IT came as quite a shock to many when Pas and Pribumi Bersatu announced last week that they had set up a joint technical committee to work out ways for the two parties to work together in the coming 14th general election.
This was especially so, because Pas of late appeared to have been enjoying an increasingly cordial relationship with Umno and that has led many observers to believe the rival Malay Muslim parties may join forces soon.
The fact that the statement on the joint technical committee was made by Pas deputy president Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man and his Pribumi Bersatu counterpart Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir added to the seriousness of the matter.
Pas président Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang was nonetheless quick to play down the significance of the matter by describing it as a “normal meeting” and that the final decision on whether his party will work with Pribumi Bersatu would only be decided by the Pas central committee.
He even added: ”We have set up a guideline and boundary, that is, Pas will not cooperate with any party which have relationship with DAP and Amanah.”
Pribumi Bersatu, consisting mostly renegade Umno leaders and members, is an ally of DAP and Amanah, which are now Pas’ bitter foes after the collapse of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in 2015.
Several other top Pas’ leaders had also been issuing their own statements which were similar to Hadi’s, keeping the possibility of a Pas-Umno political cooperation alive.
Nonetheless, Tuan Ibrahim, in an exclusive interview with The Mole on Monday, reiterated that Pas will never have any kind of political cooperation with Umno.
He even pointed out that the Pas’ stand on the matter had actually been said many times by Hadi himself.
“Logically, Umno will not follow our terms, for instance, it will not give up its seats in Terengganu to us. Likewise, we (Pas) will not give up our seats in Kelantan to them. We maintain our stand as an opposition party. That (electoral cooperation with Umno) has never crossed our mind,” Tuan Ibrahim was quoted as saying.
On the warming of ties between Pas and Umno of late, particularly effort by both to help the displaced Rohingyas, he said: “Contrary to popular beliefs, we do not cooperate with Umno. In fact, the solidarity and charity events that we had attended were not organised by Umno, but by the non-governmental bodies together with the government to stop the genocide.”
Those unfamiliar with the long history of enmity between Pas and Umno may find these conflicting statements on the Islamist party’s stand rather baffling.
But not so for people such as Kelantan Umno liaison chairman Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, who understands that political cooperation between the two parties cannot be achieved by just the show of goodwill between leaders of both sides.
Last Saturday, Mustapa, whose home state has been under Pas’ control long before he became the Umno chief there, said it would be meaningless for leaders at the highest level to cooperate if they fail to set aside the differences at the grassroots level because “at the village level, there is still animosity”.
The reality is that more time is needed if Pas and Umno are to really work together as political allies, but unfortunately they cannot afford such a luxury as the next general election is drawing near.
Most Pas leaders know this, and for those among them who are more direct in their approach such as Tuan Ibrahim, it is better for the party leaders not to risk antagonising the grassroots with talks of political cooperation with Umno, which they had portrayed among the members as their number one enemy for the past decades.
It is understandable that those who are hoping for a solid Malay Muslim front consisting of Umno and Pas in the next general election are mostly dismayed by the latest development.
However, others, especially Umno’s allies such as MCA and Gerakan will be thrilled by the latest development.
The two Chinese-based Barisan Nasional component parties have been struggling to persuade Umno not to work with Pas as they fear it would spell the end of any hope for them to win back support from their core support base which were mostly lost to DAP in the last general election in 2013.
MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai last month even warned that BN may break up if Umno proceeded with the much anticipated cooperation with Pas for the latter’s Sharia Amendment Bill, a.k.a RUU355.
Now that Pas appears to be non-committal to the prospect of political cooperation with Umno, BN could once again be focused on preparing for the next general election the way it has always been doing – presenting itself as a moderate multi-racial coalition with proven good track record of governing the country.
BN’s strength has always been their large and structured party machinery on the ground and the ruling coalition should capitalise on this by redoubling efforts on directly engaging the rakyat on bread and butter issue, instead of being bogged down by sentiments played to maximum effect by the opposition, especially in the social media.
Done properly, BN may see a resurgence of support from even the Chinese community, which so famously deserted it in 2013.
Signs were there that the percentage of Chinese votes for BN might likely increase as evident in the Sarawak election in May last year when BN did exactly the right things to win the heart and mind of the community.
Everyone in BN should also be assured that the coalition will remain solid in Sabah and Sarawak, where the people are generally known to be not very comfortable with Pas’ brand of Islam. The two states are now arguably the most bankable fixed deposits of the coalition.
Even in the Peninsular, BN’s chances in the next general election should not actually be any less if Pas refused to cooperate with Umno.
In a three-cornered fight scenario, BN actually stands a better chance in Kelantan, Terengganu, and Kedah because Pas’ vote bank of anti-Umno Malays would be divided between itself and that of the main opposition coalition.
In the present political environment, where the opposition parties are divided and fractious, BN need to look inward and see how they can work on their strengths to improve their prospects in the coming general election instead of tearing down their founding ideals and wasting resources to chase something that is less certain.