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PAS-UMNO National Unity Talk:
From Straits Time Singapore
By Wan Hamidi Hamid IN KUALA LUMPUR  

PAS wants to discuss Anwar and oil royalties at unity talks  The party's president says it will raise contentious issues at the historic meeting with Umno next Monday

THE much-awaited summit between Umno and PAS will feature the discussion of two of the most contentious issues in Malaysian politics. PAS president Fadzil Noor said in an interview that the jailing of Anwar Ibrahim and oil royalties for Terengganu will be very high-up in 'unity talks' scheduled for next Monday.

This is the first time the PAS leader has openly discussed his party's agenda for the dialogue since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad mooted the idea last year. This will also be the first meeting between the two parties since 1973, when PAS agreed to join Barisan Nasional (BN). Four years after that meeting, PAS was sacked from the ruling coalition. Although there were rumours about a one-to-one dialogue between Datuk Fadzil and Dr Mahathir this Monday, Datuk Fadzil said the two parties would be represented by a delegation of more than four people each.

Datuk Fadzil is downplaying fears expressed by other PAS and Barisan Alternatif (BA) leaders, saying he is doing the right thing by meeting Dr Mahathir to discuss national issues. He said PAS could bring up the release or retrial of jailed former deputy premier Anwar. 'We have yet to decide on the details but we will definitely bring up the issue,' he said. Datuk Fadzil added that this would open further discussions about Malaysia's judiciary, especially on the government's alleged selective prosecution of opposition members. 'It is not just the perception of PAS or Barisan Alternatif people that something is wrong with the judiciary but also by the judiciary.' He said it was Anwar's sacking and trials that prompted Umno Malays to rebel against the leadership.

Hence, he claimed there is no division among Malays, only Umno members who have left the party to join PAS or Parti Keadilan. 'The Malays see Anwar as a symbol of injustice. This is the problem between Umno and its members, and Umno and the Malays. 'We will also raise issues such as erosion of democracy, economic mismanagement and the Federal government's failure to respect states' rights.' PAS plans to ask Dr Mahathir for the reinstatement of the Terengganu oil royalty payment, and for the state capitation grant for both Terengganu and Kelantan to be paid on time. Datuk Fadzil said that he would raise other national issues that will benefit all of the people.

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, PAS president Datuk Fadzil Noor talks about the proposed Umno-PAS unity talks.

Q: Why do you want to meet Umno leaders?

A: We have always wanted to discuss with Umno for many years. But proposed dialogues and debates have failed. So when Umno invited us, we agreed to accept. But we have made it clear that the topics must not be on Malay unity but issues of national interests. In a multiracial society, solving the problems of one race would not resolve the country's problems.

Q: If the Malays are said to be leaving Umno to join PAS and other opposition parties, why bother with the unity talks?

A: Although Umno is getting weaker, it is still ruling the government. It is good to have the discussion because we can give our views directly to Umno leaders, who are also the government leaders.

Q: Are you worried about the possibility that Umno might trap PAS?

A: There must be sincerity by all parties. No one should try to trap the other party. We have experience with Umno before, so we know how to handle things. We also want the media to highlight the talks fairly. Our technical committee has informed its Umno counterpart over this issue.

Q: Would there be follow-up talks between BN and BA?

A: We will bring up the matter at this Monday's meeting. We also want the NGOs to participate in any unity talks.
 

-- Wan Hamidi Hamid ....