Malaysia's opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is facing renewed turmoil as its secular faction warns that the attempt by Islamists to implement syariah criminal laws could rip the already shaky coalition apart.
Veteran leader of the Chinese- dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) Lim Kit Siang has threatened to boycott PR leadership meetings if alliance partner Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) goes ahead with passing amendments that would allow the implementation of hudud - which
prescribes amputation and stoning for theft and adultery respectively - in a special sitting of the Kelantan state assembly on Monday.
The move was not discussed by PR's top leadership, complained Mr Lim - who has been leading the opposition to the Islamic punitive laws - saying it could lead to the break-up of PR.
While PAS in Kelantan began pushing last month for hudud as a way to win back rural Malay voters, leaders from other states insist the proposal has not been brought up before the Islamic party's national leadership.
"If the Kelantan state assembly special meeting to push through the implementation of hudud... is held, I see no purpose in my attending any future Pakatan Rakyat Presidential Council meetings, and I leave it to the party to decide on its next course of action," Mr Lim said in a statement on Wednesday.
Top opposition leaders have previously met regularly to discuss major moves but the PR's top panel has not met since a fractious dispute over the chief ministership of Selangor in August.
The special state assembly sitting is to discuss amendments to the Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code II 1993 - which was enacted but not implemented due to conflicts with the Federal Constitution. Once approved, PAS would submit Bills to Parliament to make changes to federal law.
Ruling Malay party Umno, always agitating to break up PR, has signalled its willingness to support hudud in both legislative bodies.
The third member of the opposition alliance, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), has asked to "see the Bills and deliberate" on them before making its stand.
The hudud issue has repeatedly threatened to split the six- year-old PR, which has come closer than any previous opposition alliance to ending the uninterrupted rule of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
PAS has argued that introducing Islamic law is part of its political survival as Malay Muslims become more conservative. Analysts say Umno has increasingly taken a hardline stance on Islamic issues, putting PAS under pressure to prove its own credentials.
DAP insists Malaysia is a secular democracy and says history shows that each time PAS focused on hudud, it performed worse at the polls. The party also warns that doing so again would return to BN its two-thirds super-majority in Parliament that it shockingly lost in 2008.
But Kelantan Deputy Menteri Besar Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah said ruling Malaysia is not as important as introducing "God's laws", in an interview with online news site Malaysiakini this week.
"We changed from Islamic state to welfare state, and we allowed the non-Muslims to use the Allah word and still, we did not win," said the former Islamic school teacher, reflecting the thinking among some in PAS that despite the party's compromising on Islamic principles, PR failed to win the 2013 general election.
There is some alarm among Malaysians at the current stance taken by Umno in the hudud debate: its willingness to support the hudud legislation is the opposite of the party's position during the premiership of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1981-2003.
Umno had then legally challenged the hudud enactments of the PAS state governments in Kelantan and Terengganu.
This article was first published on December 27, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.