KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 — The arrests of individuals over social media posts on PAS spiritual leader Datuk Dr Haron Din’s death possibly indicates that Umno is courting the Islamist party ahead of the next general election, according to political watchers.
Analysts who spoke to Malay Mail Online said efforts for an Umno-PAS electoral understanding have been in the works for some time now, and the apparent intolerance of alleged insults to the PAS leader allowed Umno to advertise its goodwill to the opposition party and defence of Islam.
“The latest developments following Haron Din’s death provides Umno another opportunity to burnish its Islamic and PAS friendly credentials.
“If this cooperation-collaboration is consummated, it will likely be presented to the other Barisan Nasional parties at the last minute as a fait accompli,” Dr Lim Teck Ghee of the Centre for Policy Initiatives said.
But he cautioned against interpreting this as Umno abandoning the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, but rather that the Malay nationalist party is looking to bank on as many sources of support as it could muster for the next general election.
“I am sure Umno wants to have both BN parties and PAS on its side to make sure it wins as well as remains the dominant partner in the next government,” Lim added.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, held similar views, saying that while Umno’s courtship of PAS is “obvious”, it remains to be seen whether this would result in any formal alliance.
He said Umno still needed its partners in BN to jointly display a facade of multiculturalism in line with the country’s diverse populace.
“But how the courting will end up is less obvious. I mean in a GE, both Umno and PAS grassroot leaders are not likely to give up seats which they must have cultivated over a long period in favour of the other party,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Oh said that another possible arrangement would be for PAS to spoil the contests between Umno and other opposition parties in the ruling party’s favour, and in return be given easy routes to retaining seats in its traditional Malay, rural heartland.
“I don’t think it will be [an] official alliance, but tacit understanding,” he added.
Dr Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director of the Singapore-based Institute of South-east Asian Studies (ISEAS) Yusof Ishak Institute, pointed out that authorities were taking action over remarks Haron with “dubious” justification.
“So it is hard not to consider the arrests for political import and impact. PAS is the weak link in the opposition camp at the moment, and it would be in the government’s interest to weaken that link even further,” he said.
But Ooi said Umno will likely still bank on the support of its BN allies in whatever tactical moves it makes.
“When push comes to shove, Umno thinks it can always rely on its coalition partners,” Ooi added.
The police are investigating DAP MP Jeff Ooi over a tweet on Haron following the latter’s death, in which he allegedly wrote: “Adios Harun Din. Let there be peace”.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said on Tuesday that the Jelutong MP is being investigated under Section 298 of the Penal Code, pertaining to uttering words with the deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.
The tweet, which has been reportedly removed, drew ire from the public, with even DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng calling it insensitive and distancing the party from it.
Three other people were also arrested over similar social media remarks.
Haron died last Friday at the age of 76 at the Stanford University Hospital in California while undergoing treatment for a heart problem.