Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Malaysia Inches Closer to 7th-Century Islamic Law

Hadi Awang says off with their hands

Eastern state of Kelantan to begin debate on implementation of hudud

If events play out as planned, tomorrow Malaysia’s fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia appears certain to set in motion events that have the potential to wreck the opposition coalition that for the first time in 45 years won more votes in the 2013 general election than the ruling Barisan Nasional.

PAS expects to introduce legislation in the Kelantan state Assembly to ultimately enable implementation of hudud, the 7th-Century sharia law that provides penalties such as amputation of limbs for theft and stoning to death for adultery. That would pave the way to engineer a parliamentary vote to amend the federal constitution to extend it to the nation, heretofore regarded in western capitals as a moderate Muslim-dominated country at peace with its ethnic minorities.  The measure, set for debate, appears certain to pass. It has been endorsed by Muhamad V, the Kelantan sultan.

The tenuous opposition coalition includes the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party as well as now-jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, or People’s Justice Party, which is comprised mostly of relatively liberal urban Malays. To them, PAS’s ambition to implement a law most regard as barbaric is simply unacceptable.  Although PAS leaders have repeatedly said the Islamic criminal penalty package would not be applied to those of other ethnic backgrounds, opposition leaders believe it is inevitable that it would be extended to cover all.

From the time Anwar put together the Pakatan Rakyat coalition prior to the 2008 election, it has been shaky, composed of groups going in different directions – a Chinese party that wants nothing to do with religious law and considers pork a staple, a fundamentalist Islamic party that considers eating pork a pathway to hell, and a third party, Anwar’s that appears to stand for very little except seeking national power. 

It appears UMNO will support the measure and that it will pass.  Once it passes, Kelantan officials would then have to engineer the introduction of a bill to amend the federal constitution to allow for the practice.  What happens then is unclear. 

Lim Kit Siang, the party leader of the DAP, accused UMNO of “trying their utmost in the past seven years to use the bait of “UG” (unity government between UMNO and PAS) and in the past year the additional bait of ‘hudud implementation in Kelantan’ to achieve their objective to divide, destabilize and destroy the most formidable coalition challenge ever to be faced by (the Barisan Nasional).

With Anwar in prison on charges of sodomy, the Pakatan Rakyat coalition is basically leaderless and has been unable to thwart PAS’s intentions in the rural, impoverished east coast state. The biggest concern is that other states in the ethnic Malay-dominated tier across the top of the country would follow Kelantan with their own measures despite the fact that they are controlled by UMNO.  That includes the states of Terengannu, Perak, Perlis and Kedah.


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