Calls grow within PAS for the Islamist party to team up with Umno after Melaka poll

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has found itself between a rock and hard place following the Melaka state election, torn between working with Umno, the big winner in the poll, or its partner in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).

A senior PAS member, Nik Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz, who is a member of parliament as well as the party’s central committee, on Wednesday (Nov 24) joined growing calls for PAS to work with Umno.

He said that it was time for a political realignment, reminding top PAS leaders that it was better off for the party to “lick its wounds” and team up with the Malay-centric party.

But PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang on Thursday said that he was seeking a grand coalition of all three Malay parties.

The Islamist party is aligned to both Umno and Bersatu but through separate pacts – with Umno in Muafakat Nasional (MN) and Bersatu in PN.

PAS and Umno have been at loggerheads for years but that changed in 2019 when both agreed to the MN pact. Umno blocked Bersatu from joining MN.

Both Umno and PN help to prop up the government of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri who only enjoys a slim majority in parliament.

“PAS upholds the concept of unity in accordance with the Islamic perspective, which is the unity of Muslims, and also the unity amongst diverse people, including non-Muslims. Therefore, PAS rejects MN which only involves Umno and PAS,” Tan Sri Abdul Hadi said on Facebook.

“PAS also rejects the ideology that denies the existence of diverse communities which needs to be addressed through a wider coalition which is PN,” he added.

Mr Abdul Hadi likened MN and PN as “two arms belonging to one body,” saying that they could not exist separately.

In the Melaka polls on Nov 20, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition won 21 out of the 28 seats at stake to regain its two-thirds majority in the legislative assembly. The opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition took five and PN the remaining two.

PAS lost in all the seats it contested under the PN banner but the party claims that it got more votes in Melaka than the previous poll in 2018.

Political observers say that the defeat in the Melaka polls has led some PAS members to push for cooperation with Umno, believing that it will otherwise be difficult for PAS to strengthen its position in the next general election.

“Only Umno is able to provide a brighter coupling compared to Bersatu, it’s proven in the Melaka election. So it’s not surprising if PAS returns to MN when the time comes,” University of Malaya socio-political analyst Assoc Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi told The Straits Times.

“There is no issue of being embarrassed for making a U-turn, it’s not a foreign move in politics… as long as it can benefit and ensure their political position is not threatened,” he said, claiming that PAS’ grassroots prefer cooperating with Umno than Bersatu.

But Prof James Chin, who specialises in Malaysian politics at the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute, thinks otherwise.

“A lot of PAS members hold a deep animosity towards Umno and many of Umno’s core supporters hate PAS – both accuse each other of breaking Malay unity,” he told ST.

“Based on my assessment, it would be very difficult for Umno and PAS to come together,” he said.

Prof Chin added that Umno might be in an unforgiving mode to accept PAS after the clean sweep in Melaka.

As for the Islamist party, he said, it may find working with Bersatu’s leader, former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, easier as there was no historical baggage between them.

“It’s likely that PAS will stick with Muhyiddin, at least for now. It also depends on the political environment just before GE15. PAS just wants to go with the winning team because they want to be in the federal government. But I think Hadi has more or less made up his mind to stick with Muhyiddin,” he said.

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