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ICC NOTE: The Malaysian Islamist party known as PAS was able to sneak in an amendment into a recent bill allowing for Sharia to be the law of Kelantan, a region of Malaysia. The law’s fate will remain undecided until October, but the major fear is through its passage hudud punishments will rise. Hudud punishments are considered to be from God in Islam where adulterers are stoned and thieves lose their left hand as punishment for their crimes. The Christian community is fearful of the amendment finding its way into legislation. Even if they were to fail this time, it will only be a matter of time before they are successful. 

6/6/2016 Malaysia (World Watch Monitor) – Non-Muslim Malaysians (including many Chinese and Indians) reacted strongly, saying the Prime Minister is under pressure from the Islamist party, which first proposed the bill, due to up-coming by-elections, and that while Sharia should only apply to Muslims, they are afraid the measure was snuck in at the last minute, with intent for it to eventually apply country-wide.

Now approved for debate in the Federal Parliament’s next session in October, the bill amendment caught many by surprise; it jumped the queue over other government bills. The sudden move was made possible because it was moved up the list by a Minister in the Prime Minister’s office, despite being proposed by an UMNO rival, the President of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), Abdul Hadi Awang.

Fears ‘hudud’ punishments will spread beyond Kelantan

PAS is a Malay-based political party that governs only the state of Kelantan, one of 14 states in Malaysia. Different from UMNO, PAS adheres to a more conservative streak of Islam. One of its main political agendas is for the implementation of Sharia, in which it looked to have succeeded when the Kelantan state legislative assembly unanimously approved it on 19 March, 2015.

But PAS is unable to enforce it in the state until the Federal Parliament amends the Sharia Courts Act to allow them to mete out hudud punishments.

While each state government has jurisdiction over its own laws and regulations, it is the Federal government that holds the key to the enforcement of hudud, thanks to its over-arching authority over the judiciary and court systems, including civil and Sharia courts. Therefore, should the bill be passed in Parliament in October, it would pave the way for hudud penalties to be implemented by Sharia courts in Kelantan.

PAS leaders defended the bill, saying that hudud primarily governs Muslims in Kelantan, but the Democratic Action Party (DAP) opposition leader, Lim Guan Eng, warned in the Malay Mail that “hudud is no ordinary law. The motion to empower the Sharia courts to mete out sentences short of the death penalty would not be limited to Kelantan, where PAS is hoping to introduce hudud, but would equip all Islamic courts [throughout the country] similarly”.

Proposed bill inconsistent with Malaysian Federal Constitution

UMNO, Malaysia’s main political party, leads a coalition (the National Front, or BN) with 12 other non-Malay-based parties, such as the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). The BN coalition holds the majority of seats in the Federal Parliament to form the current central government. In multi-racial Malaysia, UMNO claims it exists to represent and defend the rights of the Malays, the predominant racial group, which makes up roughly half the country’s population.

PAS and DAP were part of the opposition group, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), but PAS’ uncompromising insistence on pushing its Sharia-led agenda has led to a clash with DAP, resulting in the PR falling apart. It also led to a split in PAS, with more moderate Islamists quitting the party to form another party.

The disarray gave rise to a new political constellation. PAS and BN, which used to be on the opposite ends of politics, are now thought to be working together to unite the Malays against the Chinese and Indians. A majority of them support the PR.

Because UMNO did not inform its other BN partners about this alliance with PAS on the hudud bill, it created a storm of opposition from within. These partners felt betrayed by UMNO, with some party leaders threatening to resign their Cabinet positions in the government, as reported by the Straits Times.

One such leader is the President of MIC, S. Subramaniam, who said in a statement that the proposed bill is inconsistent with the provisions of the Federal Constitution (Article 8), which protects the rights of all Malaysians for equal treatment before the law and against the duality of sentencing, referring to both Sharia and civil penal law.

Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, President of the MCA, said: “This issue will cause a constitutional crisis. It will ruin the inter-ethnic relationship in the country.”

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