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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Is Umno giving up on non-Malay vote with shariah move?

 

Umno leaders and guests arriving for the general assembly on Sunday.

PETALING JAYA: A political analyst sees Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s promise to strengthen shariah laws as an indication that he does not care if his party loses non-Malay support as long as it can increase its share of Malay votes.

Jeniri Amir, a fellow with the National Council of Professors, said non-Muslims were bound to be offended by the remark Zahid made at the Umno general assembly, but acknowledged the probability that he was not concerned about that.

Zahid said his party would amend the Federal Constitution to give shariah laws more clout if it won two-thirds of Parliament seats in the next election.

Jeniri told FMT he believed Zahid was trying to show that Umno was not any less Islamic than PAS.

Non-Malay parties have already shown their displeasure over Zahid’s remark. Sabah’s United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) is demanding autonomy if shariah is imposed, and MIC, Umno’s partner in Barisan Nasional, has said it would not follow Umno blindly.

Jeniri said Umno was aware that non-Malays and non-Muslims still preferred Pakatan Harapan (PH) anyway and was concerned only with getting votes from Malays in constituencies in the peninsula.

“However, for Malaysia to move forward, that kind of political narrative is outdated,” he said, adding that Umno needed to be seen to be inclusive and moderate.

With Zahid playing to the gallery, he said, the best man to forge a moderate path for Umno would be his current deputy, Mohamad Hasan.

He speculated that Barisan Nasional would stand to win more seats in the next elections if Mohamad were to be its candidate for prime minister.

“If you ask the man on the street, they prefer Tok Mat (Mohamad’s nickname) under the current situation. He’s perceived as not only credible but also more moderate,” Jeniri said.

Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said Malay-majority constituencies were shaping up to be key battlegrounds in the next elections, making it inevitable for Umno to resort to rhetoric with racial and religious overtones.

He noted that three major Malay parties were vying for these votes and said each would want to paint itself in “racial or religious colours”.

“As the majority of the Malay voter base is one that is decidedly conservative and increasingly religious-oriented, Umno has no choice but to move with the trend lest it no longer becomes the party of choice for the Malays,” he said.

“The non-Malays are, in any case, not likely to vote for Umno, PAS or PPBM.”

In his opening speech at Umno’s general assembly on Sunday, Zahid said there was a need to amend the Federal Constitution to ensure shariah laws were strengthened in Malaysia’s legal system.

He referred to a recent High Court decision on the right of non-Muslims to call God “Allah” and also to the failure of the Selangor government to gain the right to enact any shariah criminal law that is already a federal statute. - FMT

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