CRYSTAL ball gazing as to when the general election (GE14) will be held is in full swing, now that PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang has tabled a motion seeking to make changes to his proposed amendments to the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355, as it is commonly referred to.
Hadi tabled the motion on the last day of the Budget session of Parliament which ended on Nov 24. He immediately deferred the motion, saying that he wanted MPs to study the changes to the Act he had proposed.
He had done the same thing on the last day of the May sitting of Parliament, tabling the motion and then calling for deferral of the debate.
Since he had first served notice, as long ago as March 2015, to Parliament that he intended to table a motion to amend Act 355, the second instance of its actual tabling and deferral on Nov 24 stoked speculation it was all part of a charade to score political points in the face of approaching polls.
Datuk Husam Musa, formerly of PAS, latterly of Parti Amanah Negara, theorised from Hadi’s second round of tabling and deferral that the general election would be held in April.
A politician of notable analytical acuity, Husam based his speculation on the fact of March being the month every year when Parliament holds its opening session which usually runs five to six weeks.
Husam figured Hadi would be allowed to table his motion yet again in the closing days of the March 2017 session but no vote would be taken.
Husam predicted Parliament would then be dissolved and GE14 would be called.
In this way PAS would have satisfied the Islamic voting bloc that it had done enough to embellish its credentials as the country’s leading political party in espousing Islam as the way of life for the Muslim majority in Malaysia.
And Umno, by allowing Hadi’s Bill to be tabled though not voted on, would have enticed PAS to stay out of an electoral pact with the rest of the Opposition, composed of PKR, DAP, Amanah and, the latest intended recruit to the fold, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) – all of whom are striving for one-on-one contests with BN in GE14.
The only holdout, among the Opposition, to the principle of one-on-one contests against BN is PAS.
The Islamic party, for as long as this principle was bandied about among the Opposition parties over the course of this year as election fever rose, has set one condition after another for joining the electoral pact to fight BN.
Several pundits have advised the Opposition they were not going to obtain the acquiescence of PAS to the one-on-one principle.
They based their assessment on the cosy relationship the PM seems to enjoy with Hadi and before he passed away earlier this year, with Dr Haron Din, the PAS spiritual leader.
But opposition parties, particularly PKR, and after it was formed, Bersatu, continued to court PAS, naively oblivious of the dynamics of Najib’s ties to Hadi.
Allowing Hadi to table his Bill on Nov 24 and then defer debate on it is seen as a shrewd step in Umno’s strategy of keeping PAS outside the clutches of the Oppositon Pakatan Harapan coalition that will soon include Bersatu.
In this reading of the move, Umno will not allow the Bill to come to a vote because that would cause division within BN, with the non-Muslim component parties already firmly arrayed against Hadi’s motion.
Which is why Husam’s speculation as to when GE14 will be held is compelling.
Non-Muslim MPs from the BN component parties have long maintained they are flatly opposed to Hadi’s Bill, with MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lay saying as recently as a fortnight ago, at the party’s annual general assembly when PM Najib was also present, that Hadi’s Bill would not even come up for debate.
The PM, who is BN chairman, did not say anything in response to Liow’s fulminations against Hadi’s Bill, obviously keeping his cards up his sleeve.
Husam speculates the way Najib would play his Act 355 card is to allow Hadi to again table his motion in the closing stages of the March opening session of Parliament and then allow time to run out on the ensuing debate.
The Bill will not be allowed to come to a vote, thus preserving the facade of unity of the BN coalition in the immediate prelude to GE14.
Politics can be a game of feint-and-manoeuvre that a skilled practitioner has to engage if this can help evade the horns of a painful dilemma.
Najib has to give PAS their irreducible minimum — tabling a motion to empower the Shariah courts to deal out punishment, save the death penalty, for Shariah violations – in order to keep the Islamist party out of the opposition fold.
The BN chair has also to maintain coalition unity in the face of GE14.
Thus he cannot allow Hadi’s motion to come to a vote, more so when some peninsula Umno MPs and their Sabah counterparts, both Muslim and non-Muslim, may vote against Hadi’s Bill.
All 25 of Sarawak BN MPs, Muslim and non-Muslim, have been directed by Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenam Satem to vote down Hadi’s Bill.
It simply does not make any sense for the BN chair to allow Hadi’s Bill to come to a vote, given the Opposiiton to the measure within certain quarters of BN.
It’s a complicated manoeuvre, this allowing of Hadi’s Bill to come up for debate but not for a vote, but nobody would bet against its chances of succeeding.
Succeeding at what? Keeping PAS out of the Opposition’s electoral pact while maintaining the facade of unity within BN.