The danger in Malaysian politics as usual

There’s this sandiwara (stage play) playing out before us and I hope the Malaysian public can see through it. One protagonist is PAS which kicked up a political storm when it tabled the Shariah Criminal Code II Enactment 1993 (amendment 2015) at the Kelantan assembly on March 19 to enable it to implement Islamic law in the state, and which was subsequently unanimously passed.

PAS president, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, now plans to table a private members’ bill in Parliament during the current sitting ending April 9 to amend the Shariah Courts Act (Criminal Jurisdiction) 1965, which is necessary for Kelantan to carry out hudud law.

PAS is one of the partners in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition whose common policy framework does not include hudud. But PAS has always declared it wants to introduce Islamic law and, I suppose, the coalition partners thought that as long as it was part of the coalition, it would respect its allies and not go against the common policy framework.

But PAS went ahead with its hudud plans claiming that it was a state matter. But, I suspect that PAS’ motives were political rather than religious. Following the death of former Kelantan Menteri Besar and PAS spiritual advisr, Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, PAS leaders had to prove that they were true to the PAS cause. Nik Aziz was a very strong supporter of PR and dead set against any form of partnership with Umno, the leading member of the governing Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. With his death, the possibility of getting Umno’s help to introduce hudud and show their supporters that PAS leaders still call the shots when it comes to their religion became clearer. And, since it was a state matter, there was no necessity to get their coalition partners’ green light. With Umno’s support they could take the issue up to Parliament confident that all Muslim Members of Parliament would be religiously bound to vote in favour of their bill.

PR coalition partners , the DAP and the PKR — the other protagonists — cried foul, especially the DAP! DAP said they felt “betrayed”, “stabbed in the back” etc, etc, — generally that PAS had broken faith with PR partners, and, as a result, it could not work with PAS. PAS supporters, of course, retaliated, accusing DAP leaders of being disrespectful to Hadi. The point to note here is that these supporters were mostly from the conservative factions in PAS.

Now, enter, another protagonist, the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), a BN component party. The MCA has been whacking the DAP over its failure to stop PAS from pushing for hudud, calling it to leave the coalition since it could not keep up with its election promises of keeping PAS from introducing hudud.

But, MCA said nothing about the fact that it was its leading component party in the BN — Umno — which tipped the scales in favour of hudud when it voted en bloc at the Kelantan assembly! Umno, the leading and strong proponent of moderate Islam, abandoned all notions of moderation in favour of hudud! The reasons are obvious. In conservative Kelantan, if you want votes, you don’t vote against religion, particularly Islam. Another reason was to break up PR. If PAS succeeds in achieving hudud, it would become untenable for the DAP, avowed secularists, to work with PAS, which means, it would have to leave PR, to show its supporters that it was dead serious in opposing PAS’ hudud.

The DAP read the intent correctly and aware that some progressive factions in PAS support PR, censured Hadi, saying they won’t work with him, but they will work with the party and stayed in PR. The coalition was saved. DAP secretary-general, Lim Kit Siang, then turned the tables over and called for the setting up of a coalition, made up of parties — especially Christian-based parties from East Malaysia — in the hope they would break ranks with the BN because they will not vote for hudud.

Now, it would seem that the BN is under threat of breaking up! Judging from the comments made by a few Umno members and BN component parties, I doubt it. Because this is a sandiwara! Umno is the silent protagonist in this sandiwara. Till today Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has not said a word on the hudud issue, which is rather strange.

While this scenario unfolded, Umno members kept mum. It was only in the last week, when it became clear that PR remained intact, that they began to speak up about the unlikelihood of hudud ever being passed in Parliament, because Umno knows East Malaysian parties won’t support it.

I don’t know if they knew this all along, that this was a political ploy to bring down the PR. But, let’s look back at what happened. PAS was willing to introduce hudud and antagonise its PR partners to pacify its supporters. Umno was willing to support hudud at the expense of its East Malaysian parties to win rural Malay support. The East Malaysian parties will vote against hudud but are not willing to leave the BN. MCA — most vocal against hudud — was willing to remain an ally to Umno in BN although it supports hudud.

Why would the East Malaysian parties and MCA not speak out against Umno’s apparent abandonment of moderation unless they knew that the intent was only to bring PR down? It could be that nobody knew exactly what was going on and that this was just business as usual in Malaysian politics until 3 important factors became apparent.

1. Firstly, until now everyone assumed that Malaysian Muslims would blindly vote in favour of anything Islam. But, when the Kelantan assembly passed PAS bill, hudud became a very real possibility. And — encouragingly — Muslims themselves began to openly discuss hudud and its implications. And, it became apparent that there were Muslims who were not in favour of implementing hudud, which means that if Umno continued on the road to hudud, they would lose some Malay support, which at this point it can not risk.

2. Secondly, DAP made it clear it wasn’t leaving PR. That was the outcome that didn’t happen, and hudud lost its political currency in the hands of those using it to undermine PR. I suspect that was when Umno members began to make announcements on the improbability of hudud ever getting Parliament’s ok in order to allay public fears.

3. Thirdly, when it became apparent that hudud was going to Parliament, politicians finally realised that the game was turning dangerous. A precedent should not be set when a state government can seek to amend the Federal Constitution to introduce laws to suit its own particular agenda. State laws must be consistent with — not contrary to — Federal laws.

What bothers me most about all these political machinations is that politicians are willing to impose their own agendas on the entire country for the sake of political survival. They are willing to impose hudud and erase the multi-cultural character of Malaysia that other nations envy about us — in order to stay in power. To me this is abject irresponsibility.

There is only one way to stop such under-handed sleight of hand politics: the people must vote in a much stronger opposition so that a two-party system is here to stay. That is the only way to ensure that this country will be led the way the people want it.

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