How UMNO plays PAS

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Trapped and ego-bruised Hadi Awang ditched UMNO in order to save face.

UMNO had won the battle in the Melaka state election, but the United Malays National Organisation might lose the war – 15th General Election. There are 11 seats where the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition won with a majority of less than 1,000 votes, from as few as 79 votes to 938 votes. If voters in those seats decide to swing in the nationwide election, UMNO would be in trouble.

Despite its victory, the political party remains deeply divided between the Minister Cluster and Court Cluster, in reference to several UMNO leaders facing graft charges in court, including former Prime Minister Najib Razak and UMNO president Zahid Hamidi. Prime Minister Ismail Sabri, the vice president of UMNO, was caught in a precarious position after the Melaka election.

Turtle-egg Ismail could not celebrate his own party’s success, even after capturing two-thirds majority in Melaka. Belonging to the Minister Cluster, the lame-duck premier was given the mandate by the UMNO Supreme Council to negotiate and discuss with all the three Malay parties in the government – UMNO, Bersatu, and PAS – to avoid three-cornered fights. He failed miserably.

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Now that UMNO has won big in Melaka, the party can definitely gloat and brag that it does not need PAS Islamist party, let alone the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) under former PM Muhyiddin Yassin. In fact, UMNO does not need “traitor” Ismail Sabri, who had pledged his loyalty to rival Muhyiddin rather than to his boss, Zahid Hamidi.

But there is one man who is the biggest loser – PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang. Right after Barisan Nasional won the Melaka state election, some naughty UMNO warlords have been mocking and insulting the Islamist party for betting the wrong horse. Hadi, who had insisted to contest under Perikatan Nasional banner despite rejections from its own grassroots, lost all the eight seats it contested.

Before the Melaka polling day, the Islamist party arrogantly predicted that they were capable of creating upsets and attracting young voters. In fact, the Islamist party supremo Hadi Awang had personally ordered all his party’s members and supporters to vote for Perikatan candidates. Yet, PAS was wiped out while ally Bersatu has profited by winning two seats.

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PAS was so arrogant and over-confident that UMNO could not win without the Islamist party, so much so that PAS Ulama member Mokhtar Senik repeatedly urged Melaka voters to ensure UMNO loses the Melaka polls in order to “teach the party a lesson”. The logic: based on 2018 General Election, Barisan Nasional will be defeated again in a three-cornered contest.

Hardcore supporters of PAS argued that the only workable formula is an UMNO-PAS-Bersatu electoral pact, without which all the three Malay political parties will be wiped out by opposition Pakatan Harapan. Even some half-baked local university professors bet that UMNO will be annihilated without PAS. The Melaka state election has proven them all wrong.

To add insult to injury, even within PAS itself, there were voices of dissatisfaction with Hadi’s leadership – both before and after the Melaka state election. Instead of UMNO losing without PAS, it was PAS who lost without UMNO. Contradicting his boss, PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim had tried to play safe, saying the fight between UMNO and PAS was a “one-off” battle.

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After losing the Melaka state poll, PAS quickly switched tone, expressing its hope that it could work with UMNO for the next national election under Muafakat Nasional pact. The national cooperation between UMNO and PAS, glorified as “Muafakat Nasional” under the pretext of Malay unity, was set up in Sept 2019 when both parties had no choice but to join forces as the Opposition.

The opportunist and hypocrite PAS is using grassroots preference as an excuse in its wish to go back to UMNO. But right from the beginning, UMNO (and PAS grassroots to a certain extent) had urged the PAS leadership to choose Muafakat instead of Perikatan. It was only after the Islamist party was slaughtered and UMNO grabbed 21 out of 28 seats in Melaka that PAS wanted to make a U-turn.

Mohamed Khaled Nordin, one of three vice-presidents of UMNO, declared that Muafakat exists in name only, but not in spirit, meaning the UMNO-PAS pact is dead. He told the Islamist party to stop playing (or rather pretending) its dubious peacemaker role. Likewise, UMNO veteran Tengku Razaleigh, who previously called PAS a “prostitute”, also said Muafakat is dead due to PAS’ insincerity.

It was as clear as daylight that UMNO, believing its past glory days is back, wanted to go solo in the coming national election. More importantly, Khaled said the current landscape allows Barisan Nasional to return to a moderate, multi-cultural and progressive path. UMNO, according to him, is aware that the path to victory is only possible with the support of all races – not just with only the Malays.

At the same time, however, UMNO does not want to burn down the bridge, at least not yet. It still welcomes PAS back to Muafakat, but the Islamist party cannot play both sides. Hadi Awang must choose either UMNO or Bersatu, but certainly not both. But as expected, the snake oil salesman with an ego the size of a Mercedes-Benz cannot and refused to play second fiddle to UMNO.

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PAS has essentially lost its bargaining chips the moment it was wiped out in the Melaka state election. It can only ask how high when UMNO orders it to jump. And the extremist party that self-proclaimed as “kingmaker” has trapped itself by sleeping with UMNO and Bersatu. To ditch Bersatu right after it lost the Melaka state election would be too obvious.

Unable to lose face, PAS president Hadi reluctantly rejects Muafakat, claiming that the alliance is “shackled” with merely UMNO and PAS representatives. The fake holy man now said a bigger coalition like Perikatan is a better option to represent Malaysia’s plural society. It appears that PAS is parroting UMNO, pretending to use multi-ethnic and multicultural whenever it suits them.

Did not both UMNO and PAS realize the importance of moderation among the multi-ethnic society in Malaysia when they formed Muafakat Nasional in Sept 2019, after which they stirred up racial and religious sentiments among the Malays that the Muslims, Islam, and Malay Rulers have lost power to the “Chinese, Christians and Communists”?

Was it not Taliban Hadi who said that the country must be run by not only a Muslim prime minister, but also a government that consists of an all Malay-Muslim-Cabinet? What took the racist and extremist so long to recognize a plural society? Did not terrorist Hadi also warn Muslims to trust only Muslim leaders, regardless of their wickedness, or else the Muslims will end up in hell?

There’s a reason why UMNO was in power for 61 years (and PAS was not) until it stunningly lost power for the first time in history in the May 2018 General Election. UMNO is better than PAS in politicking and scheming. From the very moment UMNO approached PAS to form Muafakat more than two years ago, the Islamist party was nothing but a tool to rejuvenate the toxic and demoralized UMNO.

UMNO knew when to be defensive and when to play offensive cards. When it was weak, it befriended PAS and called it the best friend ever. It also has patience, even agreed to let Bersatu sat the Iron Throne. It knows how to grab power first, unlike opposition PKR president Anwar Ibrahim who insisted that nobody can become the prime minister, except him.

Now that UMNO becomes increasingly strong, it tells the Islamist party to fly kites by cleverly making it look like it was the Islamist party that wants to fly kites. Of course, when PAS leaders, drunk with power and position, foolishly attacked non-Muslim voters, especially the Chinese, UMNO did not join the party but gleefully watched with popcorn and Coke.

The strategy of slowly reposition UMNO as a moderate, multi-cultural and progressive government is the real reason why even some ethnic Chinese voters had voted for Barisan Nasional in the recent Melaka state election. The non-Muslims were given a choice – the old Barisan Nasional or the radical Perikatan Nasional (comprised extremist PAS and power-hungry Bersatu).

It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that UMNO has never planned to share power with PAS from the beginning. Eventually, it will have to take the path which appeals to everyone, unlike PAS’ radical plan of turning the country into a Taliban state. At the end of the day, there’s a red line that UMNO cannot cross without spooking investors – both domestic and foreign.

The fact that Abdul Hadi Awang is now talking about catering for a plural society clearly shows his desperation for Chinese and Indian vote bank. The battle for the Malay vote bank has reached saturation. But it’s too late for PAS to attract the non-Malay votes because UMNO is more appealing. Between a corrupt UMNO and an extremist PAS, the choice isn’t that difficult.

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Silly Hadi has foolishly swallowed the hook, line and sinker. He is willing to risk losing the next general election – even the state of Terengganu – because it would be too humiliating to go back to UMNO, especially with some UMNO warlords deliberately sent to provoke and ridicule him. He cannot kowtow to big brother UMNO. The only way for PAS-Bersatu to control UMNO is to send both Najib and Zahid to prison. – Finance Twitter