Will an Umno-PH pact work?

Yesterday, in answering the question as to whether Umno and Pakatan Harapan should team-up for the 15th general election, I noted that it held the promise of helping drive the nation towards political stability, economic growth and improved race relations.

It was not a difficult question to answer. The problematic question is whether Umno and PH can actually team-up and remain partners so that political stability, economic growth and improved race relations can come to fruition.

The major barriers to collaboration are distrust and years of demonising each other. Suspicions run deep – too deep – between Umno and some of PH’s component parties, especially the DAP.

For decades Umno has been vilifying the DAP by claiming it is anti-Malay and anti-Islam. Some of its leaders have said Malay rights and Islam’s dominant position would be in grave danger if the DAP were to take power.

For decades the DAP has been reviling Umno and its leaders as being corrupt and abusing their powers. Some of its leaders accuse Umno of curtailing the rights of non-Malays through its policies while in power all these years, turning non-Malays into second-class citizens.

This attitude of dislike, even hate, has taken deep root. It won’t be easy to convince Umno grassroots members to see the DAP as a friend or to get DAP members to view Umno as an ally.

Also, many in Umno still view PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim with suspicion, especially his “liberal views”.

Importantly, there is the question of who’ll be the next prime minister. Will Umno agree that Anwar be prime minister if such a coalition wins? Will Anwar agree to an Umno man becoming prime minister?

PKR has been struggling for so long to achieve power that it won’t easily acquiesce as it did when Dr Mahathir Mohamad, then leader of PPBM, took the reins following PH’s victory in 2018. PKR has learned a lesson: there will be no passing the baton this time around; they’ll want the baton upfront.

One thing in favour of Anwar is that Umno does not have a leader of the stature of Mahathir.

The PH administration was scuttled largely by two issues: One was Anwar’s desire to be PM within two years of victory and Mahathir’s reluctance to hand over power. The other was seething anger and frustration among some Malay leaders – including in PPBM, Umno and PAS – that Malay-Muslim dominance had been “lost”.

An Umno-PH team-up would still leave the Malays in charge, so there is no fear of Malays losing their dominance.

The problem, however, will likely be a tussle for dominance between Umno and PKR. Umno, which had been dictating the direction of the nation from independence to May 2018, has tasted power and all the perks and privileges that come with it, especially to its leaders. It won’t want to play second fiddle.

We can see how this need to dominate – between Umno and PPBM – has destabilised the ruling Perikatan Nasional and it could scuttle any collaboration between Umno and PH too, unless they learn from the past.

PH will be wary of Umno because it does not want to be stabbed in the back again, as happened when the PH government collapsed due to the work of what it calls “traitors” within PPBM and PKR.

But Umno does not come alone; it is part of the Barisan Nasional coalition that comprises the MCA and MIC also.

The MCA which has always thought of itself as the sole representative of the Chinese community, would not want to sit next to its rival DAP in the same coalition. For decades, the MCA and the DAP have been going for each other’s political throats that it won’t be easy to forgive and forget even under the umbrella of political expediency.

Today, Chinese support has shifted to the DAP, making it much stronger than the MCA. In fact, after the last general election, the MCA has almost become irrelevant in Malaysian politics. Only the fact that Umno needs it to show some semblance of multiracialism in BN is keeping MCA afloat.

There can be no doubt, therefore, that the MCA will attempt to dissuade Umno from working with the DAP. The MCA and the DAP have traditionally contested in almost the same seats in constituencies with a large non-Malay population or a mixed population. In the event of a coalition or pact, big brother DAP will stake a claim to contest more seats than the MCA in GE15 and the latter won’t take that sitting down.

The MIC, also part of BN, is unlikely to be as badly affected as the MCA. As long as it gets one post of minister, it is likely to be happy. But I suspect it too will oppose any coalition with PH simply because there are several capable Indian leaders in both PKR and the DAP and this would mean tough competition for the limited seats usually allotted to Indians.

Proponents of any coalition involving PH and Umno will therefore have to navigate three crucial tension fronts: between Umno and the DAP, between Umno and PKR and between the DAP and the MCA.

So, will we see an Umno-PH coalition? In politics, anything is possible.

Last Dec 12, Johor Umno deputy chief Nur Jazlan Mohamed said the party could go it alone or even tie-up with PH. This means the idea is not anathema to Umno leaders. He said a tie-up between Umno, PKR and DAP “may not be a bad idea” as Malaysia needed a more racially-representative government to advance.

If Mahathir who demonised both the DAP and Lim Kit Siang could work with them in the 14th general election; if PKR which vilified Mahathir could work with him; and if Anwar who was sacked by Mahathir as deputy prime minister could work with the latter to win Putrajaya, it’s not impossible for PH and Umno to arrive at a shared goal.

If PPBM leader Muhyiddin Yassin, who is now prime minister, could say at an Umno assembly in June 2001 that “PAS is our number one enemy” and now be best buddies with that party; If PAS, which is now falling head over heels to back Muhyiddin, once was an ally of the DAP in Pakatan Rakyat and sang its praises; and if PAS which had labelled Umno members infidels can now cohabit with that very same party in Muafakat Nasional, it’s not impossible for Umno and PH to find common ground.

The problem is whether such a combination will last after wining Putrajaya. There is every possibility it will be as short lived as the PH administration if they don’t learn from past experience.

If Umno and PH do decide to work together in GE15, I expect them to come to some sort of electoral understanding but without forming a formal coalition.

Perhaps the arrangement would be for Umno and PKR to work together but without affecting the partnership between PKR, the DAP and Amanah in PH, and an understanding that the parties would, as far as possible, not deride or work against one another in GE15.

This, I think, is the route they will likely take, if at all they decide to combine forces and if Umno doesn’t decide to go it alone.

By : A. Kathirasen – FMT

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