Islamic law debate puts more pressure on Malaysia PM

2015-04-16 14:33
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. (Mohd Rasfan, AFP)

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. (Mohd Rasfan, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Kota Bharu - Feuding over an Islamic penal code that stipulates stoning for adultery and amputation for theft has put a spotlight on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's struggle to secure the majority Muslim vote and fend off attacks on his leadership.

The 'hudud' controversy was triggered by the Islamist party that rules Kelantan, a northern state where nightclubs are banned and there are separate public benches for men and women.

Parti Islam se-Malaysia's (PAS) push to have 'hudud' recognised under federal law, so it can be implemented in Kelantan, risks splitting the national opposition coalition to which it belongs: an already wobbly three-party alliance.

The opposition's squabbles would be heartening for Prime Minister Najib were it not for the divisions that the row has highlighted within his own party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

Stunned by the desertion of ethnic Malay votes in the 2013 election, conservatives within UMNO see the issue as an opportunity to burnish the Islamic credentials on which their party built its power base in this Muslim-majority country.

Malays make up almost all of Malaysia's Muslim population.

UMNO lawmakers in Kelantan openly backed the push for hudud, a calculated decision "not to offend the sensitive Malay vote base", according to a senior UMNO leader. At a national level, though, the party has yet to make a public stand on the issue.

Najib himself has not stated a view, but he is widely seen as a moderate on Islamic issues.

"Hudud has always been there in Malaysia. The only difference is that it was kept under control by previous leaderships," said Wan Saiful Wan Jan of the Kuala Lumpur-based Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) think tank.

"His silence has now encouraged hudud supporters and made it difficult for others to argue for a rational dialogue."

The prime minister's office did not respond to a request for comment.

A sharp slowdown in the economy due to plunging oil export earnings and revelations of huge losses at state fund 1MDB have already left Najib on the back foot.

The country's longest-serving prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has lashed out at Najib from his retirement, accusing him of not being strong enough to stifle the clamour for hudud and demanding his resignation.

On Thursday, Mahathir criticised UMNO leaders who had supported hudud.

"PAS' intentions - and also UMNO Kelantan's - in introducing PAS's hudud is for political interests. This makes PAS's hudud punishments and its support by UMNO unIslamic," he said in a blog post.

Lashings, amputations

PAS says a poll it carried out in Kelantan found more than 90% support for hudud, which would introduce the amputation of hands for robbery and raise the maximum number of lashings for crimes to 100 from six.

"If one person has his hands cut off, the other 10 thinking of the same crime will see it and stop," said Wan Qussairi Wan Mohamed, an official at one of the many madrasas, or Islamic schools, in Kelantan's main city of Kota Bharu.

"This is God's guarantee.”

PAS is now lobbying lawmakers in the 222-seat national parliament to support its hudud move, which has already been approved by the state assembly.

"There are 136 members of parliament who are Muslim and we want all of them to support it, on the basis of religion, not the party," Kelantan deputy chief minister Nik Amar Abdullah told Reuters.

PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang said his party would keep pressing for hudud with or without the support of its allies in the national opposition alliance, Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

"I want PR to stay. But we have principles, we can't sell our principles and objectives," he told Reuters.

Outside Kelantan, hudud has become a political football as parties jostle ahead of elections due in three years, mindful that the ruling coalition only just clung to power in 2013 with its thinnest majority since independence.

Many UMNO leaders, fearing they could lose the 2018 election, want Najib to keep the party in tune with what is widely seen as creeping conservatism among ethnic Malays.

Read more on:    najib razak  |  malaysia  |  religion

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.