Umno's dangerous political bet: Sin Chew Daily columnist

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak leaves his office at the parliament in Kuala Lumpur, on May 25, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Najib said it was a "big misunderstanding".

But that was hardly convincing.

He said the amendment to the Syariah courts act tabled by Hadi was only targeting Muslims, and that no hudud law was to be tabled.

It's like denying that a white horse is not a horse, something that probably Hadi himself would not agree.

A small window has now been opened, and we still need to observe further developments taking place after the Parliament resumes in October.

But, Hadi's plan would start from Kelantan, and be duplicated in other states to eventually bring to fruition his Islamic State dream.

BN component parties started to feel their fears last year that some day this dreadful moment would arrive.

They have repeatedly urged Umno not to open up this window, or the consequences could be beyond control.

Unfortunately Umno has secretly struck a deal with PAS and has hastily allowed a private member's bill on hudud to be tabled, much to the shock of uninformed component party leaders.

So, stop telling the world it is a "big misunderstanding".

People were curious why now?

Does it have anything to do with the by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar?

Must be, in one way or another. Democracy or semi-democratic politics have been brought into existence and have their values created all because of elections.

The two by-elections are not only important to Umno and Najib; they are critically important.

These two by-elections are a crucial skirmish ahead of the next general elections.

A victory in the battles could have a powerful morale-boosting effect on the ruling coalition, and a defeat could as well spell a looming disaster.

The question is, Najib's personal image has plunged to the bottom of the valley thanks to 1MDB and the RM2.6 billion political donations, and that has sent a shockwave to his own party Umno.

At the same time, former PM Mahathir has gone this far as to team up with the opposition in an attempt to bring down Najib through his "Save Malaysia" campaign and Citizens' Declaration.

Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, with 70 per cent and 80 per cent Malay voters respectively, have been retained by Umno with razor-thin minorities in the lack of Chinese support.

From the Chinese community's perspectives, it is next to impossible for BN to claim these two seats with their support this time.

Umno's strategists have done the calculation: Umno has irreversibly lost the support of non-Malays, especially the largely hostile Chinese Malaysians. Counting on a return of Chinese votes to BN is a wild, wild dream.

They have to put all their stakes on Malay voters now to win these two seats.

So they come up with a religious card, telling the voters Umno too can accept hudud, in a bid to win their favour while diverting the voters' attention from 1MDB and RM 2.6 billion.

Of course, many would question whether such a move would do PAS a big favour instead.

Here's the answer: In the inevitable three-cornered fights, PAS is not Umno's biggest rival, and Umno needs PAS to help put down Amanah or PKR.

Umno claims about 45 per cent of fundamental Malay support in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, PAS only about 25 per cent.

The remaining 30 per cent will be the kingmakers!

Pakatan Harapan has pinned its hope on 80 per cent of Chinese votes and 30 per cent of Malay votes to win, especially in Sungai Besar where Pakatan, as the state's ruling party, has an advantage in terms of mobilization of resources.

This is where Umno's biggest fears lie.

Umno wants to win the by-elections and PAS wants hudud and Islamic state.

The duo couldn't have made more compatible partners.

By allowing Hadi to table his private bill, Umno can look forward to a reciprocated goodwill from the Islamist party to help it sail past the by-elections.

As for whether hudud would get debated and passed in the Parliament, that's Najib's concern several months down the road. And for the inevitably strained relationship with other BN components, Najib would only try to patch up after winning the by-elections.

Najib and his Umno are engaged in a highly risky political adventure which unfortunately will have long term repercussions on this country.

BN is risking a further depletion of any residual non-Malay support; other BN component parties would invariably take the brunt, pushing the coalition closer to the edge of the cliff.

Once a door is opened, the country might be headed towards a religionisation road of no return.

There is a very heavy price to pay for a highly risky political bet.

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