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The PAS-Umno charter: looking right through it

  • Almost nothing can be worse to non-Malays than this marriage of parties “advocating racial supremacy and religious extremism”.

By Mohsin Abdullah

I’ll call a spade a spade. Although I could be stating the obvious, I’ll say it anyway.

The PAS-Umno charter signed last Saturday by presidents of both parties is all about Malay Muslims with an eye of winning GE15, despite invitations sent to all non-Malays to attend the event, including MCA and MIC, and also all the subsequent and ongoing rhetoric.

And it’s all about a political pact between two parties wanting to topple the current government. This is also obvious and the non-Malays I know are not blind to all this.

Having said that, I’ll say this: there are quite a number of contradictions leading to the unveiling of the charter which I wrote in an article in The Edge recently.

Firstly the theme or “name” of the gathering, Himpunan Penyatuan Ummah or gathering for the unification of the ummah. Umno. in particular its deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, wanted the theme changed because ummah sounded exclusive and even racist, even though ummah is an Arabic word for “people” or “mankind”, if you like. Good for him!

But it's no secret PAS wasn’t keen on a name change, wanting the word ummah retained probably because it “sounds Islamic” – consistent with its “image” which Umno too is trying to latch on to.

Anyway, as we know there was no change in the theme and the gathering went on to be known as Himpunan Penyatuan Ummah. It appeared that PAS got what it wanted.

And as pointed out by veteran journalist Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, posters and what not of the gathering proudly displayed the PAS flag first before Umno's. PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang spoke first at the ceremony, followed by Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, his Umno counterpart. This may be minor matters but it can send “signals”, so to speak. After all in politics, perception is everything.

Therefore, can we conclude that in this PAS-Umno marriage, PAS is the husband and Umno the wife? Trivial question you might say. Funny even. But bear in mind going by the conservative idea of marriage which I suspect PAS subscribes to (and possibly the present day Umno adheres to), the wife although always loyal and supportive of the husband will always be a step behind, because the husband is the head of the family and he knows best.

As Kadir and many other political observers see it, PAS is “solid” while Umno is “weak” and should in no position “set terms”. And if Umno is the wife in this marriage, Umno will have to… Feel free to come up with your own conclusion!

Back to the contradictions I mentioned earlier. Mohamad despite wanting a name change in the theme of Saturday’s gathering to “accommodate” all races, also said “the nation needs a new narrative but with Malay Muslims as priority”. That, to me, is like Mohamad and Umno for that matter, taking one step forward and two steps backward.

Umno and PAS leaders including Zahid, Hadi and his deputy Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man have told non-Muslims they have nothing to fear with regards to the PAS-Umno tie-up. And both parties have admitted that the support of non-Malays/Muslims is crucial if they are to win elections.

However, Umno and PAS (and in particular Umno) have, especially of late, only succeeded in hurting the feelings of non-Malays. No elaboration needed but the latest “example” is Umno and PAS’ stance on controversial preacher Zakir Naik and the “buy Muslim first” campaign which many see as a call to boycott non-Muslim products.

Also pro-PAS and Umno NGOs like Ummah (obviously this word is popular among them) have come up saying the Pakatan Harapan administration “is not a Malay-centric government”, or as its secretariat head Aminuddin Yahya phrased it “the government now is no longer a government for Malays”.

One doesn’t have to be a political pundit to read such a message. It's crystal clear they want the current government changed and replaced by a Malay Muslim-centric government made up of PAS and Umno.

And they are talking of getting non-Malay support? I don't know if there’s a bigger contradiction than that.

And it's interesting to note the PAS-Umno charter is known as Piagam Muafakat Nasional or National Cooperation Charter even though PAS and Umno leaders are saying to all and sundry in particular Malays their tie-up is about unifying Malays “as the race is under threat of dangers, risks and problems”.

Is that also another contradiction?

To detractors it's all about fanning racial and religious sentiments to garner votes.

I don’t know if there are “national” elements now that it's called “national cooperation charter”, but have noted only a one-page summary of the charter made public, and it was just to list out its justifications and objectives.

The rest of the document, said Umno secretary-general Tan Sri Annuar Musa, is classified as “internal document of both parties”.

To political writer and long-time PAS watcher Mohd Sayuti Omar, such “secrecy” is because Umno and PAS want to make sure Umno’s allies MCA and MIC are kept in the dark, at least for now, as both parties will not be happy if “things listed in the charter are only favorable to Malay Muslims”.

“By not telling the whole story, Umno and PAS are trying to entice only one section of the rakyat. They are not reflecting the Malaysian spirit,” says Sayuti.

Ahead of the signing of the charter, Free Malaysia Today news portal ran a story on warning made by political analysts that a “Malay-centric nation” is in the making which is against the national spirit.

Senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Dr. Hu Yi Shan tells me that most non-Malays now have their “displeasures” and “disappointments” with Pakatan Harapan who they voted for in GE14. This is due to some sociopolitical policies the non-Malays see as “not friendly” to them, such as the teaching of khat or Jawi in public schools.

Then, there are other issues like the U-turn on ICERD seen as the government bowing to hardline Islamists.

But according to Hu, almost nothing can be worse to non-Malays than this marriage of parties “advocating racial supremacy and religious extremism”.

And say Yu, the unhappiness and anger with Pakatan Harapan “paled in comparison with the predictably racially supremacist Umno and the religiously extremist PAS such as eventual introduction of hudud for all”.

I know the MCA had defended its stand to be present at Saturday’s ceremony held at PWTC in the federal capital and the party's support of the charter.

Yet, I have to end this article with remarks made by a Malaysiakini reader who called himself (or herself) “Kunta Kunte”. I suspect he or she is a Chinese.

This was what Kunta Kunte wrote: “I can understand if PAS and Umno want to sleep together. I cant understand why MCA and MIC want to squeeze into the bed. Where do they stand in the new narrative?”

(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist who writes about this, that and everything else.)

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