The Brits have had their say on Brexit. We should have ours on hudud — Faidhur Rahman Abdul Hadi


(MMO) – I was as shocked as any other to wake up to the news last Thursday that the Brits have voted to leave the European Union by a margin of 52 to 48 per cent.

This was pursuant to a referendum called by their Prime Minister, David Cameron, earlier this year over the question of whether Britain should remain a member of that organisation, following months of renegotiating membership terms which resulted in paltry concessions by that 28 (now 27) member bloc towards Britain, resulting in the electorate’s decision to leave the EU by a narrow margin.

The intense dislike for the EU by the Brits is understandable. Having voted for continued membership of what was then nothing more than a common market in 1975, the European project morphed over the decades into a political union of sorts, particularly after the Maastricht Treaty was agreed in 1993.

This is not what they agreed to nor signed up for, and the British people were denied a say in this and other decisions made about Europe within the EU, such as the free movement of people principle, as well as its rapid expansion after 2004 to include the less economically developed nations of Eastern Europe.

As a result, as many as three million EU citizens have made the United Kingdom their home, causing a drain on public services, such as their prized National Health Service (NHS). This led to the central issue of immigration dominating most of the campaign.

The economy was a close second, though, and threats of doom and gloom by the Bank of England, the IMF and even George Soros notwithstanding, what was dubbed “Project Fear” by their media simply failed to convince the electorate, who by and large were content to accept short term economic uncertainty for the long term gain of being able to freely trade with the rest of the world on their own terms as well as regaining the ability to control their own borders and make their own laws.

But much like most others in the rest of the world, I didn’t think that they would actually be brave enough to do it. But the British people have spoken, loud and clear, that they want to leave and take back control, causing shockwaves throughout the European continent.

Now the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude-Juncker and Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, have demanded that Britain immediately invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon to begin a two-year process of leaving the EU.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has resigned as prime minister and the Conservative Party, the party helming the British Government at present, will begin a process of selecting and electing a new party leader, who will subsequently be confirmed as the new prime minister.

Boris Johnson, the chief Leave campaigner, is the clear favourite to succeed Cameron, a situation once thought unthinkable only months ago. The establishment are duty bound to accept the decision of the British electorate to leave, although plenty of their members, from the majority of Members of the British Parliament to British business leaders, have made clear in no uncertain terms that they would like the UK to stay within the EU.

Such is the beauty and ability of democracy to shake things up for the establishment and give the common people a voice over issues that matter to them.

This has made me wonder. Malaysia itself is a democratic nation and a member of the Commonwealth. We have inherited the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy where we elect Members of Parliament who serve for a maximum term of five years, as provided for by our Federal Constitution, who go on to form a Cabinet headed by a prime minister, the same as it is in the UK.

Yet while the UK has had numerous referendums in recent history to determine the huge constitutional issues they face, this Brexit vote among them, we ourselves have made scant use of this measure to determine the big issues confronting our society.

One such example would be the intention, manifested by PAS in particular, to reform our criminal justice system by introducing hudud elements within.

It has been a month since PAS president and Member of Parliament for Marang, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang proposed his Private Members’ Bill seeking to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 in Parliament.

The move caused much outcry among, not members of the public generally, but those opposed to the politics of PAS. These include the political parties in the Barisan National governing coalition other than UMNO such as DAP, MCA, MIC and PBB and of course not forgetting non-governmental organisations such as the G25.

Various claims, mostly false, have been made by these parties about the supposed unsuitability of hudud for Malaysia. The issue has died down for now, but will resurface in October once Parliament is in session once more.

But before then, perhaps we should let the Malaysian electorate have their own say on the matter. Let’s legislate a referendum on whether hudud should be implemented. After all, we are a democracy, and that is what being democratic is all about — letting the public decide what it is they want.

The issue of hudud has always been at the forefront of our politics, and let’s face it, weak polemics over our legal character as a nation will not make it go away. I propose therefore that we determine the issue by having a plebiscite on hudud implementation.

Were one to be held, I am certainly confident that it would pass, given the recent poll taken by the national debater Syed Saddiq indicating an overwhelming majority of Malaysians (83 per cent) in favour of the idea. But the question is, will the abovementioned groups be up for such a vote?

If they truly are for democracy and a free society, as they claim they do, they would definitely agree to such a vote being held. Any answer to the contrary would undoubtedly be most hypocritical on their part.

Democracy isn’t about being secular or being liberal but first and foremost about rule of the people, by the people. It is about respecting and living with the decision of the majority, in this case, a majority in favour of hudud.

Not everyone in the UK voted for Brexit. Indeed, many are disheartened by the decision to leave the EU. But save for a few protests here and there, they are by and large content to let the decision of the British electorate to stand.

Likewise here, should a vote to implement hudud result in an overwhelming mandate to do so, others who oppose such a move must step aside, and let the mandate stand.

* Faidhur Rahman Abdul Hadi is a lawyer and the chief executive of Young Professionals, a non-governmental organisation formed for the purpose of defending the supremacy of constitutional ideals in the determination of public affairs.