Eye on Malay show of force

PAS and Umno will soon ink their unity charter at a mammoth gathering that will signal their clout but which will likely put off the non-Malays.

Joceline Tan, The Star

SUMMER is almost over but Malaysia’s long, hot summer will drag on for a while more. There have been so many hot-button issues and the coming Malay show of force by Umno and PAS is bound to keep the political temperature at a high.

The Himpunan Penyatuan Ummah or Muslim unity assembly to formalise the cooperation between the two Malay political parties is being touted as the indoor version of last year’s anti-Icerd rally.

Size matters in politics and it will be a massive show of force by the Opposition, not unlike the way the Bersih protests rallied the numbers for Pakatan Harapan.

But the optics of the two big boys of Malay politics congregating at Umno’s PWTC headquarters on Sept 13-14 could be a double-edged sword.

The signal being sent out is that PAS and Umno have the numbers as well as control of the Malay base.

The organisers are planning to fill the PWTC complex to overflowing and it will be quite a sight to see the top PAS leaders on stage in Dewan Merdeka.

Some have joked that it could be as packed as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s final Umno general assembly as president in 2003, when people from all walks of life turned out for him.

The downside to this gathering is that it will send the wrong vibes to the non-Malays.

It is hard to see non-Malays being drawn to this overwhelming Malay-Muslim axis.

“Any gathering centred around race and religion is bound to make non-Malays uncomfortable, ” said lawyer Khaw Veon Szu.

But it is not only the non-Malays who are uncomfortable.

The Prime Minister appears to be feeling the pressure too and he has fired a number of volleys at the two parties, accusing the two parties of riding on racial and religious sentiments.

And in what appeared to be a veiled threat, Dr Mahathir also questioned why the Registrar of Societies had not acted against Umno despite alleged financial wrongdoings.

The last few by-elections have shown that the Malay support for Pakatan has eroded and the PAS-Umno gathering will only rub salt into the wound.

“They can make headway with the gathering. But they may end up being seen as exclusive rather than inclusive, ” said political commentator Dr Azmi Omar.

This was evident in Pasir Salak on Friday night when top Umno and PAS leaders addressed a sea of Malay supporters in what was seen as a warm-up rally to the PWTC event.

The man who ignited the PAS-Umno romance was actually Pasir Salak MP Datuk Tajuddin Rahman, who is known for his ultra-Malay views and “mulut laser” or sharp-tongued style in Parliament.

He organised the first “Melayu Bangkit” rally comprising Umno and PAS politicians in his constituency in September last year and the spark has become a flame.

“It is not about toppling anyone, we’re not asking the PM to step down. We are building up support for the next general election to take over the democratic way, ” said Tajuddin’s son Dr Faizal Tajuddin, who is the division’s Umno vice-chairman.

Some have accused the Opposition of opportunistic politics.

As Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin who is trying to forge a centrist approach pointed out, the next general election will centre around identity politics, a trend clearly seen elsewhere.

The top and middle tier of Umno and PAS have embraced the unity move because they stand to benefit but there is still resistance among their grassroots.

“Why go on fighting each other? I am personally for it but the grassroots is less motivated because of the effects of decades of fighting each other, ” said Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad.

Inking the unity charter is the easy part and the tough part will come later.

These two parties are after the same Malay base and there is bound to be a fierce tussle for seats to contest.

Their Malay unity message also scares the daylights out of the non-Malays. None of the Malay leaders have been able to come up with a good argument for why non-Malays should support a Malay alliance.

The old-school argument that when the Malays are strong, they will take care of the non-Malays does not work anymore. In fact, it comes across as very patronising and even rather stupid.

The Opposition has been telling their supporters that if elections were to be held now, they can win.

But the Opposition does not even have a viable prime minister candidate as yet.

Both their presidents are deemed unsuitable with one of them facing 87 charges of alleged financial wrongdoing in court.

However, the deputy presidents of both parties cannot be ruled out as running mates. Umno’s Datuk Hassan Mohamad is acknowledged as prime minister material for his understanding of the economy while PAS’ Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man is highly respected.

Given all that, it was not pure bravado on Dr Mahathir’s part when he claimed that Pakatan Harapan would win again if elections are called.

Both sides have their strengths and weaknesses and they have to cross many rivers and seas before the next general election.