PAS does not want to merge with Umno — why should it do that?

Zubaidah Abu Bakar

Zubaidah Abu Bakar, The Rakyat Post

DATUK Seri Abdul Hadi Awang went fishing at a time some segments in his Islamist party are troubled and feeling uncomfortable over PAS’ flirting, yet again, with arch-rival Umno, purportedly for Malay unity.

It is not that Hadi is not oblivious that people are worried and talking about on-going speculations within PAS and also Umno that the two Malay-based parties are allegedly seeking to renew old ties and that PAS is rejoining Barisan Nasional.

Angling is Hadi’s favourite pastime and he is said to often set out on fishing trips, locally and abroad, to relax the mind.

The hobby, after all, is a therapy; an activity that not only requires a lot of patience but also an opportunity to reflect on things as well as, for Muslims, it provide a space to get closer to the Creator by reciting of short prayers (berzikir) and in expressing gratitude.

Hadi went on a day-long mukhayyam (camping) in Tasik Kenyir, a fishing heaven in his home state Terengganu, a day before Muslims commemorated Maulidur Rasul, the birth of Prophet Muhammad.

He was proud with his catch — a big ikan belida and posed for pictures that were later uploaded on his official Facebook account.

Hadi has been taking the criticisms levelled at him by his own party members in his stride.

He is aware that some are unhappy that he was being “too close” with Umno and about speculations over overtures purportedly taking place between PAS and Umno for the common ground of Malay unity, causing ripples in PAS.

It cannot be denied that there is a kind of uneasiness at all levels in the party after Hadi shared the stage with Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak at a seminar organised by the World Association of Al-Azhar Graduates Malaysia a fortnight ago.

This came not long after Najib offered PAS the olive branch during his presidential address at the Umno General Assembly.

The Hadi/Najib event certainly created a euphoria among some Malay/Muslims who felt comfortable that there was still hope of Malay unity, but not so for some segments in PAS.

Many people — outsiders and from within PAS and Umno, too — may be reading too deep into this PAS-Umno display of unity at the event.

Speculations abound; the picture of the two leaders, dressed in matching pink Baju Melayu, possibly provided by the host as the norm,  brought together for the event, had been re-posted many times in the media, inviting suspicion and distrust.

It is understandable why the PAS’ ground became restless — there is genuine fear of the party falling into Umno’s trap as it did before.

The traditionalists are clear that they do not want any kind of political co-operation with Umno again because the latter had “played out” PAS during the party’s BN era from 1970 to 1978.

The problems began when Najib’s father, then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, picked Datuk Mohamed Nasir over another PAS candidate to be Kelantan Menteri Besar after the 1974 general election.

This led to a vote of no-confidence in the state assembly against Nasir, triggering protests in his defence and leading to the imposition of emergency rule in Kelantan.

PAS’ recalcitrance led to its expulsion from BN. The party lost the state election in 1978 and it was only able to wrest it back 12 years later. It has remained in power since.

It was painful for PAS to see its members split into groups after it left BN; while the faithful stayed on to rebuild the party, some joined Umno and splinter parties like Berjasa and Hamim. A small fraction chose to become inactive in PAS.

Amid all this, party insiders said Hadi had expected the reactions from the party’s rank and file.

He had seen the same happen to his predecessor, the late Datuk Fadzil Mohd  Noor, who became the target of criticisms of party members who were worried about the possibility of PAS incorporating into BN after his willingness to appear on stage with then Prime Minister  Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at a public forum on the issue of Palestine in May 2002.

This had forced him to use his closing speech at the 48th PAS Muktamar, held a month later, to explain his disputed action.

Whether PAS is actually moving towards having political co-operation with Umno and rejoining BN cannot be ascertained at this point. But statements made by PAS leaders, including Hadi, thus far do not indicate the party is taking that path.

All Hadi said, in response to Najib’s statement at the Umno General Assembly, was that PAS was open to talks with anyone who can advance the principles of Islam.

Hadi also urged Umno to “repent” and said it was a good time for Umno to return to an Islamic way of life.

And PAS vice-president Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah said the party would only co-operate with Umno in matters involving Islam, but will not join BN.

Other leaders, too, spoke on co-operation on common grounds.

PAS does not want to merge with Umno. Why should it do that?

It may no longer be a member of the Opposition pact, but the party is still the largest opposition party in the country and second largest after Umno.

It is not a dying party and is still enjoying the support of a large portion of the Malay population, who account for about 60% of Malaysia’s population.

Collaboration perhaps and that, too, on matters of common interests and on specific matters.