March 14, 2019.
Recollections & Reflections – A commentary
TOGETHER they have only 61 seats in the Dewan Rakyat, Malaysia’s lower House in Parliament which sits 222 MPs and are a long, long way from becoming a real threat to the ruling Pakatan Harapan and yet the Umno-PAS axis that was recently agreed upon officially seems to be such a big deal that it continues to attract all manner of unkind reactions from the opposite side.
The main concern from the non-Malay elements and the liberal, urban Malay middle-class is that such a collaboration between two Malay and Muslim dominated political parties will only mean an impediment to hopes of a Malaysia that is truly multi-racial and one that is finally ready to part ways with race-based politics almost 62 years after independence from British colonial rule.
Race-based politics has indeed dominated Malaysian politics and to understand how this came about one has to study history beyond the Merdeka (independence) years, to the time when the British were very much in control of this country. Umno, MCA, MIC, PAS, Gerakan and DAP in the peninsula were all parties born out of racial and religious considerations and the new kids on the block like Pribumi Bersatu and Amanah are no different, which doesn’t make Umno and PAS an exceptions to the rule.
Well before the 14th general elections last May 9, a friend from Kelantan came out with what some of us thought was a brilliant idea and that was for Umno and PAS to work together. “Umno/Barisan Nasional shouldn’t waste time and resources to fight a losing battle against PAS in Kelantan and in other areas where Umno has been dominant, PAS should reciprocate by not contesting” was his suggestion.
It was forwarded to an operative of a senior Umno leader but the fact that nothing close to such an understanding was reached appears to suggest that the idea didn’t travel beyond the confines of his office.
That’s all in the past though but that Umno and PAS have finally decided to work together again means that the upper echelons in both set-ups have realised the political benefits of such collaboration, regardless of the aghast felt by the doubters.
Those who do know the background of both Umno and PAS would be the least surprised that these two are back together as allies. The issues they had before are a different story and will be dealt with a little later.
There was never a PAS when Umno was formed in Johor Baru on May 10, 1946, during the third Malay Congress, with most politically aware Malays putting their support behind an Umno that decided the Malayan Union initiated by the British was something to be opposed. That was the starting platform for Umno.
It was only about five years later that PAS came to be born and that too as a splinter by Islamist elements within Umno led by Ahmad Puad Hassan. Even then Puad and friends agreed to allow their followers to retain their Umno membership.
But although it took something like 21 years, the two sides agreed to work together again, as announced by then president Datuk Asri Muda (later Tan Sri). PAS stayed as a member of the Barisan Nasional until the end of 1977, during which time it contested the 1974 elections under the BN flag.
The splitting of ways was a result of the Kelantan Mentri Besar crisis in 1977, with Kuala Lumpur clearly siding with Datuk Mohamed Nasir much to the displeasure and chagrin of Asri.
That’s the story of a bitter fallout no doubt but it was something that happened 41 years ago and a lot of water has passed under the bridge, not forgetting too of course other issues that caused a hiccup here and there since.
This though is the present and Umno and PAS have decided that the time is right for them to be friends again, whatever their real motive may be.
To those on the other side it is a relationship that spells only gloomy news for the country’s political future, especially to those wishing for a truly multi-racial political environment. The two parties have also declared the non-Malays will not be ignored and numbers from the 14 general elections Malaysia has had since independence in 1957 proof that only a multi-racial coalition can hope to govern this country. The Umno-PAS alliance will thus need to look for a non-Malay or multi-racial partner if it hopes to lead the country and we can be sure this is what they’ll do when the time comes.
When looked at it with a clear mind, there would be the realisation that the critics and detractors have voiced their views loud and clear and in double quick time because they could all see how an Umno-PAS alliance could do the trick. Cameron Highlands and Semenyih are two most recent examples and these are not good for the ego of Pakatan Harapan after the momentum it enjoyed after GE14 in May.
The issues Umno and PAS had between them years ago should not come in the way and be used as a point against them. After all wasn’t it Pakatan chairman and Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad himself who decided to be forgiving with his former deputy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, those in the DAP, PKR and Amanah who heaped upon him derogatory names and wished him the worst?
Or has Mahathir himself forgotten his oft repeated mantra about the Malays being mudah lupa or ever so forgetful?