Malays may return to Umno, analysts warn amid stronger ties with PAS

(FMT) – Political analyst Kamarul Zaman Yusoff has warned that Malay voters may return to Umno if Pakatan Harapan (PH) fails to strengthen the country’s economy.

Speaking to FMT, he said despite Barisan Nasional’s dismal showings in the May 9 polls, Umno has not lost its support among the Malays, who make up the bulk of the electorate.

The party would seek to gain support through racial and religious issues, as had been its modus operandi since independence, he added.

“Until today, rural folk are still attracted to the sentiments of race and religion,” he said.

“In the recent general election, scandals, 1MDB, corruption and Najib Razak overshadowed the race issues. But once these matters are resolved, the prominence of race and religion will return.”

If PH did well with the country’s economy, he said, Umno would lose much of its footing in these issues.

“The possibility of racial and religious sentiments may decrease.”

In the May 9 election, Umno won 54 federal seats, MIC two and MCA one. On the PH side, PKR won 47 seats, DAP 42, PPBM 13 and Amanah 11.

Kamarul said there are presently two sides of Umno: one represented by Malay rights activist Lokman Noor Adam and the other by Khairy Jamaluddin, who is seen as a liberal.

He said the party was still struggling with the aftermath of its election defeat and could swing in either direction.

“It may come back to evoking racial and religious issues, or it could go Khairy’s way if the economy does well.”

However, he warned against completely dismissing Umno, saying the party was still capable of “turning things around”.

He said much of Umno’s stand would be revealed at its annual general assembly later this year. It would also depend on the Seri Setia by-election where PAS and Umno have declared an alliance.

“If PAS manages to get support from Umno members, we can expect the parties to be working together in a more formal way.”

Universiti Malaya analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi meanwhile saw formal cooperation between Umno and PAS as inevitable if the parties were serious about toppling PH in the next general election.

He told FMT that the Seri Setia by-election was already paving the way for political cooperation between the two parties.

“These parties have a common enemy,” he said, quoting the proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

“The formation of an opposition bloc comprising Umno and PAS will happen.”

Umno and PAS often denied working with each other in the past but have become more open about their cooperation of late, with Umno backing PAS’ Seri Setia candidate, Dr Halimah Ali, in return for the Islamist party’s support in the Sungai Kandis by-election.

Azman said this came as no surprise, adding that the two parties have been cooperating in secret all along.

“There is nothing surprising about them being open about their partnership. They are just making it official.”

Like Kamarul, Awang believed an opposition bloc comprising Umno and PAS would be able to convince Malay voters that the parties were willing to make peace in the name of squaring off with PH.

“The Malay segment will also be convinced that the PAS-Umno combination is a bloc which will protect the rights and struggle of the Malay-Muslims in Malaysia, even when it is actually more towards the pressing political scenario,” he said.

On Thursday, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the cooperation between Umno and PAS was not just rhetoric, adding that the parties would be working very closely in the future.

He also said the people could expect more from the PAS-Umno alliance in challenging the PH government should other by-elections take place in the future.