Don’t cane women just to go one-up on Pakatan

By Wong Choon Mei, Harakah

Accusing the Umno-BN of hatching a political plot at the expense of the people, Pakatan Rakyat leaders have slammed Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin for his over-simplistic explanation over the controversial caning of three Muslim women aged between 17 and 25.

“There are a few key reasons why the government suddenly decided to cane the three women. Firstly, it thinks that by doing so, it can arouse nationalist Malay feelings and support for Umno when the international condemnation pours in,” PKR strategist Tian Chua told Harakahdaily.

“Secondly, to trap the Pakatan Rakyat and make it look like a stooge for the West because the sounds coming from the global human rights groups echo the sort of reforms that Pakatan has been urging the government to undertake.

“Thirdly, it is to lure PAS into a ‘who-is-the-bigger-defender of Islam game – Umno or PAS’? If PAS takes the bait, it may create disharmony with its Pakatan partners, especially DAP.”

Political motivations

On Friday, Muhyiddin – who is also Umno deputy president – brushed aside snowballing international criticism, insisting that what was important was to ensure that Muslims in Malaysia abided by and honoured their religion.

“The caning punishment meted out by the Syariah court is legal and how the international community looks at it, is up to them,” he told reporters after chairing a Cabinet committee meeting.

But few Malaysians are convinced by his show of religious altruism and suspect bad faith and political opportunism in his response. Indeed, Muhyiddin has been quick to jump to the government’s defense over the hot issue – even before his boss Prime Minister Najib Razak has made any official comment.

Of late, the 63-year leader from southern Johor state has taken care to champion Malay causes and Umno watchers believe he is keen to make his move against the younger but indecisive Najib.

Malays and Muslims predominate in Malaysia, forming 60 percent of the 27 million population. As the single largest electorate with the power to decide who forms the federal government, the community is split fairly evenly between Umno and PAS, with PKR enjoying a smaller but also significant share.

“It is obvious the canings are politically motivated. PAS and Pakatan must not allow itself to take the bait,” PAS strategist Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad told Harakahdaily.

“In this country, we have parallel legal systems – civil and Islamic. Currently, the civil courts are more established but while PAS supports the further development of the Syariah courts, the most important thing is that at the end of the day, Malaysia is governed by law and order.

“As a responsible Islamic party, PAS is not only committed to Pakatan but to the true teachings of Islam. And true teachings of Islam means a system of justice and fairness for all, without the cruelty and corruption, the cronyism and abuse of power, the looting of the country’s coffers and the abandonment of ethics and principles that are now the signature of the current administration.”

Where’s MCA, Gerakan, MIC?

On Wednesday, the Home Ministry announced that three Muslim women found guilty of engaging in illicit sex had been caned under the Syariah law – the first time women in the country have been punished this way.

The caning was conducted at 10am more than a week ago on February 9 at the Kajang Prison. Two of the women were given six strokes of the rotan, while the third was hit four times.

The news evoked an immediate storm of protests from civil society groups both within and outside the country. But despite the ruckus, BN components – the MCA, MIC and Gerakan – have not made any comment against their dominant coalition partner – Umno.

“The expediency and the secrecy reek of bad faith and betray a troubling disregard for public opinion on an issue that has drawn attention around the globe,” All Women’s Action Society president Sofia Lim Siu Ching said in a press release.

Sisters in Islam executive director Dr Hamidah Marican questioned why the men involved in the three cases were unpunished. She said the canings would only constitute further discrimination against Muslim women in Malaysia.

“We would like to know whether the men involved were also found guilty for illicit sex and similarly sentenced and caned,” Hamidah said in a press release.

“It violates constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination as the whipping of women under Syariah Criminal Offences legislation contradicts civil law where women are not punishable by caning under Section 289 of the Criminal Procedure Code.”