Analysts: When push comes to shove, PAS may still pick Umno over Bersatu

A PAS flag flies on a mast at Kompleks PAS Kedah in Alor Setar April 27, 2017. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A PAS flag flies on a mast at Kompleks PAS Kedah in Alor Setar April 27, 2017. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 1 — Political pundits say there is still a chance PAS will partner with Umno going into the next general election, even if the Islamist party recently announced its partnership with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan said the joint statement made by PAS and Bersatu was nothing new.  

“The statement is just reciprocal on what happened during the weekend (Umno general assembly) when Umno was adamant that they want to sever ties with Bersatu. 

“Would PAS honour its agreement with Bersatu? For the time being, yes, it looks like PAS is adamant that it wants to work with Bersatu but as I have said, anything can happen from today until GE15 or Parliament is dissolved,” Azmi told Malay Mail

He pointed out that the agreement is not cast in stone. “PAS still has a little bit of choice, a little bit of leeway to work with Umno. 

“And since our politics is very dynamic, there will be changes when GE15 is nearer,” he said. 

One of the reasons PAS may choose to work with Umno, Azmi said, is because the Islamist party stands to benefit more by going with Umno.

“Strategically, PAS will go with Umno because at the end of the day, Umno is the real ‘enemy’. 

“If PAS co-operates with Umno for seat allocations, they (PAS) can benefit the most from it, compared to working with Bersatu,” Azmi explained.

“Because if PAS agrees to seat allocations with Bersatu, they will need to face Umno, and Umno is a formidable force wherever PAS is going — whether in Kelantan, Terengganu, or Kedah,” he said. 

Azmi also said Bersatu currently lacks grassroots support, which would be a critical factor in a tightly-fought general election.

He added that Bersatu’s “strength” in Parliament is bolstered by defectors from Umno, which means there is no guarantee that they would not cross back over if Bersatu does not emerge victorious in GE15.

PAS is allied to Umno via Muafakat Nasional (MN) and to Bersatu in the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition. The party is caught between the feuding parties that are set to clash in GE15.

According to Azmi, the old guard of PAS is the faction that continues to hang on to Umno.

“But the professional leadership — the younger members of PAS — are more inclined to work with Bersatu because they are the government of the day.

“They are basically two groups at loggerheads on whether to work with Umno or to work with Bersatu,” he said. 

Throughout the Umno-Bersatu feud, PAS has repeatedly tried to mediate by reminding them of the importance to preserve Malay-Muslim unity.

At the Umno general assembly last week, however, some Umno leaders demanded that PAS choose a side in the feud.

According to Azmi, the best platform for PAS to push for unity is to pick MN. “(By doing so) this will force Bersatu to be more friendly towards MN, if that is the real reason why PAS is still supporting Perikatan Nasional (PN) now,” he said. 

At the Umno general assembly, party president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi reminded PAS of the commitment their parties made to one another in the MN charter.

Among other things, it was agreed the two would not join other political coalitions independently, such as PAS has done by becoming an official member of PN.

Azmi also said that PAS will increasingly aggravate Umno if it continues to side with Bersatu.

“In the long run, Bersatu needs grassroots support — they need more divisions and branches set up — but as we can see now, it is having problems trying to pull grassroots support to the point where it is resorting to try to ‘steal’ Umno members. 

“That is why Umno is so upset,” he said. 

Universiti Malaya associate professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi agrees with Azmi that there is still a possibility of PAS shifting its support. 

“PAS is considered as very unpredictable with its political decisions and if it can turn its backs on Umno and Muafakat Nasional, there could be a possibility that it may change its mind about working with Bersatu to face GE15,” he said. 

But the downside to PAS changing its mind again to support Umno later could cost it voters’ trust, and create a bad public perception towards the Islamist party. 

“By then if PAS wants to return to work with Umno, not all of Umno’s members would accept that, due to its fickle-mindedness and inconsistency,” he added. 

Awang Azman said PAS was not set on one ally or the other and changes its position depending on how it benefits the party.

With Bersatu controlling the government at the moment, he said PAS considers it more beneficial to side with the former for the time being.

“So when Parliament is dissolved, PAS could see this as an opportunity to reunite with Umno, because by then, Bersatu no longer has power nor is it beneficial to PAS,” he explained. 

Awang Azman also said PAS would have much better chances of winning in the general election if it were to compete with Umno rather than against it.

“PAS can secure between 20 to 25 seats if it teamed up with Umno. If it doesn’t, it risks only winning 10 parliamentary seats,” he predicted.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid noted that the mutual agreement is predicated on the continuity of the PN government. 

“So the configuration may well change in August (2021) the earliest. 

“For example, can the PN government sustain itself once all Umno MPs officially withdraw support for it, and if and when Umno ministers and deputy ministers resign? 

“Once the reason behind the above agreement evaporates, it’s not impossible to see PAS veering towards honouring its Muafakat Nasional pact with Umno, especially if Umno looks more likely to be in a commanding position at the a next post-PN government,” he said. 

Ahmad Fauzi also said that PAS is still compatriots of both Bersatu and Umno. 

“In a polygamous relationship, when your first and second wives don’t get along with each other, you don’t necessarily have to divorce one in favour of the other! 

“Better if you work towards mending their relationship, which is what PAS hopes will happen by August,” he said. 

Moreover, he said that Umno also appears to be the party that is more eager to court PAS, noting the signals sent out during the Umno assembly.

Among others, Umno president Zahid promised to amend the Federal Constitution to strengthen Shariah law in Malaysia if his party were to gain a supermajority at the general election, which Ahmad Fauzi said was a clear signal to PAS.

“Implementation of Shariah law is the lifeblood of PAS, and PAS may well consider it more fruitful to have Umno than Bersatu in the driving seat to steer the federal government in the direction of harmonising Shariah with civil laws.

“Despite being in the government for over a year, and having only one of its own as the de facto law minister (Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan), PAS’ Shariah law goal appears to have taken a back seat, when only recently the prime minister’s department laid down its plans for RUU355 [Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965]” said Ahmad Fauzi. 

On March 15, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Ahmad Marzuk Shaary said several new Shariah legislation will be created and others amended under a five-year plan.

Ahmad Fauzi also pointed out that for election purposes, Umno offers a more rewarding partnership in terms of having Malay grassroots support, which matters most in a general election. 

“Looking at the rural bias in Malaysia’s constituencies, this contrasts with Bersatu, which has been unable to shrug off its pathetic image as a party of defectors,” he said.

In a response to Malay Mail, PAS Youth chief Khairil Nizam said his party will remain in MN and support PN. 

“We are consistent,” he said. 

According to Khairil, while it is uncertain at the moment, the possibility of PAS working with Umno is still relevant. 

“Yes, surely there is a chance. We will wait and see,” he said. 

As for the party’s election plans, Khairil said at the moment, it is focused on avoiding situations where his party, Umno, and Bersatu may end up overlapping in the contest.

“Now we want to focus on looking for a common ground among the three parties so that we will arrive at a point where it is one-on-one fight with Pakatan Harapan,” he said. 


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