Muafakat Nasional’s future at a crossroad

by FAYYADH JAAFAR / pic TMR FILE

MUAFAKAT Nasional (MN), the coalition of Umno and Islamist party, PAS, is in a critical situation as it faces the possibility of disbanding after the recent state elections. 

The coalition has faced several challenges, including internal conflict and the loss of support from its core constituency.

Among the problems that have plagued the coalition are the lack of mutual trust between both parties.

According to Dr Azmi Hassan, senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research and an expert on Malaysian politics, the coalition’s “semi-defunct” status is due to the fact that PAS has demanded something that is beyond Umno’s ability to deliver. However, he said that there is still hope for MN to be revived or resurrected.

“Because why did it fail before this, especially during the Melaka and Johor state elections? Because PAS demanded something that was beyond Umno’s ability to entertain, in terms of number of seats. But for GE15 (the 15th General Election), PAS has a lot to offer Umno, especially in Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, where its influence is quite formidable,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

However, he added that Umno’s confidence in its current strength is not unwarranted.

“Barisan Nasional (BN) is basically more confident in going solo compared to PAS going solo. But again, on paper, the reality is that the combination of PAS and Umno going together in GE15 will be much stronger. If MN is revived, then in the formation of the federal government, most probably Umno and PAS will be the dominant parties.

“So, I believe this will be an attraction for both leaders to work it out, even though Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has stated or implied that the door is closed in this case.”

On May 7, Umno president Ahmad Zahid stated that MN’s cooperation has to be set aside during GE15.

In regards to the ideologies of Islamism and Malay nationalism, Azmi explained that they are very synonymous and both parties have been using those ideas as a tool for their political agenda. He added that the two parties are also similar in nature because they are both Malay-based.

As for GE15, Azmi believes that PAS has a lot to offer, especially to Umno because they are targeting the same group of voters.

“The Melaka state election demonstrated that the grassroots of MN needed to be revived, and this demonstrated the Melaka state election results when PAS was of concern. But again, the leaders are very adamant about working with Parti Pribumi Bersatu.”

However, Prof Dr Kartini Aboo Talib @ Khalid, the deputy director of the National Institute of Ethnic Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, believes that the revival of MN is unlikely to happen in GE15 as it will not be necessary.

“Seeing how BN performed in the last two state elections, BN would like to fly solo without the coalition with PAS. BN believes they have the power to rally support from the people,” she told TMR in an interview yesterday.

The professor, likening the relationship between the two parties to a marriage, says the unstable nature of the alliance between PAS and Umno has been no secret since the 1960s.

“They were married, later divorced, re-married and are now on the brink of another divorce. When assessing this limbo romance, it is not impossible to see them reconcile or separate again. They will decide to be together again strategically if they are desperate, especially facing the same competitor,” she said, adding that MN was a short-term marriage. 

“Once BN can be independent, it changes its course. It is common in politics.

“Ideally, the idea would unite the Malays, but in reality, the Malays are divided. There is a limit to the political coalition and the dissolving of MN is the proof.”

As for PAS’ future in GE15, she says that the party will remain relevant to moral constituencies in Kelantan, Terengganu and some parts of Kedah and Perak.

“It has its own hardcore supporters, and the progress of halal-hub businesses and the Islamic economy will enhance PAS’ role and function.”

However, Prof Dr James Chin, professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania, believes that as long as Ahmad Zahid and former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak are in charge of Umno, they will try to destroy both Bersatu and PAS in GE15.

“Now that Umno is in the government, they do not really care anymore. So, we’re basically seeing a return to pre-2018 Malay politics, when Umno was in power and PAS was in Opposition.”

He said that the basis of their relationship is only to topple Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad through the use of Islam.

However, the historical relationship between the two parties has been rocky. In fact, it was never smooth sailing.

“PAS has always had this love/hate relationship with Umno. They remember Umno as their main oppressor until 2018. I don’t think there’s a lot of resentment against Bersatu, it has always been Umno.”

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