“How easy it is, treachery. You just slide into it.”
- Margaret Atwood, ‘The Year of the Flood’
The question seems obvious but this is Malaysia, or more accurately “Malay” politics, and the answer we are told is complicated but the reality is that Umno still controls the Malay vote and all our talk of a fractured Malay polity is actually a disadvantage to the opposition. Moreover, Umno knows this.
My condemnation of this religious cult (PAS) has nothing do with my perceived anti-Islam stance*. To wit if PAS was only concerned with hudud and maintained its sworn enmity towards Umno, I would have respect for PAS and its ideology - however opposed I am towards it - however, the weasel-like manner in which it has chosen to deal with Umno and Harapan deserves all the opprobrium people can muster.
(*Apropos to my supposed anti-Islam stance, I really like this bit by the Muslim woman who wrote about her support for US president-elect Donald Trump - “We have to stand up with moral courage against not just hate against Muslims, but hate by Muslims, so that everyone can live with sukhun, or peace of mind…”)
Of course, when DAP’s Tony Pua says this: (a) "How do we trust a party that is unprincipled, that only wants its bread to be buttered on both sides and wants to use its partners to attain its own selfish interests?" and then adds this: (b) "However, DAP understands the importance of one-to-one fights in the general elections. That’s why we agreed to give time to those who still want to negotiate with that party...” meaning because one-to-one fights is politically advantages to us, we do not mind dealing with unprincipled backstabbers, it all gets rather messy and points to the dysfunction of the opposition.
However, I do agree with Pua that it is time to move on, so we can hurriedly forget the ‘PAS for all’ bull crap. Furthermore, former prime minister and now de facto opposition leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks plainly, referring to anyone who sabotages the Harapan deal is riding on the Umno gravy train.
In addition, the former prime minister is spot on when he said that BN always managed to retain its two-thirds majority not because it was strong but because the opposition was weak. This is an extremely important point and one that the former prime minster did his utmost to encourage when he was leading Umno.
Ever since the opposition became a viable alternative to Umno/BN, pundits have been going on about the split Malay vote. Even Umno invested time and money in consolidating the Malay vote because they know eventually; they will lose the rural heartlands or worse become indebted to Sabah and Sarawak to maintain hegemony.
I would argue that the red-shirt antagonism towards the upcoming Bersih march is not so much a provocation against Chinese community - that is just an added bonus - but rather the worry that this particular Bersih march, openly supported by the Najib refuseniks, would be the spark that lights the fuse to a Malay rebellion against the Umno hegemon.
This is why PAS is going out of its way to disavow Bersih when the most successful Bersih rallies involved the mobilisation of PAS members, the logistical and technical support of its cadres and the polemical speeches of its extremely charismatic speakers.
This is why oppositional Malay power structures like Bersatu are echoing the reformasi line and drawing parallels between the upcoming Bersih march and the single most important event that galvanised the Malay polity, the ejection of the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim from Umno paradise.
‘So unbecoming of PAS’
Meanwhile, PAS plays the ‘see no Umno evil’ game and claims it has no idea who handed out those anti-Bersih flyers at it rally recently, claiming “This is not from PAS. I don't know who put it on the seats. PAS is a 60-year-old party and this is not our culture."
Please keep in mind what PSM’s [and to my mind one of the few individuals who should be prime minster of this country] Mohd Nasir Hashim told me about PSM’s encounter with these self-described paragons of clean politics - "PAS' crude campaign surpassed Umno-BN's style. So unbecoming of PAS. We were literally on our own and got help from NGO friends. We were not prepared to fight PAS because they are not our principal enemy and our actions were construed as being weak."
Harapan should have learnt this lesson a long time ago. PAS construes the alliance as weak. They were always a virulent anti-Anwar strain within PAS which looked at the coming together of the supposed liberal reformer and convicted “sodomist” - to their minds one and the same - as anathema to their zealotry.
People talk about the Umno DNA within PKR but the forget that the only reason why the opposition was able to get itself off life support after the brutal beating they took during the short-lived Abdullah Ahmad Badawi glory days was because of the support of PAS.
A few months ago, I quoted what some PAS insiders said to me - "What he (PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang) hopes to achieve, according to some PAS insiders who spoke to me, is rule by proxy. To make sufficient gains into the federal system by supporting Umno thereby generating the perception that PAS has a de jure, if not de facto role, in the government.”
Of course, that near perfect political animal - and I mean this as a compliment, by the way - PKR deputy president Azmin Ali finds it difficult to negotiate with PAS. “We have to swallow our pride and put the interest of the nation before the party’s interests,” he says, not realising that this is what makes PKR and Harapan sound weaker than they actually are.
PAS know this. They know that in Terengganu and Kelantan where the Malay vote is up for grabs, Harapan needs them most. They know they have lost the urban vote. They know that they have lost non-Malay support but this is not about expanding their base. This is about wrecking Harapan where it stands the best chance of remaining a viable opposition.
Has not anyone stopped to ask why PAS is doing the tango with Bersatu? Doesn’t anyone realise that PAS has managed to inject itself between two Malay power structures which if joined could pose a credible threat to Umno?
Azmin talks about placing the nation’s interest over the party’s interest but by continuing dealing with PAS, the only gains to be made are electoral gains that benefit the party’s interests. National interests’ means building alliances with political parties that share the same goal and not dealing with political parties who are making their own deals with your opponents in the guise of religious solidarity.
It should be clear that PAS’ only agenda is to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate (one of the best X-files taglines, in my opinion) and the more time spent dealing with PAS, the more Harapan allows this perception that it is weak and disorganised, incapable of leading an opposition, much less the federal government.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. -Mkini