Malaysian agenda vs Malay agenda: The battle begins

The Umno-PAS official alliance didn’t come as a surprise to me. I had, in fact, mentioned the danger such a possibility could pose for the nation in a column last June.

The danger is that this new alliance will take the race and religion rhetoric too far, resulting in political instability, at best, and violence, at worst. This is not unlikely, given the fact that both Umno and PAS are known to use race and religion to win votes.

It makes the current situation that much worse because they are not in power and they crave power.

Any party in power will endeavour to ensure there is some stability so that it can continue to rule. Its demands and actions, even if they cross the bounds, will be done with some care and subtlety. When you do not have power, you may throw caution to the winds.

It is difficult to govern but easy to create instability; especially when you can play on the insecurities or fears of your community.

So, yes, the formal alliance between Umno – which fights for the Malays – and PAS –which fights for Muslims – is not good news for multiracial, multi-religious Malaysia. It is likely to further divide the country along racial and religious lines.

But, looking at it politically, there is absolutely nothing wrong in this marriage. In fact, it could be the best option for Umno and PAS to gain federal power. And they may well go about it without raising racial or religious tension.

Is this a marriage of convenience? It certainly is. Will it last? Perhaps until the next general election when the fight for seats starts.

But I would think that the marriage may not be very smooth, given their chequered past. I believe the deep-seated hatred between some members of both parties following the “kafir mengkafir” episode of the 1980s remains. Remember what has come to be known as “Amanat Hadi”? In 1981, Hadi Awang, now PAS president, had declared that anyone supporting Umno was “kafir” (an infidel). Remember when some mosques had two imams – one for PAS members and one for Umno members? Remember when families were split because some supported PAS and others Umno? I doubt the schism has healed.

I note that PAS and Umno leaders have openly said they will work in the interest of the Malays and Islam; that this alliance is to unite the Muslims. I note, too, that none of them said the alliance would work in the interest of the whole nation, or unite all Malaysians.

There is the possibility that in their enthusiasm or frenzy some elements in Umno or PAS may go overboard, resulting in a shattering of the peace that prevails despite some hiccups now and then.

After all, these are the guys who are upset that the attorney-general and the chief justice are non-Muslims. These are the guys who can’t see a Malaysian of Chinese descent sitting as finance minister. These are the guys who could cause a schism in the nation, if it doesn’t already exist.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders, on the other hand, have been more enthusiastic about creating a nation where all Malaysians prosper, without sacrificing the rights of the majority Malays.

Malaysians are, therefore, confronted by two political coalitions – one championing a Malaysian agenda and the other a Malay agenda.

This is not good for race relations. It is also not good for economic growth and development as the PH government may spend more time and resources fighting the political battle with Umno-PAS than governing.

What about MCA and MIC in the Barisan Nasional, of which Umno is the backbone, you may ask. They have become inconsequential.

You may also ask, isn’t there an equal danger that some elements in PH may start trouble and set the nation on fire. It’s possible of course, but less likely, simply because PH is in power and any chaotic situation may result in endangering that position. Also, there is a fine balance of Malay and non-Malay interests in PH, so the chances of extremist actions is less likely.

That PH is unlikely to fight fire with fire and play to the Malay gallery seems obvious from its decision to allow Dr Streram Sinnasamy to contest the Rantau by-election on April 13. There had been speculation that following the defeats in two recent by-elections due to Malay support for Umno, PH might opt for a Malay candidate but this was put to rest yesterday. Although the main reason for sticking to Dr Streram could be the 48% non-Malay votes in the constituency, it does send the message that PH will uphold a Malaysian agenda.

It remains to be seen which agenda will win this perilous battle.

However, I’m optimistic there won’t be any racial or religious riot for the following reasons: one, Malays today are better informed and more aware of the ploys of politicians; two, the voices of Malays who want to see justice and fairness, including for non-Muslims, is becoming louder; three, none of the leaders of the political parties – including in Umno and PAS – wants chaos in the country; four, our police force still has the level of professionalism to nip trouble in the bud; and five, most importantly, the people are more vigilant.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.