Umno Pas Alliance Challenges In The Immediate Term

After four decades of animosity, Umno and PAS have renewed their political alliance by signing a National Consensus Charter last weekend. The solidification between these two parties will likely to send reverberations to the political landscape of Malaysia in the immediate future
Contrary to the conventional notion that the solidification of PAS and Umno will lean towards a more right-wing direction, the two parties have chosen to take a moderate route instead, at least according to their Charter. The Charter clearly states that both PAS and Umno will continue to prioritise unifying the Muslim community but also stressed on inclusion of the non-Malay communities. Important to highlight is that the Charter, which has five key points also states that this new alliance will uphold the Federal Constitution. On the surface, it looks like Umno and PAS are trying to bring back the consociational model of governance of the BN government
Notwithstanding an inclusive Charter and approach, questions remained as to how sustainable the cooperation between Umno and PAS will be. The coming together of Umno and PAS is driven by shrewd calculation rather than their camaraderie. At its core, both parties are merely using each other to consolidate the Malay votes
It is important to underscore that they were political rivals for decades and it will be naive to assume that mutual suspicions do not exist. Even as the rank and file can proudly offer forgiveness to each other at the assembly, how then are they going to compromise when it comes to the actual allocation of seats in the next election remains to be seen. And even if the leaders within the party could come to term with the big and small decisions, how the grassroots react is another matter. This is where infighting could very likely to occur and this would have an adverse effect on the alliance
Apart from that, despite being parties that are dominated by the Malay community, they also differ starkly in their political approach. While PAS has been more unflinching in championing for the Islamic way of governance, Umno has always been more pragmatic. The former has also accused the latter as not sufficiently Islamic while the latter deems the former as too primordial. Therefore, how then are they going to close this ideological gap and to moderate the mutual suspicions would be a major challenge.Furthermore, neither Umno nor PAS would allow their partner to dominate the alliance and there will be significant challenge in managing the delicate balance of power between the two parties. Any mismanagement could make this political alliance even more precarious
Besides that, PAS and Umno would struggle to convince the non-Malay constituents that the alliance is not heading towards a right-wing direction. While Umno has had a legacy of championing "Malay Supremacy", PAS has a track record of supporting syariah law. Exacerbating this, the lack of progressive and charismatic leaders in both parties is also not helping. There is simply no new faces nor inspiration for the neutral constituents to see either PAS or Umno in new light
Even as last week’s gathering managed to attract more than 20,000 participants, they were mostly supporters of the two parties. In politics, both numbers and perception matter. The overwhelming Malay participants in the gathering inevitably can be construed by non-Malay voters that this alliance is all about championing Malay and Islam interests. As such, it will take more than mere rhetoric to convince the non-Malays that the coming together of PAS and Umno will not lead to right-wing politics
Therefore, a lot depends on how and what sort of efforts would Umno and PAS used to convince the non-Malay voters. PAS which was once part of the Pakatan Rakyat has somewhat managed to convince the non-Malay voters that the party is not all about race and religion so it was not entirely an impossible mission. However, it is crucial to remember that this was only made possible because the other component parties in Harapan were endorsing PAS. On the other hand, although Umno can always rely on MCA and MIC for support to raise its multiracial flag, both MCA and MIC have always been viewed more like subordinate partners of Umno rather than equal partners. Moreover, the current weakness of MCA and MIC within BN is going to be a liability rather an asset for Umno
Despite that, Pakatan Harapan should not simply dismiss the formal alliance between Umno and PAS. After all, these two parties are the two largest Malay-based parties. Not only they have strong organising networks, these two parties still have strong grassroots support. Umno and PAS can easily capitalise on Harapan’s failed performance and reneged promises to court the Malay constituents
In sum, notwithstanding their signed Charter, the alliance between Umno and PAS is fraught with more challenges than prospects. In fact, they need more than a Charter to convince the public that the alliance is not heading towards a more right-wing position. Otherwise, the sealing of Umno and PAS will only harden ethnic polarisation in Malaysia
The writer, Chong Pui Yee  is senior researcher, Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research. - Mkini

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