KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's two oldest political parties - UMNO and PAS - signed a charter of formal cooperation on Saturday (Sep 14), presenting arguably the largest political platform for the majority Malay-Muslims.
The political cooperation charter, known as National Consensus Charter, was signed by both party presidents - Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for UMNO and Abdul Hadi Awang for PAS. It marks the start of political collaboration between the two largest Malay/Muslim-based parties in the country.
The event was attended by thousands of supporters at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
The union between PAS and former ruling party UMNO, which was ousted by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's coalition in a general election last year, promises that political power will return to the ethnic Malay-Muslims should they win in the next polls due by 2023.
"The confusion within the government now is because of the absence of brave and worthy Malay leaders," Zahid said at the signing of the charter.
Prime Minister Mahathir's administration has had to delay or withdraw many of its planned reforms after a backlash from the opposition and conservative groups representing ethnic Malays.
Malaysia had to withdraw plans to ratify a UN convention against racial discrimination, and to accede to the Rome Statute, which would have seen it joining the International Criminal Court.
Mahathir has also had to repeatedly state that the government would not extradite Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, despite an ongoing police investigation for alleged stoking of racial sentiments.
"We have seen several government policies that have made us Muslims feel threatened ... the government now is just pressing down on the Malays and Islam," university student Mohamad Ilman Hakim said at the charter signing event.
Mohamad Ilman, 21, said the UMNO-PAS union is necessary to push for greater Malay-Muslim representation in positions of power, particularly in government and parliament.
"We see this as a union of the the faithful that will be a platform to help the Malays and Muslims to get their voices out."
About 60 per cent of Malaysia's population of 32 million are Malay, but the country is also home to substantial ethnic Indian and ethnic Chinese communities who do not usually follow Islam.
Leaders from the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition have criticised the UMNO-PAS pact as championing Malay-centre interests.
“They will create racial politics and there will be an extreme racist political movement," said Selangor PH chairman Amirudin Shari on Saturday.
“I’m worried. Even if they have their basic (party) constitutions, I really hope they will not go to the extreme in fighting for their political causes."
Zahid Hamidi insisted the move would not deepen racial and religious divides.
"UMNO and PAS will ensure that this cooperation will not separate, distance or make enemies of any race or religion in this beloved nation," he was quoted as saying by news portal Malaysiakini.