Religious Law Threatens Malaysian Opposition Coalition


Prime Minister Najib probably doesn’t dare weaken himself any more in the eyes of Malays by putting a stop to the antediluvian law before it reaches a critical stage.   

Vanson Soo, Asia Sentinel

Islamic component of Pakatan Rakyat seeks to implement Islamic punishments in rural eastern state

Malaysia’s perpetually fragile opposition coalition headed by Anwar Ibrahim is in danger of coming completely apart as a result of a threat by the rural Parti Islam se-Malaysia to enforce 7th-century criminal law calling for stoning adulterers and amputation for thieves in the eastern state of Kelantan.

Both Anwar and Lim Kit Siang, the leader of the predominantly Chinese Democratic Action Party, said they had been caught off guard by the PAS proposal and that they hadn’t been consulted although Anwar later said he respected PAS’s right to implement the draconian law, known as hudud, in the rural, impoverished eastern state.

Lim warned that the plan to amend the shariah law would work against both PAS and the other components of the coalition and put both the leadership of the country and Kelantan itself out of reach in the next election.

Nonetheless, a PAS official said the hudud policy has always been enshrined in the party’s constitution and has always been a crucial goal, and insisted it would apply only to Muslims in Kelantan.

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.

Anwar is preoccupied by the looming threat of being sent to jail before the end of the year on what most observers consider to be trumped-up charges of unnatural sex with a male aide in 2008 and has so far given only a weak response to the PAS threat, calling the move “problematic” instead of knocking heads inside his coalition to get the parties back in line.

If PAS goes through with the threat, as Lim warns, it is almost certain to drive the DAP — or PAS — out of the coalition, and to alienate many of the moderate Malay Muslims who make up the bulk of Anwar’s own urban-oriented Parti Keadilan Rakyat, or People’s Justice Party.  It is also certain to damage the country’s international standing as one of the most moderate of Muslim nations.

Despite those concerns, PAS leaders appear to be ignoring the potential political carnage. In Kelantan, which the rural Islamist party controls, party leaders said earlier this week that they would convene a special session of the state assembly to iron out final details of two members’ bills that PAS lawmakers would introduce in the Dewan Rakyat, or federal parliament, to allow the state to implement the draconian criminal code.

While PAS insists that only Muslims would be subject to the law, both middle-class Muslims and the 40 percent of the population who are non-Muslims fear that if hudud is introduced in Kelantan, it will indeed eventually be used against them, and that given rising fears of violent crime, the law would spread to other states as well, even Selangor, which surrounds Kuala Lumpur and is one of the country’s most liberal regions.

A relatively liberal member of the leading United Malays National Organization told Asia Sentinel he fears that implementation of the law would spread first to the eastern and northern tiers of the country, which like Kelantan are rural, poverty stricken and conservative, and that it might be impossible to corral the movement.

Read more at: