By Scott Ng
As the battle lines are drawn for GE14, especially for the contest for Malay votes, it has certainly been helpful to PAS that Umno has shown its willingness to emit the kind of fundamentalist sounds that make Abdul Hadi Awang’s toes tingle.
However, it is important to note that Umno’s turn to religious fundamentalism is no more than an image thing, at least as far as the very top is concerned, given the party’s aristocratic and elite roots. The question that arises is: how far to the right will Umno let PAS drag it?
The current PAS leadership is single-minded in its devotion to the goal of transforming Malaysia or what parts the party can seize into a fundamentalist’s wonderland. Since the death of Nik Aziz Mat, Hadi has shifted the party’s tone to one that is confrontational, dismissive and authoritarian. He and his circle use the religious countryside’s acceptance of the party as a guillotine suspended over the necks of would-be allies.
Some cracks in the Umno-PAS friendship are showing, such as in PAS vice-president Idris Ahmad’s accusation that Umno is using hudud as political capital. But Umno will likely try to placate the Islamist party, and the concessions will come one by one. In order to burnish its credentials with rural voters, Umno will have to tip its hat in PAS’s direction.
But PAS will want a bow.
As Pakatan has found out, PAS is not afraid to bite the hand that feeds, though we can always look to DAP’s refusal to keep its promise to let PAS pursue hudud as the beginning of the sordid saga that ended Pakatan Rakyat.
PAS will not be afraid to spit venom at BN should Umno fail to back it satisfactorily as it continues to sell the vision of an Islamic country while getting into firefights with Umno’s BN partners.
Can Umno sway fundamentalists and conservatives to its side as well as PAS does? That’s not as ridiculous a question as some might think when we consider the seismic changes that have occurred in the fours years since the last general election. Umno might well see it as a worthwhile gamble to go far to the right. The uncertainty of the voting field and the economic depression felt by a large section of the Malaysian public could see Umno lunge for the emotional appeal and into Hadi’s waiting arms.
Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.
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