A wonky PAS-Umno alliance can never be the voters’ choice

PAS has formally linked with Umno, through its national unity charter, a year after the Barisan Nasional lost power.

To PAS, this is another attempt to consolidate its political relevance. To Umno, this is more of seeking a lifeline to stay afloat.

The alliance is likely to see them offering the narrative of the Malay-Muslim agenda and this would generally be perceived by the non-Malays as slighting them.

This alliance is an alternative to Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) new Malaysia agenda, which is inclusive of all races.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy and second as a farce. The first time PAS joined BN was in 1972. That was a titanic move that failed and the crisis in Kelantan then went downhill.

In the end, the outcome of the PAS-BN alliance was that PAS’ stronghold was no longer theirs and the party and its leaders were humiliated by their own allies.

PAS was kicked out from BN in 1977.

PAS was in fact ousted following a revolt within the Kelantan state legislature against a menteri besar appointed by the federal government. After that chapter, the party took many years to recover as a dominant Malay-Muslim party.

By the time the 1974 elections came around, PAS found itself losing a significant chunk of votes – a sign of protest by voters who were against the move to join BN.

The PAS leader then, just like the present, tried to divert attention from PAS’ unpopularity by promoting the idea that PAS was the defender of Muslim rights. Today, PAS has shiftily included Malay rights as well to meet its political ends.

Shifting their goal posts

This is not the first time PAS has engaged their political rivals in the past 62 years. They have been in and out of affairs of this nature.

After the 1977 misadventure faced by PAS, they had aligned themselves with a few other political parties to seek power, justifying their moves with spur-of-the-moment religious decrees to suit them.

In 1990, Semangat 46 formed two coalitions with other opposition parties to contest the 1990 Malaysian general election.

The Gagasan Rakyat coalition was with the multiracial DAP and Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM). The Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (APU) coalition was with the Muslim parties PAS, Pan-Malaysian Islamic Front (Berjasa), Parti Hizbul Muslimin Malaysia (Hamim) and Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress (Kimma).

Despite these alliances, Semangat 46 did poorly in the 1990 federal election, winning only eight out of 180 seats.

Over the next few years, Semangat 46 lost support; many of its members deserted the party and defected to Umno.

In February 1994, Semangat 46, together with PAS, decided to challenge Umno on Malay communal issues. The party was renamed Parti Melayu Semangat 46, and hence renounced its multi-ethnic deportment.

In the mid-1990s, there was the eventual breakup of the Gagasan Rakyat coalition, shortly before the 1995 general election.

At the same time, Semangat 46 had increasingly strained ties with PAS over power-sharing in Kelantan.

By this time, the party’s credibility hit the lowest ebb with few electoral victories and the loss of many key figures.

By 1996, Semangat 46 had been disbanded. PAS was again left biting its fingers.

On Oct 24, 1999, the four largest opposition parties — PAS, DAP, PKR and the Malaysian People’s Party (MPP) – announced an electoral alliance and issued a joint manifesto.

It was disbanded after the 2004 general election, following which a new coalition, Pakatan Rakyat was formed to face the 2008 general election.

On April 1, 2008, the leaders of PAS, DAP and PKR announced the new official alliance of Pakatan Rakyat, an informal Malaysian political coalition and inheritor to Barisan Alternatif.

Together, the three parties also won 89 of the 222 parliamentary seats at stake during the 12th general election.

The coalition was declared obsolete on June 16, 2015, citing the inability of the rest of the alliance to work with PAS, after PAS’ congress passed a motion to sever ties with DAP without debate.

PAS is quite well-known for its “fatwa-changing” binge and they keep on shifting their goal posts to suit their political flavour.

What puzzles the rakyat is that some of their staunch supporters will sightlessly follow whatever fatwa PAS leaders come up with.

Still wary of each other

Apparently, despite the recent formation of an alliance between PAS and Umno, both are still wary of each other for fear that history will repeat itself.

PAS is more cautious this time around not to formally become part of BN, like what they did in 1972. For this reason, the present alliance between the two Malay parties is not officially registered as a coalition for fear that the party will be cast out if their 62-year-old political nemesis were to dominate the political scene.

However, as expected, they have found a common ground in their strategy, that is to use the Malay-Muslim agenda as their political arsenal against the incumbent government.

This scheme is not strange to both the parties. History has shown that when they were failing, race and religion were deployed as a prop for them to survive politically.

Politics of race and religion have always been synonymous to both these parties, supposedly to defend Islam and Malay interests.

But every Muslim knows that Islam does not need defenders from PAS or Umno. Islam has survived for the past 1,400 years even without these two political parties around.

As for Malay interests, history has proven that leaders of this nation have not neglected their interests since independence even after the change in administration in 2018.

Voters of this era cannot be easily duped into accepting this political rhetoric of PAS and Umno.

Malaysians of all races have different opinions of how to make the country move forward.

They perceive the PAS-Umno alliance as more power-centric than policy centric. This approach will not work well and will not contribute to nation building.

Obsession with race and religion will not take political parties far to boost the country’s economy. Wise voters of all races would want a coalition that will bring more economic prosperity and stability to the country and not an alliance that is more focused on such issues as race and religion.

What more, PAS cannot be considered as a truly Islamic party, as claimed by their leaders. The party is perceived by many as merely using religion to achieve its political ends.

PAS, for that matter, has not gone beyond politics by freeing the people from the parochial interpretation of Islam and focussing more into the social and economic woes facing the Malay community that hamper their progress.

Umno, on the other hand, has traditionally been a nationalistic party and was at one time well-received by the Malays until the 2018 general election when many of its leaders were dragged to court, allegedly for involvement in corruption.

Some of these tainted politicians that PAS is liaising with now are facing numerous court cases for corruption and abuse of power.

The perception is that these politicians are putting up a false front in this newly-minted alliance when in actuality they are seeking a lifeline by befriending PAS.

By cooperating with these politicians, PAS has sullied itself and this cannot be easily endorsed by its supporters.

Non-Malay voters would abandon both the parties

With Umno aligning with PAS, the non-Malay voters would abandon both the parties. Racial and religious politics centred on the Malay race and Islam will not only marginalise the Chinese and Indians but also the more than 30 ethnic groups in Sabah and 27 ethnic groups in Sarawak.

These marginalised groups cannot accept racism and extreme politics.

Without non-Malay support and voters from Sabah and Sarawak, the alliance will find it an arduous task to take over the government.

Unfortunately, out of desperation and deprived of any economic and social ideas for the betterment of the country, the alliance has chosen an emotive path to politics, that is to bank on race and religion.

The real test for this alliance would be when the next general election approaches. Will they concede to each other in their tussle for seats?

There is bound to be squabbles for seats as they both represent Malay-majority seats. There is bound to be spats as to which party should lead, which symbol to use in the election and who will be projected as their prime minister candidate — from PAS or Umno?

If the plot is to take on Pakatan Harapan in a one-to-one contest in the next general election, which will be held in 2023, this would likely benefit PH more than the PAS-Umno alliance, as voters will now have an easier choice to make between the two in two-cornered contests.

As such, the Sept 14 loose PAS-Umno alliance cannot be perceived as a real threat to PH if the latter can bring together all the races and stir the country into a success story economically before the next general election.

PH will, in fact, be further spirited with more support from its own supporters, the discontented PAS and Umno members and the wise fence-sitters.

The fence-sitters — the pivotal voters — would see PAS and Umno have only formed a wobbly alliance for their political expediency.

A wonky alliance of this sort could never be their choice.

Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.