The Najib Razak government has a well-ironed plan: Win the next General Elections (GE) with the ‘Cash is King’ strategy.
But since his government will depend largely on Malay votes in the not-so-developed areas of Peninsular Malaysia, it is putting a lot of emphasis on it’s perceived Islamism.
To achieve that, it roped in the Islamists from the opposition PAS.
However since the PAS is insufficient as a vehicle to promote Umno’s Islamism – due to the conflicting minds that do not yet blend together – Najib has brought in the foreign legion.
Preachers like Numan Ali Khan, Zakir Naik and Mufti Menk does not come cheap.
But since cash is king, some can be ‘bought-over’ to do a bit of covert political black ops in brought daylight.
The most recent acquisitions in the Umno stable are Zakir Naik and Menk, who both were seen either in selfies or in promotional pictures together with Najib.
Naik on the run
Zakir, who is on the run from the Indian authorities, will be in Malaysia for some time, perhaps running around townships and villages with one thing in mind, that is expurgating the ‘liberal’ opposition Pakatan Harapan.
The Islamic preacher is in Malaysia to avoid going to India, saying he would prefer to be questioned by investigators from India on “neutral ground” such as Malaysia.
He said that if he were to be questioned in India, he would be subjected to “torture”.
Thus, he has chosen the road of the ‘lesser evil’, as he has instructed a rowdy crowd querying him on local politics to do.
Slowly, but surely, Naik will learn that meddling in Malaysian politics will bring him more harm than good, as it will undermine his popularity as a preacher.
Unless he is given the Malaysian nationality – or has already been given the nationality as claimed by his detractors – which will allow him to speak freely on local politics but at his own peril.
Divide and rule
But why would Najib take such a risk by allowing foreign preachers to meddle in local political affairs?
An act of desperation? Perhaps, but even in despair, the cool Najib would not make such a mistake.
The idea is to divide and rule, similar to his tactic of driving a wedge between the opposition parties pitting the PAS against the Chinese-dominated DAP.
The tactic worked so well that he even duped the PAS on the amendments to the Islamic criminal laws, dumping the idea of his government pushing through the bill but allowing the PAS leader Hadi Awang to do so on a personal note.
Victory it was for Hadi and defeat it was for the PAS detractors, but the victory will be short-lived if the Umno and the PAS do not fare well in the GE.
While the presence of Mufti Menk and Zakir Naik alongside Najib is to boost his Islamic credentials, it is also a move to portray the opposition as un-Islamic thus not worthy of the Malay votes.
This will be another cornerstone of his electoral tactic, and the opposition should better be prepared to face the backlash soon.
At this stage, the opposition is too busy cementing its wounds – after losing the PAS and painstakingly getting the PAS breakaway Amanah party to gel in public – and it has no response to the likes of Naik or Menk.
It is too adamant to be seen as a non-religious-meddling-political-group to be seen with men in scarves and robes.
But it is forgetting the religious importance for the Malays in particular, and by doing so, it is giving credence to the PAS in particular.
The PAS is saying the DAP – which is a formidable force in the opposition group – is anti-Islamic and is against the RUU355 because it is a party that does not want to see Malaysia become more Islamic.
To the PAS, this is a message that the Malays will understand but to the DAP which is even more adamant than it was before, this is not going to force it to change its political jargon.
This brings us to the conclusion on whether the DAP really want to topple the Umno and Najib, or they are comfortable with the current ruling coalition as long as they are the champion of democracy in the opposition?
This now leaves us with the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia or Bersatu of Mahathir Mohamad and the Party Keadilan Rakyat or PKR of Anwar Ibrahim,
Where do they stand on this ‘religious fanaticism’ that has engulfed Malaysia’s political landscape?
With the PKR professing the ‘freedom of religion’ – which is abhorred by the PAS – but supported by the DAP, it will open up its flanks to virulent attacks from the Islamists and the Umno.
But will these attacks work? Yes and no, because the Malays, in general, does not seem to really bother about the religious input in politics and that is why the PAS is a ‘rider’ on all current geo-political waves in the country.
For example, the PAS today has more than 10 seats in Parliament thanks to Anwar Ibrahim, but it is too proud to admit it.
It will never win votes based on the Hudud, but it can win votes or cause voters to desist if it presses hard – like it did in 2013 in some constituencies where it betrayed the PKR – on issues that it knows will hurt the Malay feelings.
And one such point of contention is the ‘interfaith’ movement in the country which is supported heavily by the PKR.
The PAS will be hypocritical to say it was not part of any interfaith movements since Hadi Awang was himself a member and leader of interfaith programmes in the past.
Yet, with memory being a funny thing, Hadi will undoubtedly campaign against the PKR on the Malay front using Anwar’s party’s perceived liberal stances on religious issues as the battle horse.
But Umno and PAS should beware of the Bersatu with Mahathir in the lead and of Anwar Ibrahim’s campaign from jail.
And we are certain that Mahathir will tell the Malays to be weary of the ‘cap’ wearing Malay politicians.
In the past, he has been very successful in undermining the PAS version of Islam and Mahathir might be the opposition’s only way to strip Najib of his push to be recognised as a clean, mean and powerful ‘Islamic’ leader!
What will Mahathir do during the upcoming electoral campaign is yet to be seen, indeed, but be prepared for the jabs that will hurt in the long run.