Updated at 5:11 p.m. ET on 2018-09-17
Four months after being ousted from power, Malaysia’s oldest political party says it wants to forge better relations with its former nemesis Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to regain government control
Speaking at a press conference after attending the PAS general assembly in Kuala Terengganu, United Malays National Organization (UMNO) President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said despite the good relations, the two parties have not formalized ties. UMNO leads the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and PAS is one of four parties in the Gagasan Sejahtera coalition.
“At the moment, the only formal cooperation that exists between PAS and UMNO is at the parliamentary level where lawmakers from both parties work together on issues and as clusters relating to existing governmental portfolios,” Zahid said. “To engage in a long-term relationship for GE15, I think the working level discussion has to be established first.”
His remarks came after PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang hinted about the prospect of dissolving BN in the future in favor of a new opposition coalition.
“I think there will be a political change followed by a coalition change in either the government or the opposition,” Abdul Hadi said.
“Pakatan Harapan (PH) itself is breaking apart and if that continues, perhaps not long after, they will return to being the opposition,” he said, alleging there is infighting by members of the People’s Justice Party (PKR) as it prepares for party elections in October.
PKR, led by Anwar Ibrahim, joined with other parties to form PH and knock off the ruling BN coalition in the May 9 general election, bringing Mahathir Mohamad to power as prime minister. Anwar, who after the election received a royal pardon for sodomy convictions and is running in a by-election for a seat in parliament, is expected to succeed Mahathir in about two years.
Zahid, the first UMNO president to attend the PAS assembly, expressed his admiration for the Islamic party’s stance on not being antagonistic to the federal government.
“It’s a new concept and I believe that this is what the public wanted, a united front of opposition parties that tackles the public’s issues and concerns,” Zahid said.
Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a sociologist with the Academy of Malay Studies at Universiti Malaya, told BenarNews that Zahid is seeking inroads with PAS even as he seeks a close relationship with Anwar.
“Despite the warm embrace between PAS and UMNO, Zahid is looking into the opportunity of working together with the PH government, especially PKR,” he said.
Zahid on Friday confirmed a UMNO official’s statement that party leaders empowered him with seeking new alliances outside of BN, including the ruling coalition and PAS.
In his opening remarks at the PAS 64th general assembly, Abdul Hadi said he is confident the party has a good chance of winning the next election and all members need to work hard to prepare.
Blaming the party’s showing in May’s election where it captured 18 seats on an uneven playing field, Abdul Hadi said PH’s success was attributed by the coalition’s command of social media that was done “without any care of moral boundaries and no concern for sins.”
He also said PH won because some voters failed to see the beauty of Islam.
“Because of their immaturity, they instead voted for secular and pragmatic parties despite its liberal agenda, unorthodox Islam and tolerance for the LGBT community, which is still highly taboo in Malaysia,” he said. “And we will only cooperate with those who works to please God and not with sinners.”