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COMMENTARY, March 19 — Umno, the backbone of Barisan Nasional (BN), is fast regaining its popularity, especially with various warring parties in the fight for the coming general election.
Despite having its own internal problems — factionism and division over whether to cut ties with the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) — the biggest Malay party, which just three years ago was down and out, is back with a vengeance.
Opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) component parties — Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and now even multi-racial Chinese-based DAP—have come out to say they are willing to co-operate with Umno in the upcoming general election.
PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim openly said there has been early talks while DAP’s Anthony Loke was more direct… “could work together provided the ‘court cluster’ are out of the party.”
Those words are enough to describe how attractive Umno is looking these days.
Meanwhile, Bersatu waits for Umno’s decision on whether to divorce or jump into bed with it at its party convention next weekend.
Umno seems to be the prized trophy as whoever gets it as a partner for the coming general election — despite having the so-called “court cluster and warlords” — will benefit from the loyalty and commitment of its some three million members. Not to mention a highly efficient election machinery.
Its problems lie at the top leadership and middle-rung levels — supreme council members and division heads — but as the Malay proverb says, “Bidok berlalu kiambang bertaut” (as boats pass by and the water flow returns to cover the path)… Umno is now nearly back to its original strength.
Bersatu probably does not want BN to split up as the party may not be able to get the targeted number of Malay seats it is aiming for as it does not have real grassroots and loyal members to sustain it in an open political war like a general election.
Malay voters have long associated themselves with Umno and PAS as their ideologies and philosophy are deeply embedded in their minds and hearts — where Bersatu has yet to be able to penetrate.
And the Opposition’s PKR and DAP which know the strength of the 60-over-year-old party are wooing it and trying hard to partner with it to stay alive with the possibility of forming a joint government.
Bersatu leaders are probably watching the political developments closely but they have yet to show their hand, they may have other plans as they hope PAS would not fail them to rein Umno in.
PAS on the other hand would want the three Malay-based parties to come together in the name of unity and Islam and of course, Malay political dominance.
The stalemate between Umno and Bersatu at present which even PAS cannot resolve no matter how hard it tries is the distribution of seats — the contentious issue that may result in the two parties going their separate ways.
While PAS and Umno have already nearly finalised their seats distribution, this may come to an end if Bersatu disagrees with whatever Umno has in mind as the party is aiming for several seats that Umno wants.
And this may jeopardise Muafakat Nasional (MN) political co-operation as PAS will be torn between going with Bersatu or Umno if the two parties split up.
In short, the three Malay parties are actually in a Catch-22 situation while Umno, despite not being dominant, is highly appealing to PH parties.
And if Umno leaders and delegates know their worth at present, next weekend’s convention will determine whether the party is truly attractive or something that should be kept at arm’s length.