AS one Barisan Nasional leader from Sabah puts it, the RUU355 issue was an extremely touchy issue for the multi-racial ruling coalition.
Indeed it was.
There could have been a major revolt within BN if the government decided to take over the tabling of Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s private member’s bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, or better known as RUU355.
But good sense prevailed among BN leaders who agreed at a crucial BN meeting last Wednesday not to proceed with the plan, thus averting a major crisis that could unravel the coalition.
It was a tough balancing act for BN chairman Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his Umno party in trying to appease other BN parties and at the same time wooing Pas, its newfound ally, on its side.
BN’s decision not to table the bill would have scored it some political points from non-Muslim voters, but it may also risk alienating Pas.
Both Umno and Pas need a fresh booster to win the hearts and minds of the Malay/Muslim heartland in the face of the challenge from the new Pakatan Harapan and its Malay-based opposition parties.
Hadi may now have to go back to the drawing board to salvage the bill. The fate of the bill is now in the hands of the Dewan Rakyat Speaker. By tradition, the Speaker will only consider a private bill once the government business is completed.
Hadi will also have to face the scrutiny from his party members at the annual Pas general assembly next month over the stillborn bill.
Some Pas and Umno grassroots members have been having doubts whether the increasingly warmer Umno-Pas ties will translate into some sort of electoral pact in the next general election.
Strategically, Umno needs to reach out to Pas to help stave off the threats of PKR and the two new Malay-based parties — PAN and PPBM — and bolster its electoral chances in the Malay belt.
Both Umno and Pas will do better if there are straight fights in these seats.
Detractors have quickly denounced the so-called U-turn by Umno, which has promised to back Hadi’s bill, as a blow to Pas and that it could cost Umno some votes.
Arguably, Majlis Perundingan Melayu (MPM) secretary-general Datuk Dr Hasan Mad feels that there was no way for Umno, for now, to subscribe to Pas’ wishes and at the same time ignore BN components.
MCA, MIC, Gerakan and other BN parties have feared a backlash from non-Muslims, who see the bill as a way for Pas to indirectly introduce hudud in multi-racial Malaysia.
There was a major outcry within BN, which led to the BN Supreme Council meeting last week to put the issue to rest.
Some Umno ministers had been pushing for the bill to be taken over by the government, with one saying that he should not mind losing “old” friends in order to win “new” friends.
Until lately, Umno and Pas have been holding opposing views on Islamic law and the Islamic state.
Umno looked upon itself as the nationalist party of the Malays, who are Muslims.
Umno does not see Islam as a source of trouble or a hindrance to economic development.
In fact, it was viewed as a source of stability, especially in the 1950s and 60s, when it seemed to be a necessary bulwark against communism. The party, which celebrates its 71st birthday on May 11, has had a good deal of common ground with Pas in the 70s.
The Islamic party even joined BN in 1974. The accord did not last and it was expelled from BN in 1977.
Some Pas leaders said last week they were unfazed by BN’s decision not to table the bill.
Party vice-president Idris Ahmad said Pas will continue to push for the bill until kiamat.
He said it is up to the people, or rather the voters, to evaluate.