27 July, 2008

Malay-Muslim Call Shakes Opposition Unity

Backdoor” deals between PAS and Umno would further ruin Barisan Nasional, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said.

“It is not nice to leave out others (in the coalition),”

“What will MCA, Gerakan and MIC say?”

He warned that Barisan Nasional was already in ruins, with members of component parties “running away”.

“MCA leaders are leaving the party, Gerakan is being left behind, and the MIC will be left with only Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu at the rate members are leaving the party,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said Barisan could only be saved if Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi steps down.

The Pan Malaysian Islamic Party or PAS, a senior partner in the three-party coalition, is increasingly unhappy with Ibrahim’s multi-racial and openly secular platform. It feels the coalition is not giving pre-eminence to Islam and priority to Malays, who form 60 percent of the population of 27 million.

Until recently PAS was a dominant opposition party that existed as a defender of Islam -- a role which was eclipsed by Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party or PKR under its Malay acronym.

"We have had three rounds of talk with PAS on Malay unity and Islam," Badawi told local media on Tuesday in a political bombshell announcement that has rattled the opposition coalition.

The talks centre on ways to work together to "save" the Malay-Muslim race from domination by non-Muslims and to safeguard and promote Islam in the wake of the changes brought by the March election.

"The talks between the two bitter political rivals have far-reaching implications that could alter the country’s political landscape if it succeeds," said a senior National University of Malaysia academic who is consulted by the government.

"The three parties in the opposition alliance are so dissimilar in their orientation that it is only a matter of time before they disagree and the cracks show up," he told IPS in an interview.

He said it is natural for the ruling UMNO, an ethno-Malay nationalist organisation and PAS, a wholly Islamic party, to get together. "There are common grounds because both are one way or other looking after Malay Muslim rights,’’

The Malay intelligentsia, in numerous articles in the national Malay dailies and Malay literary periodicals, along with mushrooming grassroots organisations, has been piling pressure on UMNO and PAS to sink their differences and work together.

Early May, about 200 Malay NGOs led by the Federation of National Writers Association or ‘Gapena’ met for three days to discuss the "crisis" in Malay society as a result of the election. Later, these and other Malay organistions came together to form the Malaysian Malay Solidarity Council whose leading lights include Gapena chairman Ismail Hussin and other influential academics, writers and poets.

"We are merely bowing to grassroots pressure to come together for unity talks," said a senior PAS leader who asked not to be identified. "We are keeping our options open and are prepared to listen to anybody. Speculation that we are leaving the opposition People’s Alliance coalition is wholly unfounded."

"It was UMNO that lost, not the Malays,"

Other PKR leaders say there are now more Malay lawmakers in parliament then before, only that they are spread out in several political parties and that they have not lost their political clout.

They also point out that the position of Malays, Islam and the Malay rulers is enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed and not subject to the political fortunes of UMNO.

Nevertheless the Malay grassroots see PKR as overly dominated by non-Malays and Ibrahim as "too secular and ambiguous" on Islam and Malay rights to ever effectively champion their cause.

"These are the reasons why the Malay intelligentsia is looking for leadership in a possible rapprochement between the nationalist UMNO and the Islamist PAS," said the National University Malaysia academic.

"If the arch rivals unite under a common Malay-Islam agenda there is every likelihood that Malaysia’s political landscape will change radically to the detriment of the growing secular multi-ethnic democracy," he said.

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