COMMENT | Bruised and battered, Umno limps to PAS to try salvage its political career by envisioning some kind of cooperation with the Islamic party. It sees in this long-time foe an angel of mercy that can help it to regain lost ground.
Given its self-proclaimed cleanliness, PAS can proudly play the role of 'saint' willing to forgive the 'sins' of Umno committed during its long years in power. In the eyes of its leaders, Umno has deviated from the true path of Islam and that was the cause of its ignominious defeat in the mother of all election battles last May.
But if Umno forges a compact with PAS, it would come at a price to the grand old party that once enjoyed the monopoly of political power. It would have to abandon all its 'sinful' ways in order to live by the strict tenets of a deeply religious partner. It would have to back policies that would contain the seeds of theocracy.
Blown away by so many scandals and stripped of all moral authority, Umno now thinks that cosying up to PAS would somehow wash away some of the dirt from its tainted past. A religious glow would somehow win back the support of the people, especially the Malay-Muslim vote bank.
Umno and PAS have been sworn arch enemies, but they buried their hatchet in 1972 when PAS joined the then-Alliance in what was seen as a move needed "to adapt ourself (PAS) to the rhythm of the times".
Then PAS president, the late Asri Muda (photo), who pushed for the political collaboration, wanted to use the coalition as a springboard to promote his parochial brand of a "strong Malay nationalism" to protect the rights of the Malays.
At that time Umno was strong and PAS was in no position to dictate to the federal government. In fact, the alliance brought nothing but more trouble to the new partner.
Like all fragile political alliances built on the quicksand of mutual suspicion, mistrust and widely divergent political ideologies, the coalition began to wobble in the wake of deep disenchantment, resentment and disillusion among PAS grassroots members.
Then, the parting of ways…
The upshot of the experiment in a coalition government was the parting of the ways – PAS quit BN, a weakened Asri was ousted by the powerful ulama faction, and compounding it all, fortress Kelantan fell to the clutches of the federal government through emergency rule.
But history is repeating itself. In a reversal of roles, it is now Umno that is pushing for political cooperation or understanding with PAS. This time around, Umno is weak and PAS is in a commanding position.
PAS can now call the shots – not in the political sphere, but mostly in the spiritual domain because it is not seemingly tainted by all the misdeeds that finally brought the roof crashing down on Umno.
In fact, it wants to play the role of a spiritual guardian to save the soul of Umno so that the disgraced party will no longer 'displease God'.
Still, it is politics that will decide the direction of the Umno-PAS alliance. Umno is still a heavyweight in the political ring, and can throw some punches below the belt. It is unlikely to retire into the corner and lick its wounds while enviously watching its rivals wield power unchallenged.
Umno will keep trying to get back onto the national podium through its politics of race, while PAS will strive with all its might to capture power under the banner of religion.
But Umno now wants to crawl into bed with PAS to reignite its flagging strength. Both parties appear to need each other to fight for their race and religion, and not for the larger interest of national unity.
In the 1972 tie-up, PAS saw its partnership as an opportunity to expand its activities and gain more political clout with its nationalistic slogan. Now, PAS sees another chance to harness whatever little influence it can squeeze from its bedfellow to bring religion to the forefront of national politics.
In this serpentine world of politics, enemies and friends change their colours all too often to pursue goals that invariably do the nation more harm than good.
The Umno-PAS discourse on political cooperation cannot fool voters in the New Malaysia. Beneath the seemingly innocuous handshakes lies poisonous politics. The alliance is not a force for good. It is not the bellwether of better days to come. It is not even true friendship. It is a mirage of friendship.
PHLIP RODRIGUES is a retired journalist.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.