The decades-long push by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) to implement controversial Islamic criminal laws received a boost yesterday when the Umno-led government allowed the "hudud Bill" to be tabled in Parliament.
But PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang decided instead to defer his motion to the next sitting of Parliament in October.
PAS has been pushing federal MPs to amend the law so that it can implement strict Islamic criminal laws - called hudud - in Kelantan state. These would include chopping off the hands of thieves.
The party's plan has been thwarted in the federal Parliament because under the Constitution, a simple majority in Parliament is needed for the Bill to become law. PAS was previously blocked from debating the hudud Bill in Parliament by the Barisan Nasional government, which is led by Umno MPs.
When the Umno Speaker of Parliament allowed Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang to debate his proposed Bill yesterday, many MPs were caught off guard. But the move also set tongues wagging on growing PAS-Umno ties.
"Thank you to the government for allowing this motion," Mr Hadi told reporters. He said he was postponing the motion as yesterday was the last day of the current session of Parliament, and there was little time to debate the Bill.
The sudden prioritisation of Mr Hadi's Private Member's Bill ahead of government business yesterday raised eyebrows. The Bill was listed as No. 15 - the last item - in the order paper, but was allowed to jump the queue.
Some MPs wondered if Umno, which now supports PAS in many issues, and vice-versa, is trying to help Mr Hadi. PAS will hold its annual congress next week in Kelantan. Mr Hadi is expected to be grilled then by members on the benefit of working with a former arch-enemy.
"This allows PAS to justify its new approach of working with Umno instead of other opposition parties. It can say these efforts have resulted in the hudud Bill seeing the light of day," S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies senior fellow Oh Ei Sun told The Straits Times.
The PAS congress will be followed quickly by two by-elections in Malay-Muslim majority constituencies, and both are set to be contested by Umno and PAS, with other parties also keen to enter the fray.
PAS Youth chief Nik Abduh Nik Aziz said it was not a secret that the party is working with Umno. "We collaborate on important matters that benefit both sides and the people," he said.
Quarrels over hudud led to the split of the opposition alliance last year, after a bitter feud between the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP) and PAS. A group of moderate PAS leaders then quit the party to form Parti Amanah and re-established an alliance with the DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat, called Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Non-Muslims have largely supported PH, and disapprove of hudud enactments passed in Kelantan and Terengganu, as well as creeping Islamisation in Malaysia.