Political changes prompt Umno-Pas talks

Posted by Penarik Beca Monday, July 21, 2008

Malaysian Insider (20/7/08): Several nights ago, three senior leaders of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) sat across Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his private home, a short distance away from Istana Negara.

They touched on current developments in the country, and then moved on to a wide array of topics under the umbrella of Malay and Muslim issues.

They spoke about the need to protect the sanctity of Article 153 which enshrines the special rights of the Malays, and raised concerns about the move by certain groups to question the existence of the social contract between Malays and non-Malays.

No decisions were made and the parties promised to keep channels of communications open between Umno and Pas. Abdullah today disclosed that this was one of three meetings he had with Pas leaders. Both sides have thrown a blanket of secrecy over these meetings, not willing to identify who represented the Islamic party at these meetings.

The only concession was that Pas was represented by senior decision-makers, politicians at the upper reaches of power or with access to the powerful religious scholar class. They belong to the cache of Pas leaders who have become uncomfortable with the messages and tone of Pakatan Rakyat politicians vis-à-vis Malay and Muslim issues since the general election on March 8.

Those familiar with the meetings told the Malaysian Insider that the issue of an alliance between Umno and Pas was not broached, and does not seem to be on the horizon for the time being.

But scratch beneath the surface of these Malay unity talks and there is a clear political subtext which could have an impact on the shape of Pakatan Rakyat. Both parties - political enemies- are prepared to talk to each other because the altered political landscape post Election 2008 poses a threat to their vision of Malaysia.

Umno officials argue that a more fragmented political scene has resulted in individuals, political parties and non-governmental groups straying past out-of-bound markers on religion and race. They blame this phenomenon on the new politics unleashed by Pakatan Rakyat's defacto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the aggressiveness of the Democratic Action Party.

Pas politicians do not agree with this analysis lock, stock and barrel, and indeed, find it self-serving. They know that Umno politicians would not have given them a glance if the election results had turned out differently.

Having said that Pas remains a political party with a conservative spine, and it is deeply suspicious of any attempts to change the DNA of the country. It is upset that some of their comrades in Pakatan Rakyat, notably those from DAP, are pushing the envelope too much when it comes to Malay and Muslim issues.

Some senior Pas politicians are also troubled that Anwar appears to be setting the agenda for the Opposition. In their view, no one has been elected as the leader of Pakatan Rakyat nor is there an official framework of agreement between PAS-PKR-DAP.

What is in place is a loose alliance of political parties, stressed a Pas official. Still, he does not think that the unity talks will rupture the working relationship between the three parties.

The two caveats: if the position of Malay rights and Islam is challenged more vigorously.

Or if the sodomy allegation against Opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim goes to court, and does not have the stench of a government stitch-up.

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