Umno’s dalliance with PAS, especially its support of the ‘hudud bill’, indicates that it is business as usual for the party.
But, journalist David Hutt adds, this has serious consequences, including damage to the very social fabric of the nation.
Observing that the politicisation of Islam has been used, often successfully, by Umno for decades, Hutt says in an article in World Politics Review that the hudud controversy “might smack of desperation from the embattled party and its menaced prime minister.”
He sees Umno playing a game in its support of PAS’s ‘hudud bill’, the goal of which is to win back support of its Malay voters and continue to rule.
Hutt says by supporting the ‘hudud bill’, Umno has managed to appeal to its core Malay voters, court PAS, and split the Opposition.
He notes that some have suggested that, with the Opposition divided and weakened, as is the ruling coalition of Barisan Nasional, Umno might attempt to form an alliance with PAS.
If statistics are anything to go by, he says, then with Malay-Muslims comprising more than 60 per cent of the population, an Umno-PAS partnership would offer strong odds on a majority in the next general election.
But, he adds, most political commentators dismiss the possibility of such an alliance, believing instead that Umno is playing a game of brinkmanship with the Opposition.
“Ibrahim Suffian (head of the Merdeka Centre) told me that ‘most observers don’t think that hudud would really be introduced’, and that Umno politicians will simply reject it when it’s debated in October.”
Hutt says the bill is unlikely to pass, even with unanimous Umno backing, because of Parliament’s 222 legislators, only 100 are from Umno and PAS and they don’t have the needed majority.
Most other sizeable parties have stated they would not support the bill, he notes.
“Nevertheless, if this is just Umno chicanery, are the ends necessarily worth the means? There are concerns that permanent damage might be done even before the bill is debated in October.”
As an example he cites the description of DAP politicians as “kafir harbi” by Abdul Rahman Osman, the mufti of Pahang and notes that a week after that Malaysia witnessed the first successful attack on its soil by Islamic State militants.
Some Muslims interpret the ‘kafir harbi” label as justifying the killing of those so designated.
“The hudud bill has also raised concerns, once again, over the place of non-Muslims in Malaysia. While the tabled bill only applies to the state of Kelantan, trepidation remains that, once accepted, it could generate a slippery slope toward its application everywhere in Malaysia.
“Critics say this would undermine the legitimacy of the federal justice system, making it separate and unequal, or that it would infringe on the rights of non-Muslims.”
Hutt says the contention by PAS that non-Muslims in Kelantan will not be affected does not evoke confidence as non-Muslim Malaysians have seen how, in neighbouring Aceh, Indonesia, where hudud law applies, an elderly Christian was flogged after being accused of selling alcohol.
There have been suggestions, he says, that if the bill were to be passed, it could eventually lead to the break-up of Malaysia, with the Borneo states going their own way.
He quotes Sim Kui Hian, president of Parti Rakyat Bersatu Sarawak, as having said that since Islam was not as prominent in Sarawak, the “passing of the bill could motivate Sarawakians to part ways with Malaysia.”
The bill also raises concerns about the future stability of the BN coalition.
He quotes Ibrahim Suffian as saying: “It’s a very serious threat. If you look at political stability in Malaysia, it basically rests on BN as a coalition being united and being able to manage the competing interests of the group.”
However, cracks are appearing as seen by the threats by six ministers from the ruling coalition to resign if the bill is passed.