KUALA LUMPUR: With a national cooperation charter inked by former nemesis United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) over the weekend, Malaysian politics will likely take on even stronger racial undertones, said analysts interviewed by CNA.
Despite promises that PAS and UMNO would be inclusive, playing the race card to win over rural voters would be a matter of political expediency, they also said. In this regard, the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition cannot afford to take things for granted.
The document signed by UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang on Saturday (Sep 14) is a code of conduct on how both parties should move towards the next general election.
It outlined five main points, including upholding the constitution while ensuring that Islam remains the official religion.
Both sides also said they will uphold the Islamic, Malay and bumiputra agendas in a constitutional framework to build prosperity, among others. The charter also said that the rights of the minorities will not be denied.
The event which was held at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur was met with much fanfare from the hardcore supporters, with a crowd of over 50,000 present at the signing ceremony.
PROTECTING MALAY RIGHTS
For the PAS-UMNO alliance to succeed, they will need to create a narrative that PH is not protecting the rights of the Malays, said Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s Dr Jeniri Amir.
“They will have to paint a picture that Pakatan was eroding the rights of the Malays and they can only do so by riding on effective communication strategies.
“In other words, what PAS and UMNO would need to do is to play up the racial and religious sentiments or any other issues affecting the rights of the Muslims,” he said.
Analysts also noted a hidden agenda behind the charter, that of galvanising the Malays.
Dr Jeniri said: “They realise that only by enticing Muslims as a majority race, can they can win more seats ... What they have done is taken the easy way forward because the entire charter is entirely rooted in the conventional issues of race and religion which is close to the hearts of the Malays,” he said.
Political analyst Andrew Aeria explained that although UMNO said that the charter would be “inclusive” and benefits all races, it ultimately only served the purpose of one community.
“In a world that is being driven by racist and self-righteous right-wing religious sentiments, this latest union is but an attempt to exploit race and religion in the pursuit of remaining relevant to those who subscribe to such ideologies," he said.
Mr Aeria added that PAS and UMNO do not seem to have any policy proposals to increase economic and technological competitiveness. "Their political platform looks backward instead of forward,” he said.
STRONG RURAL BASE
As things stand, the two parties already have a strong rural base that they can depend on, said analysts.
Universiti Sains Malaysia's Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid explained that the charter would only be appealing to “certain kinds” of Malays.
He elaborated that the charter would entice those who are not used to the idea of living together in a multicultural society.
“For those of us who are living in urban communities, we are used to communicating with non-Muslims and we do not see them as a 'threat'. The charter will instead appeal to the more close-minded or narrow- minded individuals.
“What everyone needs to realise is we will never revert to the ages of Tanah Melayu (Malay land). Since 1957 (after independence), it has been agreed that all races in this country have a stake and that the Malaysian Chinese and the Malaysian Indians will remain here forever,” he added.
He also noted that PAS' established party machinery would give both parties control over most rural votes and even urban votes in the Malay heartlands, namely Kelantan, Terengganu, Perlis and Pahang.
"If anything, they need to work on Kedah, but they also have a strong base there,” he said.
READ: Commentary - As battle for Malay voters heats up, don’t expect PAS to go quietly into the night
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL
Many questions remain over how both parties will work together in concrete terms.
At a press conference following the signing, Mr Abdul Hadi had said that UMNO will have a hand in administrative issues in states run by the Islamist party. He then went on to say that UMNO and PAS were now “one family”.
Both sides also said they will not fight for the same seats in the next general election.
From the days of Memali in 1985 where UMNO leadership caused the death of 14 PAS members, until the recent general election, the two parties have always been at loggerheads to a point that they saw each other as primary contenders when contesting a seat in the elections.
The question now remains on whether the two parties would be able to truly put behind the bitter past and move ahead as one unit.
Analysts say that it was extremely important for the two parties to show sincerity in the relationship.
“The reality now however is that the whole landscape has changed. UMNO is now in the opposition and both PAS and UMNO realise that the only way to face their opposition is by joining hands," noted Dr Jeniri.
"However, if they really want to ensure that this collaboration is realised, they have to be sincere,” he said, adding that PAS would need to pave way for UMNO to have a hand in states run by it.
Dr Ahmad Fauzi said that if both parties really want to prove that they can cooperate, they will need to show it at the state level.
“Especially in the states that they both rule. I think it will be good for the rakyat (people) to see first that they can cooperate and handle the situation properly. The people would also be able to see if the non-Muslims are going to be marginalised."
PH IN DENIAL?
The response from Putrajaya to the new charter has been mixed, with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad pouring cold water on the pact.
“I cannot understand how UMNO can work with PAS because UMNO is ‘kafir’ (infidels). How can they cooperate with PAS?” he reportedly asked.
On the other hand, others like Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng have warned said the charter was a rejection of moderate Malaysia.
Dr Jeniri opined that PH is downplaying the situation, without understanding the real risks.
“Pakatan is trying to belittle this cooperation. In reality, it is a nightmare for them, especially Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia was (formed) to advocate the rights of Malays.
“The reality is UMNO and PAS are going to hit hard on the seats won by Bersatu and PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat). So Pakatan cannot take this cooperation for granted."
Dr Ahmad Fauzi said that PH needs to focus on fulfilling its election promises.
“The voting age now is changed to 18 and at that age, the voters will not have political inclinations. They will just vote for those who deliver. So what Pakatan needs to do is exactly that,” he said.