Umno has made countless U-turns, but the latest one involving the amendment of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 has won tremendous applause from the Malaysian public as it assures us that our secular system will not be affected as yet.
The U-turn has been a consequence of strong opposition from other BN component parties. If Umno were to press on with the tabling of PAS president Hadi Awang’s private bill, it is anticipated that the BN coalition would be headed to a decisive split, and could as well bring down the BN government before the bill even gets to the debate and voting.
Umno has decided to drop the bill having weighed the pros and cons, including the possibility that the bill will not even get adopted in Dewan Rakyat.
Anyway, the U-turn on the part of Umno has been a positive development to the Chinese-majority parties in BN, especially with so many negative developments in recent years making it hard for these parties to make any real progress.
If the nation were to go to the polls right away, MCA and Gerakan will get some additional support from the Chinese community, but unfortunately this is not going to happen tomorrow and the RUU355 issue has yet to come to a complete close and could tip the balance once again.
Given the earlier precedent whereby minister in the PM’s department Azalina Othman Said motioned in the Parliament on May 27 last year to seek to prioritize the private member’s bill, there is concern that some Umno ministers might once again offer the green light for Hadi’s private bill to take precedence.
The government decided not to take over the private bill due to lack of consensus in the BN Supreme Council meeting last Wednesday, but this does not mean Umno will give up an opportunity to cooperate with PAS. Umno openly reneging on its pledge has hurt the feelings of the Islamist party, clouding the prospects for future collaboration.
Najib has said BN will not have an official stand on the RUU355 amendment bill. Does that mean if the bill gets to the debate and voting in Dewan Rakyat, BN reps can vote whichever way they like, in particular Umno reps? If Umno lawmakers were to endorse the private bill in the Parliament, the unity and mutual trust among BN parties will once again come under assault.
Another critical question now is how the PAS leadership is going to interpret Umno’s change of mind. How are they going to answer to the grassroots and supporters if they choose to continue trusting Umno? Will the mutual trust established with so much difficulty between the two parties ever stand the test?
It looks like Umno is not going to abandon PAS anytime soon so that the Islamist party will not get to mend its ties with PKR or seal a new seat allocation agreement with Bersatu, hence threatening the survival of Umno.
If Hadi’s private bill crashes again this time, it is believed that the party will do something at the Muktamar later this month. If PAS decides not to work with Umno, the RUU355 issue could very well be exploited as a potent weapon to hit out at Umno.
PAS leaders’ immediate reactions have been rather toned down, saying instead that such a development was well “within anticipation, disappointing or causing uneasiness” while observing Umno’s next course of action.
Umno’s U-turn has put the party in a very difficult situation, as the move has failed many of its supporters as well as religious organizations and NGOs. For instance, the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM) has urged the government to take full responsibility for reneging on its pledge to table the RUU355 amendment bill.
Thanks to RUU355, Umno leaders require more than ever some positive news to lift the party’s morale, and this probably explains why Malaysia has reached a very quick agreement on the negotiations with Pyongyang by sending back the body of Km Jong-nam along with the three North Korean suspects, in exchange for the safe return of nine Malaysian citizens stranded in Pyongyang.
The government’s decision to drop RUU355 will most definitely frustrate the conservatives in Umno. With their meticulously designed move now having crashed, they may have to come up with some other strategies to materialize the objective of a “grand unity among the Malays”.
The latest development in RUU355 is dealing a severe blow on Umno, but the game is yet to be over. Umno will have to draw up some new plans to consolidate its hold of the Malay vote. As such, it is unlikely GE14 will be held very soon.
From dividing the opposition camp to the attempted collusion between Umno and PAS, to the unreserved exposure of BN’s indecision, it proves that the RUU355 issue is indeed a double-edged sword that could hurt both sides. It is advisable to quit this risky game soon before it causes more havoc.