“WE fight Umno not because of its name. We fight Barisan Nasional not because it has long been the government. We fight them because they retain a colonial constitution, maintain infidel laws and keep ignorant (jahiliyah) rules.
“Our struggle is one of jihad. And if we perish fighting them, we will be martyrs.”
Those impassioned words were uttered by Hadi Awang in a speech at Kampung Banggol Peradong in Terengganu in 1981. The PAS president was just 34 years old and had just burst onto the political scene.
That speech and tone became a rallying cry in PAS’ battle against the ruling party, who were tagged as unbelievers. Such was the ferocity of the attacks that families were split along political lines, while separate surau and mosques were built in villages for supporters of PAS and Umno.
That was 36 years ago, when Hadi was an upstart politician and making a name for himself in PAS and Terengganu.
How things have changed.
These days, Hadi is more likely to praise Umno than wish damnation upon its members. The Islamist party has forged arguably the closest link any PAS president has had with an Umno president, driven by his view that the primacy of Malay political power and Islam in Malaysia trumps all other considerations.
This new era of warm ties between PAS and Umno was there for all to see recently when Hadi’s protégé, Kuala Nerus MP Khairudin Aman Razali, shared a car with Terengganu Menteri Besar Razif Rahman.
The photo was shared on social media, forcing the PAS Dewan Ulama information chief to explain the circumstances in some length.
Similarly, earlier last month, Hadi attended a function organised by the ministry of agriculture and agro-based industries in Marang, and was literally in the same boat with minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek, who is also a member of the Umno supreme council.
Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi’s attendance in the district was also welcomed by Terengganu PAS commissioner Hussein Awang. They broke fast together at Tok Jembal mosque, a few kilometres away from PAS’ headquarters in Kampung Banggol Peradong, where Hadi gave that defining speech 36 years ago.
“PAS has changed now and Umno is no longer its enemy,” PAS Batu Burok assemblyman Dr Syed Azman Ahmad Nawawi said.
Although he is still a PAS member, Syed Azman is one of the few party figures who was against cutting ties with other opposition parties in return for friendlier ties with Umno.
According to the former political secretary to Hadi, PAS might not join Barisan Nasional (BN) in the 14th General Election but the party would not be hostile towards Umno either.
“I was told by a Terengganu Umno assemblyman that they have been instructed not to regard PAS as the enemy anymore.
“There is a possibility that Hadi’s seat will not be contested by Umno,” Syed Azman told The Malaysian Insight.
But the former Universiti Malaya lecturer said it would still be difficult for PAS and Umno grassroots members to accept the decision, both having fought tough electoral battles for decades.
“That’s why official cooperation will not happen,” Syed Azman said, predicting three-cornered fights in Terengganu in the next general election.
Syed Azman also did not share PAS grassroots leaders confidence in recapturing Terengganu.
“Umno has admitted that it is comfortable with three-cornered fights in Terengganu. If one-on-one, BN will lose this time,” Syed Azman said.
He also didn’t rule out the possibility of Pakatan Harapan winning several seats in urban areas even in three-cornered fights, as long as the opposition parties were united.
“The atmosphere today is different from GE13. Previously, they were all confident with PAS, but it’s not the case anymore. If PKR, Amanah and Bersatu contest as one coalition, using one logo, they have a high chance of winning especially, in many of the urban seats.”
The last general election saw PKR candidates who contested Kota Putera, Seberang Takir and Bukit Besi lose their deposits following three-cornered fights against BN and PAS.
Syed Azman’s observations were shared by Kuala Terengganu MP Raja Baharin Shah. He believes PAS should be more honest with their supporters if it is planning to work with Umno.
“This is not a strategy that is sanctified by Islam. It is treachery. Especially if they keep on working with Umno for their own interests without telling the members,” said Raja Baharin.
Raja Bahrin said PAS was worried that they might lose their grassroots supporters, as they had fought Umno for the longest time.
“The reality is, PAS is no longer the same party under Nik Aziz Nik Mat. Today’s PAS is an extension of Umno, while Umno is still bent on destroying PAS,” said Raja Baharin.