Saturday, July 19, 2008

It's A Trap

The unity talks that never were
By Wan Hamidi Hamid
Political Editor

KUALA LUMPUR, July 19 — For the past 30 years, Umno and PAS leaders have been trying to sit down together to have a serious talk about Islam and Malay unity. What have they achieved thus far? The unity talks that never were.

Now they are trying again.

The political grapevine is buzzing with rumours of PAS beginning to lose faith with its allies Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Democratic Action Party (DAP) but that has been dismissed almost immediately and regularly by its leadership.

However, some leaders in the Islamist party have begun to make demands for such unity talks with Umno due to the discomfort of being allies with parties that have a different if not secular outlook in politics.

So, a day after Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi agreed with PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang to have the talks, PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat warned party leaders that the discussion on Malay unity and Islam could be an Umno trap.

"Pak Lah is now in a limbo. He has set the date for the transfer of power and in such a situation, I see his request to have the talks as more of a personal one. I also remember the late Tun Razak Hussein who had asked PAS to merge with (the Barisan Nasional) but we were betrayed. I am worried that this will be another trap," the Kelantan Menteri Besar told reporters in Kota Baru.

There had been many occasions for talks since the 1970s. The last serious attempt for such talks was in early 2001 and mooted by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was facing a mounting challenge from his own Umno after the sacking and subsequent jailing of his then deputy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

PAS agreed to such talks but both sides began to impose conditions with PAS asking to include Terengganu's oil royalty — PAS won the state in the 1999 general election — and Anwar's release from jail. The talks never took place,

Nik Aziz and PAS's fears are justified. The last time they met and made up was in 1973 when PAS joined Umno, MCA and MIC to form the Barisan Nasional in the aftermath of the 1969 riots. But barely four years later, the BN kicked out the party from the coalition and even managed to grab the long-held PAS state of Kelantan.

Even in 2001, PAS's partner Parti Keadilan Nasional (as it was known then) was unhappy with the move, fearing Umno could swallow up PAS again. DAP had already left the loose opposition coalition Barisan Alternatif due to PAS's insistence of having an Islamic state for Malaysia.

But the then PAS president, the late Datuk Fadzil Noor, was adamant that the unity talks would open the space to discuss other matters such as demanding the release of Anwar.

Umno, realising the gravity of opening the floodgates, proposed that the government should ban parties with "Islam" in its name, a direct reference to PAS, claiming that no political party should claim sole representation of the religion. The Conference of Rulers later rejected this proposal.

After a few more demands from both sides, the momentum built up for the proposed unity talks died down.

A few days ago, Datuk Seri Najib Razak repeated that PAS should not impose conditions for any Malay unity dialogue.

"If PAS leaders want to have a discussion with Umno, it should not be linked to other matters like insisting that the request to meet should come from the party's grassroots (as mentioned by Nik Aziz)," the deputy prime minister told reporters in Alor Star on Wednesday.

With such rhetoric, it looks like it's going to be a long day for both parties before they can actually sit down and talk.


*Hope that PAS wont fall into UMNO trap for the second time. UMNO will only use PAS when they need it. Once they consolidate their power PAS will once again be dumped.

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