Hudud without Karpal

Zaid Ibrahim, Malay Mail Online

Karpal Singh’s untimely death has robbed Malaysia of a vocal politician who consistently opposed the implementation of hudud law in the country. He will be rightly remembered as a top politician who was unafraid to openly defend the nation’s secular and democratic principles.

It must be remembered, however, that PAS’ declared intention to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state has somehow not deterred Karpal’s party DAP from working with them as political allies. As they say, politics is the art of the possible.

What will DAP’s attitude towards hudud and the idea of an Islamic state be without Karpal? The party’s Malay members will not say anything to suggest that they are opposed to it. They are just like the Malays in UMNO and PKR – they need to pretend that they are God-fearing on this issue. They will mumble something along the lines that as Muslims, they are supportive of hudud but… (followed by a long list of incomprehensible excuses).

In the end, DAP will be like MCA and will only raise their occasional voices of disapproval to the hudud plan as instructed to by their Malay majority partners. When that happens, we will miss Karpal more than ever. On this particular issue, Karpal spoke as more than just a political leader. He believed in the secular principles that this country was founded on, and understood they are key to our future. He spoke with conviction and moral fervour. He was a believer of democratic rights and a relentless defender of the Rule of Law as other Commonwealth countries understand it. We will miss his clarity and unequivocal support for a Malaysia that is free from autocrats, oligarchs and the religious clergy.

I know there are many defenders of our democratic system (who are not political leaders) who will continue to champion the basics of the Federal Constitution. They will be equally vociferous and strong in organising the democratic forces against the neo-fascists groups disguised as religious NGOs. When I first instituted my opposition to the hudud proposal by making a legal challenge in our courts 15 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised that so many lawyers and social activists supported this move. They were Malays too, and they knew that they would suffer the most if the politicians are left to do as they please.

I’m sure that lawyers like Malik Imtiaz, and the younger ones like Syahrezan Johan and Nizam Bashir, are brave Muslims who are prepared to continue speaking out against implementing hudud. They know that Muslims and other Malaysians are simply better off living under the present legal system. Still, without a senior political leader of Karpal’s stature in Parliament, there will be a huge vacuum. Leaders who are categorically emphatic that Malaysia should remain a secular democracy are almost non-existent today.

A similar situation is unfolding in India, where the ultra-nationalist Hindu Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) is taking the lead in the upcoming national polls. A win for the BJP would mean that secular rule in India – long exemplified by the leadership of the Congress Party – may be replaced by a religious one, as BJP leader Narendra Modi has promised to include core policies with Hindu elements. Indians face a tough choice at their national polls. Do they abandon the Congress Party, which has held on to power since 1947 (except for a few years of Emergency Rule) despite accusations of corrupt practices, or do they pick the popular and effective Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who will likely end the country’s tradition of secular politics?

At a time when the days of gentle democrats and religious neutrality are slowly disappearing, Malaysians will face a similarly tough choice in the next General Election. Perkasa will certainly emerge to become a dominant force here if we do not care enough about what’s happening in our country.