By Mohsin Abdullah
It was always going to be difficult for Umno and PAS since they formed Muafakat Nasional back in 2019 as a pact to topple then government Pakatan Harapan.
They knew it all along despite the bold front put up by the two of them, saying all is fine and dandy and they are together in the name of unity of Muslim ummah.
There were issues, many if I may add, and from the start Umno and PAS were well aware that seat allocations in the event of GE15 would be a major problem. All unresolved but kept under wraps yet hard to conceal.
Then came the Sheraton Move in February 2020 and the formation of the Perikatan National government with PAS wholeheartedly inside and Umno on the outside but with several of its leaders in government.
To say the least, an odd situation from the outset.
And when PAS began to pander more and more towards Bersatu whose president is also prime minister, Umno is simply not amused.
And it never liked Bersatu in the first place for reasons which we know all too well, hence not necessary repeating.
Cracks began to appear and after a lull, the cracks are reappearing now if not worsening.
The latest onslaught was fired by Johor Umno deputy head Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed when he called for his party to "reconsider" ties with PAS in Muafakat Nasional.
This is not the first time Jazlan has taken aim at PAS. In February, he openly called PAS to once and for all state its official stand which side it was on -- with Umno in Muafakat National or Bersatu in Perikatan Nasional.
PAS was (and still is) trying to have the cake and eat it too, prompting Jazlan to describe the Islamist party as making a "neither here nor there" stand and boldly asked PAS to be "brave and honest in making a decision whose side you're on".
He had hard words then, he have hard words now. The latest episode involved the planned sale of prime property belonging to cash-rich Malaysian Rubber Board or MRB which is under the jurisdiction of PAS minister Khairuddin Aman Razali which saw him trading barbs with Umno MP Ahmad Nazlan Idris who was the board's former chairman.
FMT recently quoted Jazlan saying Umno has always been suspicious of PAS leaders "as they now seem to be more interested in power and position and in some cases money. And in the current episode involving MRB there are some serious allegations."
Khairuddin, the plantation industries and commodities minister on his part, is claiming that some Umno leaders "are attacking" him over the MRB controversy, but he "would not be deterred to strengthen Muafakat Nasional".
According to FMT, the MRB issue could be a catalyst that could lead to the break-up of Umno-PAS ties.
Already Jazlan is saying PAS will most likely be a liability in GE15 should the parties cooperate, going by recent actions of some of its leaders which "have exposed the other side of PAS".
And he went on to say PAS had failed to deliver good governance and prosperity to the rakyat in the states the party ruled or where it held power in the past, citing the Terengganu government led by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang from 1999 to 2004 as example.
Therefore, Jazlan wants Umno to drop PAS in GE15.
But Kelantan Umno leader Datuk Md Alwi Che Mat, on the other hand, not only wants ties with PAS to be maintained but strengthened, because together "we will win all seats we contest in the elections".
And an Umno-PAS united force as in Muafakat Nasional, according to Alwi, "is what the Malays want", thus he describes Jazlan's suggestion that PAS be dropped as "irrelevant".
To veteran political observer Mohd Sayuti Omar, the difference in opinion between Jazlan and Alwi is taking into the political interests of Umno in the states they come from.
"To Jazlan, the role and contribution of PAS in Johor is not beneficial to Umno, but to Alwi who is from Kelantan, Umno in his state needs the support of PAS which is still strong there," say Sayuti.
PAS has ruled Kelantan since 1990 and Sayuti says Umno has not been able to make significant inroads in their fight against the party ever since, despite deploying all sorts of strategies.
However, as Sayuti sees it, Alwi's remarks that Umno-PAS ties must be strengthened in the name of Malay unity is "mere political rhetoric".
Several analysts I spoke to also opine that Alwi saying Umno-PAS via Muafakat Nasional will make a clean sweep of seats in GE15 "is oversimplifying the situation".
Take the Johor and Kelantan interest apart, what is obvious according to Sayuti, the overall picture is that Umno feels it has been betrayed by PAS, and as pointed out by Jazlan, PAS is now more interested in "power, position and in some cases, money".
And PAS, says Sayuti, is showing political "shrewdness" and is already adopting a sort of "Machiavellianism" which in psychology refers to a personality trait which sees a person so focused on his own interests that he will manipulate, deceive and exploit others to achieve his goals.
Kelantan-born Sayuti has been following PAS politics for decades. He had close ties with the much respected PAS spiritual leader the late Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat. In fact, Sayuti's father was also a PAS member a long time ago.
When the Muafakat Nasional Charter was officially signed two years ago, Sayuti told me the pact would not last long.
He is not one who likes to boast or blow his own trumpet, but should what he had predicted come true, I think he has every right to tell me "See I told you so."
But I don't think he will do that -- the humble man that he is.
(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)