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Umno-Pas pact will further divide nation, warn observers

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Mustafa K Anuar speaks to academics and activists to find out what they think of this “alliance of convenience”.

The Umno-Pas alliance, officially forged on 14 September, is bound to further polarise multi-ethnic Malaysia, said political observers.

They also said the country would be dragged down by ethno-religious politics, diverting it from the important agenda of nation-building, as well as social and institutional reform.

Dr Lee Hwok-Aun, a senior fellow at the Iseas-Ishak Yusof Institute in Singapore, said Malaysia would drift into mysterious, potentially dangerous waters.

“A solidified Umno-Pas alliance, without other parties and groups represented, will keep trying to push politics in a Malay-Muslim-centric direction at a time when the country needs to focus on social cohesion, human wellbeing, equality and fairness, and economic progress,” he told the Malaysian Insight.

“Of course, Pakatan Harapan remains in the driver’s seat, but it must set the national agenda with more clarity, courage and integrity.”

Sharing Lee’s contention, Prof Zaharom Nain of University of Nottingham’s Malaysia campus said the alliance would be divisive and obviously bad for the country. “This is the motivation of this desperate pact, where they assume that more than 60% of the Malaysian population comprising Malays will succumb to their strategy. 

“Perhaps, PH could adopt a similar strategy, but that would be politically disastrous for PH, and worse, would just racialise the country further, which would be a tragedy for all.”

Social activist and blogger Anil Netto said the cooperation between a race-based party and one with an exclusively religious agenda cannot be favourable for Malaysia in the long run.

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It would serve as a magnet for those with chauvinistic or bigoted views who do not understand what it means to live in a multicultural society, which should celebrate diversity and see it as an asset, he said.

“Since the watershed general election of 2018, when the old politics of race and religion were defeated, thus ushering in a ‘New Malaysia’, the defeated forces have regrouped.

“For about six months after the general election, we felt that the promise of a ‘New Malaysia’ was within reach.

“What we’ve seen in recent months is a pushback by the defeated forces of the old politics who have come together with a pact.”

Lim Hong Siang, executive director of sociocultural research outfit Saudara, said Malay politics now bears witness to the clash between Umno-Pas and Bersatu-PKR-Amanah in the struggle to gain Malay-Muslims’ consent and support.

It must be remembered that Umno and Pas got a bigger slice of support from the Malay-Muslim majority in the 2018 general election, he said.

“It’s acceptable if any individual or party harbours religious and ethnic sentiments. But when the discourse on religion and ethnicity gets narrowed into discussing issues that are not meaningful, Malaysia won’t move on.”

Haris Zuan, a research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies, said the Umno-Pas alliance was expected, with the parties having initiated cooperation even before the 2018 general election: 14 September was merely to formalise the pact, he said.

He described politics based entirely on race and religion as “obviously unhealthy”.

“However, it would be wrong to argue that Umno-PAS is the only cause of the increasing ethnic and religious tensions. The ruling pact, too, still plays ethnic politics. 

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“Several issues that have been championed by the Umno-Pas alliance are valid, and PH, as the ruling pact, should respond seriously.

“If PH addresses the issues they raised, even though not all of them, it is quite certain that the pact will regain the trust of Malay constituents.

“What is clear is that the issue of the cost of living has been expressed in ethnic terms. Up till now, there has been no clear mechanism offered to address the issue.”

Lim shares similar concerns about PH, saying it is feared that in the pact’s attempt to regain the support of Malays, it would be dragged into the opposition’s ethno-religious narrative.

However, Dr Por Heong Hong of Universiti Sains Malaysia believes that Malaysians should not lose focus on more pressing issues, such as the dumping of waste here by foreign countries, land reclamation affecting Penang folks’ livelihoods, transboundary smoke, the income gap, the poverty rate and widespread deforestation affecting Orang Asli communities.

“Environmental issues and poverty cut across races, and yet, the opposition indulge themselves in racial politicking, while the ruling pact shows signs of poverty of ideas, and busy themselves with endless infighting and sex videos.”  

Despite the problems associated with the Umno-Pas cooperation, Anil is optimistic that ordinary Malaysians can see through the “alliance of convenience”.

“This is not the first time Umno and Pas have come together. An even closer alliance in the 1970s fell apart before long. The ensuing distrust took decades to overcome. The same could happen with the present pact in the coming years.

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“In any case, in this more open, digital era, more Malaysians are mature enough to overcome their ethnic and religious differences and understand what it means to live and work side by side.

“Our hope lies in mature and enlightened Malaysians, especially the younger generation, new voters above 18, and Sabahans and Sarawakians, who will show us the way to live in harmony in a ‘New Malaysia’ that treasures diversity.”

Source: themalaysianinsight.com

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