KUALA LUMPUR,. It was an ironic sight to see PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang inspecting an honour guard of the Islamist party’s volunteer corps members dressed in controversial faux military dresses on Saturday.
Just four months ago, it was Mohamad Sabu who was inspecting an honour guard, but with the Royal Malay Regiment, and as the newly-minted defence minister. In 2015, the politician known as Mat Sabu was ousted as Hadi’s deputy in PAS, only to have his political career at the apex now.
Yesterday while closing PAS’s 64th muktamar or annual congress, Hadi warned delegates against the “disease” of chasing after positions of power.
“Such individuals have the ailment of chasing after positions, until they even leave the party due to it. Stay far away from this aliment, and do not elect or support anyone who is obsessed with becoming a leader,” he told delegates.
And yet, it is hard not to imagine the Marang MP bristling at the thought of his former comrades now in Putrajaya as Cabinet members.
PAS was banking on a cordial relationship with Umno to sail it through the 14th general election, but any deal between the two backfired with perhaps the worst results yet for both of them in the polls.
As part of Barisan Nasional, Umno had lost its six-decade grip on Malaysia, while PAS was consigned to Kelantan and Terengganu with minimal presence elsewhere.
With barely over 100 days since the polls, the question for both parties are now no longer about courting voters, but whether it would survive to see the next general election.
“It is true, Umno’s influence has waned. But, it is also true that the Malaysian political context would not be stable if Malay and Islam politics continue to be in chaos without any consensus and united intent,” said Umno vice-president Datuk Khaled Nordin in an open letter last night, directed at his former deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Collaboration on the cards
Enter Pakatan Harapan (PH). In the fledgling ruling coalition, both parties see a common nemesis, and an alleged threat towards the Malay-Muslim bloc that makes up the bulk of its vote bank.
Among the six motions that were passed without debate in the muktamar was to defend the faith and position of Islam in the country, accusing PH of being lenient towards liberal and secular elements that oppose Islam.
In the past months, both PAS and Umno had agreed on thorny topics such as the alleged domination of non-Muslims in government top posts and the Parliament, the recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), and the usage of Malay language.
Both had also trained their guns of PH’s apparent support for racial, religious and sexual minorities, and its reformist attitudes towards matters involving Malays and Muslims.
The courtship continued with Umno Deputy President Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan heralding a “new political movement” between the two parties, and the later formalised ties in the Seri Setia by-election stump.
Gifted with a political upper hand, PAS has only been too happy to welcome Umno with open arms.
After Umno top leaders came out in force to attend the muktamar on Saturday, their president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was certainly not coy in expressing his desire to eventually form a new opposition coalition with PAS.
“I feel political changes will occur be it with the Government or the Opposition, we will see when the time comes,” Hadi was quoted saying afterwards.
Yesterday, PAS passed without debate a motion calling for the party to spearhead efforts to ensure the political survival of the Malay community and Islam in the country.
PAS delegates also unanimously passed another motion to empower its central leadership and the consultative Syura Council to determine the party’s direction and role in the Opposition, after days debating its collaboration with Umno.
The buzzword had been ta’awun siyasi, an Arabic term roughly translated as “political collaboration” — and just slightly more ambiguous than tahaluf siyasi, the “political consensus” that PAS had agreed upon with its Pakatan Rakyat allies previously.
This move came just days after Malay Mail reported Zahid admitting that Umno MPs had signed statutory declarations allowing him to negotiate with any parties to enable Umno to return to power.
Who will reap more rewards?
There is more than just bad blood between PAS and Umno — the former was arguably born from a bitter split with the latter.
In 1972, the two were both part of the Alliance coalition, and later Barisan Nasional, up until 1978.
Umno members may yet to forgive Hadi’s own mandate in 1981 which dubbed those who oppose PAS as infidels. Conversely, PAS members would not forget being branded extremists during the 1985 deadly Memali incident.
The delegates were not the only ones cautious about any betrayals from Umno.
In a not-so-subtle remark during his winding up speech, deputy president Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man had warned PAS against becoming “lifebuoys for sinners”, but rather a “lifebuoy” to save Malaysians.
“We will not be lumped together with sinners. Because it is Islam that will save us and so we invite the people to join us for success here and the hereafter,” he said.
The cynicism goes both ways. A recent study by Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS), a think tank linked to the more progressive camp within Umno, said the loose collaboration between the Opposition parties was ineffectual in regaining lost support in the Sungai Kandis and Balakong by-elections, and was minimally effective in Seri Setia.
In Sungai Kandis, Umno’s Datuk Lokman Noor Adam lost by a majority of 5,842 votes despite PAS’ backing, while in PAS’ Dr Halimah Ali trailed by 4,027 votes despite the formal campaign alliance. MCA had contested Balakong.
Cent-GPS said Umno voters were more likely to back PAS but vice versa, rendering the quid pro quo strongly in the Islamists favour.
And while banking on the Malay-Muslim narrative may have appeared to work for PAS, it did not for Umno — presumably due to Umno’s now tarnished credibility and previous political baggage.
If anything, reliance on PAS will only lead to Umno’s demise, Cent-GPS suggested.
“Whether the Umno leaders notice this or not, their handshake with PAS may in fact spell the end of their own party’s relevance in the political landscape as we know it,” it said in a statement on Friday.
Hadi seemed more than happy to prove his detractors wrong when it comes to PAS’ future with Umno, insisting that his delegates’ reception towards the idea had been surprisingly positive despite the media’s spotlight.
But wary about any possible backlash and seeming “too eager” for the alliance, Hadi had suggested that any formal decision would only be made following a special muktamar — mentioning that 1970s fling with then prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.
“As it stands, we are not in a rush,” he said.