far and impractical.
Umno’s structure makes it very difficult for the reform agenda to work, and its negative image appears to have been so deeply rooted.
That is, unless we have a new Umno leader with a positive image and who will boldly implement the reforms and weed out the corrupt, after Najib.
Moreover, Umno will also need to embrace a pluralistic roadmap and work with all other ethnic communities in the country to develop the national economy and lead the country to the league of high income countries with a vastly expanded Malay middle class, and from there consolidate the unity among the different peoples and restore public confidence.
Perhaps this will help the party regain its strength and suppress the rise of PAS.
This will be the future for both Malay politics and the nation. Unfortunately, the non-Malay community badly lacks the power to influence the way our leaders think.
Tay Tian Yan writes for Sin Chew Daily.
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