KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 — Umno and PAS’ Muafakat Nasional (MN) charter reinvigorated the Opposition via a landslide victory in the Tanjung Piai by-election last month and went on to dominate discourse at the Malay nationalist party’s annual assembly.
Umno’s Barisan Nasional (BN) partners have also signalled their acceptance of MN, with MIC saying outright it would join the charter; MCA has expressed “comfort” with cooperating.
At the Umno General Assembly, many delegates urged the party leadership to formalise the charter, effectively turning it into a new coalition that would supersede BN.
Observers told Malay Mail, however, that such a move would eliminate the remnants of multiracialism in the Opposition and set the parties on a path that could be detrimental to the country.
Media consultant Terence Fernandez said he is very pessimistic about the intent behind MN and its likelihood for success. He said BN already embodied the claims Umno and PAS are making about BN, minus the Malay-Muslim facade.
“On the flip side, it can be argued that minority groups are part of MN to work as a check-and-balance against chauvinistic ideologies and policies.
“However, remember MCA, MIC and Gerakan and other coalition partners failed to steer Umno towards a moderate path when BN was in power which cost it minority votes. Coupled with corruption and economic issues, it lost the election,” said Fernandez.
He also observed that after the leadership of its late president Datuk Seri Nik Aziz Nik Mat, PAS showed it was averse to inclusivity and was focused only on Muslims.
The former journalist said MN could be a political move to convince non-Malays that PAS was inclusive, capitalising on the MCA victory in the Tanjung Piai by election.
Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun cautioned MCA and MIC against joining MN and formalising it, saying this would harm their already-dwindling support among Chinese and Indians, respectively.
He said the two should not be seduced by the strong Malay support Umno and PAS were able to deliver in Tanjung Piai.
“BN is gradually morphing into a subset of MN, with MCA and MIC as the token multiracial image projections. An extension of MN.
“It could detract their already-dwindling support from their respective communities, as the hobnob with Umno and PAS was bad enough, what more opening up membership to dilute their racialist images,” said Oh.
University of Tasmania’s Professor James Chin was especially critical of MIC’s readiness to joining MN.
Chin such a move would effectively end BN’s multiracial platform in favour of one based on Malay-Muslim interests.
“MIC said yes because they are totally irrelevant to Malaysian politics now. They still want to be a Umno/PAS running dog. They think if they support they will get some seats in the GE,” Chin said.
Geostrategist Professor Azmi Hasan also saw no clear reason for the Opposition to prefer the new MN over BN, which he said still has the best political formula for the country.
While acknowledging that the recent success of the Umno-PAS collaboration made it enticing to consider MN as an alternative, he said formalising this was unlikely to yield additional benefits and advantages.
“As I see it, Muafakat should remain as it is, which is a loose coalition of Umno and PAS, with friendly parties becoming a part of the coalition under an informal capacity, as what transpired during Tanjung Piai by election.
“Yes, it’s true that some in Umno and PAS are buoyed by the Tanjung Piai winning results, and asked for a formal coalition within the Muafakat spirit, but I think the current Muafakat which is bound by an understanding only, is a good set up,” he added.
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Professor Sivamurugan Pandian delivered a similar prognosis and said BN was also the easier “sell” in the country.
Noting that quasi-formal political collaborations have worked in the past, he said MN was effective enough as a side partnership for now.
“It’s like APU and GR in 1990,” he said, referring to the coalition of Opposition parties which gathered under the Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (APU) and Gagasan Rakyat (GR) flags, then.
For Malaysia Hakka-Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s Datuk Cheah See Kian, BN’s time was already over.
He pointed out that MCA and MIC held just three federal seats together compared to Umno’s remaining 38 and the 18 of PAS.
Cheah said it was also more important for the Opposition to find a leader it could rally under instead of whether to continue with BN or assemble under a new coalition.