Sin Chew Daily
Tens of thousands of rally goers assembled at Padang Merbok last weekend for the "Support RUU355" rally organized by PAS in a bid to drum up support for the amendments to Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 to increase the degree of penalties for religious offenses.
The private bill to amend the act was first proposed by PAS president Hadi Awang, but the federal government later expressed its intention of taking over the bill.
Nevertheless, due to differences in views within the BN coalition, various parties are still sitting on the fence observing the possible developments before taking the next course of action. We have yet to know whether the bill could get debated when the Dewan Rakyat session resumes next month.
Hadi's RUU355 amendment bill has seen its share of controversies since day one. While PAS is totally resolved to push through the amendment bill, all the rest -- including the various components of the ruling coalition as well as the general public -- remain divided over whether to support or reject it. Chinese-majority parties and the Chinese community generally disapprove of Hadi's RUU355 amendment bill.
Even among the Muslims, not everyone thinks the same way.
PAS' effort in pushing ahead the RUU355 has made a significant leap following the green light from Umno in the Parliament, but the journey ahead is not without the hurdles. In view of this, PAS has organized this mammoth rally to bring the supporting forces together in a bid to exert pressure on Umno and other Muslim MPs to eventually table and adopt the bill in Dewan Rakyat.
The RUU355 rally has managed to draw a sizeable crowd to take to the street. PAS claimed that some 300,000 participants turned up last Saturday. The massive crowd was a major morale booster for the party, but it is yet to be seen whether Umno and Muslim MPs would follow PAS' lead.
Notably, Umno's minister in the PM's department in charge of religious affairs Jamil Khir Baharom also turned up to show his support. The focus is now on the question whether Umno will eventually extend its full cooperation to PAS on the RUU355 amendment bill.
Lest we forget, there are plenty of opposing voices within the BN coalition itself. MCA, Gerakan Rakyat and BN components in East Malaysia have expressly voiced their disapproval. If Umno were to go ahead without consulting its allies, Barisan Nasional could be forced to the brink of collapse.
As the predominant party in the country's nation-building process, Umno has every responsibility and obligation to defend the Constitution and the existing system. Although RUU355 is not going to be hudud, it will nevertheless lay a foundation for the eventual implementation of hudud in this country, posing a severe threat to our secular system. There is no way we should ignore the seriousness of this whole thing.
Naturally Umno has its own strategic considerations and political needs for engaging PAS at such a crucial moment. Having said that, there is a bottomline as to how far any political calculation can go. We must not rock the foundation of our nation-building for the sake of near-term political interests.