Muslim pact could dominate Malaysian politics

Muslims make up the bulk of multicultural Malaysia’s population. Source Wikimedia

A Muslim Malaysian political party that split from the opposition bloc has declared its intention to make peace with the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), reviving dormant hopes of an Islamic coalition.

The Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), the country’s second largest Muslim-orientated party, confirmed its willingness to cooperate with UMNO, suggesting the possibility of a partnership that could allow them to dominate Malaysian politics and bolster UMNO’s grip on power as it was beginning to falter.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Najib Razak, president of UMNO, which is the major party in the National Alliance that has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957, spoke of PAS’s willingness to collaborate for “the benefit of Muslims” in the federation.

Takiyuddin Hassan, PAS secretary general, said his party wanted to uphold Islamic principles. Muslims make up to 70 per cent of the 30 million Malaysians.

“What has Islam taught us? It teaches us to forgive and forget … UMNO and PAS cannot be exempt from this teaching,” he said. “Despite political differences, we are prepared to collaborate with UMNO for the benefit of the ummah [community].”

Hassan added that the parties would co-operate to preserve Muslim’s dominant position in society.

He added that the party was currently explaining a UMNO deal to its members, as some important members were uneasy about an alliance.

“One has to understand that we are an opposition party and collaboration with a ruling party would be new to our members. Soon they would understand and [agree with] the party’s leadership,” Hassan added.

Razak showed true statesmanship when he offered Umno’s friendship to PAS, according to Sinar Harian columnist Ridhuan Tee Abdullah.

Statesmen build bridges instead of burning them, Tee said as he dismissed claims that Razak was showing signs of desperation.

“If they keep burning bridges, this beloved nation will be destroyed,” he wrote.

The controversial preacher said the alliance was overdue. “That is, unless they want to be governed by the ultra kiasu,” he sneers, using his term for opposition politicians or those perceived to be enemies of Islam.

Tee urges Umno to stop attacking PAS unless the latter strayed from the Islamic path.

In the general election, he said, Umno should not contest in areas dominated by PAS, saying the funds saved could help flood victims and others in need.

During the recent Umno general assembly, Razak expressed his happiness over PAS’ split from the opposition pact. He said an alliance between Umno and PAS would help ensure that Malaysia developed along Islamic lines.

During his opening speech at the UMNO General Assembly this month, Razak said he was open to re-negotiating with PAS.

PAS did not join other opposition parties in rejecting Razak’s 2016 budget in parliament last month.

“In the budget vote, they abstained from voting against the budget. Although they did not vote in our favour, they did not reject it either,” he said. “These are encouraging signs to me.”

PAS broke ties with the opposition alliance, Hope Pact, over the implementation of Islamic law in one of the opposition-ruled states.

The party’s president, Abdul Hadi Awang, was silent on various controversies revolving around Razak, including the discovery of a US$700 million “political donation” in his personal bank accounts and a debt-ridden state investment fund.

UMNO has 88 seats in the House of Representatives. PAS, which controls northeastern Kelantan state and has strong footholds in neighbouring Terengganu and Perak, has 14 Lower House MPs.

“The UMNO and PAS collaboration would definitely win various West Malaysian states, and subsequently the federal government,” said Soi Lek, a former president of the Malaysian Chinese Association, the second largest party in the National Alliance.

“The non-Muslim parties in the National Alliance meanwhile will have to scratch a living on the fringes of the political mainstream which would be dominated by the duo.”

PAS was founded in 1951 by Islamic clerics in UMNO and has more than 1.1 million members.

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