MARCH 1 — Last week, Umno decided to not contest in the Chempaka by-election for the sake of “Muslim unity.” The seat fell vacant after the death of PAS spiritual adviser Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.
Deservedly, the suggestion was lauded by PAS information chief Mahfuz Omar not only with open arms, but with a cynical suggestion for Umno to just abstain from any future elections to end politicking and social schism, insisting that Malaysia would end up “more peaceful” afterwards.
Since when has Umno cared about “unity” in any sense? In the decades it has ruled the country, Umno has unashamedly leaned on divisive racial politics and policies.
Increasingly in recent years, Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) have even condoned divisive and incendiary remarks and actions of people friendly to them, doing nothing to quell racial and religious schisms but instead perpetuating them.
Umno is only showing its true colours. It has little interest in “national unity”, caring more about just “Muslim unity.”
Even then, this newfound care for “Muslim unity” is nothing more than an excuse to cover up the fact and the shame that Umno has no chance in hell of winning Chempaka after Nik Aziz’s death, no matter who it puts in the ring.
Muslims have no reason to be united for the sake of Islam. Islam is not a gang where its members need to unite and obey the big captains in order to protect its own.
United or not, Islam will still be there to be practised and followed by those who truly believe in its teachings. Islam’s death would not come from disunity, only from non-practice.
Regardless, the call for PAS-Umno unity for the sake of Islam has rung ever louder in the past year.
Putrajaya’s goodwill for PAS-ruled Kelantan after the east coast state was ravaged by the worst flood in recent times was said to be a catalyst and a start-off point for collaborations between the two Muslim-dominated parties.
Putrajaya helping Kelantan should be the rule, not the exception. Last time I checked, Kelantan has yet to secede and form an Islamic sultanate of its own. The federal government still has its obligation to all states.
But do PAS leaders truly believe in a unity administration together with Umno?
My bet is no, chiefly for two reasons. First, history has taught PAS a bitter lesson after its five-year stint as a junior BN partner in early 1970s. Second, PAS has a deep mistrust of secular Malay-majority parties — as evident in its shaky Pakatan Rakyat (PR) ties.
PAS has consistently reaffirmed its alliance with PR in the last few muktamar, or annual congresses, despite a couple of caveats on not compromising its Islamic direction.
Last week, PAS vice-president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man — perhaps one of its most level-headed leaders — stressed that PAS can never accept Umno’s corruption.
Even Dr Khairuddin Aman Razali, a poster boy of its clerical wing, denounced rumours of a tryst, accusing Umno of trying to break off its alliance with PR.
Khairuddin might be right. PAS’ relationship with DAP has never been more tenuous than now, and is ripe for sabotage.
The two have continued to be at loggerheads over the administration of Penang and Kelantan, a situation that arguably has been made worse with the absence of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.
It is perhaps no secret that some in DAP might not want PAS to stay in PR, and vice-versa.
The rise of attacks against DAP from several up-and-coming PAS leaders fulfils several needs. One, to satiate some members’ persistent worry that the party is being made a “pillion rider” in PR.
Two, to bolster said leaders’ credentials and bravado among the grassroots. After all, the next party polls will come around in just around four months’ time.
There will always be those who feel that PAS’ alliance with DAP has made it worse for Muslims in the country.
Hardline Islamists see DAP as a threat and challenge against the supremacy of the Malays and Islam. And they need this “threat” to justify their under-siege mentality and their subsequent lash-out.
It is these folks that the PAS-Umno lobbyists are targeting. Malay daily Sinar Harian, for example, has published headlines not-so-subtly supporting the idea of a unity government. It might as well play broker.
Just last week, we also had newly-returned Perlis mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin — himself a Sinar darling — suggesting that PAS-Umno unity is “demanded by Islam.” How do you argue when a mufti himself decrees it so?
There is a split in PAS, that much is obvious. The past few weeks have seen accusations lobbed against its deputy president Mohamad Sabu and election director Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli.
There are factions in PAS, but perhaps nothing to do with Umno.
On one side, we have the literalists, whose end goal is the country run as an Islamic state. The controversial Islamic penal law of hudud, for example, is a be-all and end-all.
On another are the pragmatists who see Islam as not the end goal, but a guideline for running a country with Islamic values.
And among the two, an ongoing debate over how much power should the clergy class hold in a political party that also happens to wear the hat of an religious evangelical movement.
Amid all that, a PAS-Umno unity can be another convenient bullet for one faction to assassinate the other.
PAS would survive even without BN or PR. But it can only be in a ruling coalition with either one.
If PAS wishes to join in administering a country as pluralistic as Malaysia, it best realise that the “Muslim unity” agenda should be nowhere at the top of its priorities.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.