To stay in power, Najib is wooing PAS, mixing religion with politics

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Prime Minister Najib Razak’s prioritising of Islamic voters could inadvertently nurture a hotbed for misguided religious extremists and fundamentalists.

IN a desperate attempt to win the crucial Malay vote, beleagured Prime Minister Najib Razak is cosying up with old enemy PAS, an Islamist party that is pushing for shariah rule in Malaysia, Bloomberg reported today.

Although an unlikely one, the rapprochement is mutually beneficial to Umno and PAS. Friendly ties with the hardline party may help Najib to burnish Umno’s credentials with Muslim voters, while PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, now that he has the PM’s ear , has a better shot at influencing government policy.

Najib has allowed Hadi to introduce legislation to enhance the punitive powers of the shariah courts, a move that many fear could pave the way for hudud in Malaysia.

Najib is also working with PAS leaders to advocate for the minority Rohingya, who are Muslim, in Myanmar.

Issues of race, ethnicity, the Malay language, and especially Islam are close to the heart of the Malays, said Mohamed Mustafa Ishak, a professor of politics and international studies at Universiti Utara Malaysia.

Najib is well aware of that. In fact, he is banking on it as he models himself out to be a champion of Muslim welfare in the lead up to the next general election, which must be called sometime in the next 12 months.

But this prioritising of Islamic voters is risky, if not “extremely harmful” in a country with large Chinese and Indian minorities and a history of ethnic violence.

“It would also inadvertently nurture a hot bed for misguided religious extremists and fundamentalists to spread their twisted versions of intoxicating ideologies,” said Oh Ei Sun, principal adviser to Malaysia’s Pacific Research Centre.

But Kuala Terengganu Umno chief Sabri Alwi said it was right for Umno to align itself with PAS.

“We are Muslim, PAS is also Muslim, we can stand together,” Sabri had said during Hari Raya.

“PAS is flexible” about its working partners as long as it is to forward the Islamic cause, said Hadi’s son, Muhammad Khalil, who is national chief of the PAS Youth wing.

“We are willing to work with any quarters or parties,” he said last month at the party’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. “What matters is that it benefits Islam and that it benefits Malay Muslims.

“We put Islam as the foundation, and Malays must be the foundation for the country’s ruling political system.”

Kuala Terengganu PAS chief Wan Sukairi Wan Abdullah said “PAS equals Hamas,” referring to the Palestinian fundamentalist organisation. “And Umno equals Donald Trump. The two don’t mix.”

Yet, the two “are working together for the sake of the people and Islam. That is important.”

Kamarul Bahrin, who was part of the group that broke away from PAS to form Amanah in September 2015, claimed the party had moved in recent years to weed out more moderate members.

“This election is crucial, it’s make or break,” said Kamarul.

If Umno and PAS continue to mix religion with politics “we will end up as two Malaysias”. – Read more TMI

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