Tags: Malaysia | politics | religion | Islam

Malaysian Opposition Faces Collapse Over Islamic Law Push

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 06:43 AM

A Malaysian Muslim party on Wednesday launched a push for harsh Islamic criminal punishments in a state it governs, threatening to tear apart an opposition political alliance which had soared to the brink of power.

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party's (PAS) action in the northeastern state of Kelantan drew a strong rebuke from one of its partners in Malaysia's three-party opposition alliance, which said it had been "stabbed in the back" by PAS and would review its participation in the coalition.

The opposition partnership has attracted a swelling tide of votes in recent elections, winning 52 percent of ballots cast in 2013 polls, though it failed to take parliament from Malaysia's authoritarian regime.

But a stepped-up PAS campaign for the Islamic penalties — known as hudud — in Kelantan has torn open festering divisions in the coalition just as it struggles to hold together following the jailing last month of its overall leader, Anwar Ibrahim.

Over its partner's objections, PAS moved in the Kelantan state assembly on Wednesday to update and strengthen a 1993 law setting out hudud, which levies penalties include amputation of limbs for theft and flogging for offenses such as consuming alcohol.

The law has never been enforced as it conflicts with the federal constitution, but PAS's leadership plans to submit a bill soon in the national parliament seeking a federal law change to allow it.

In response, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) said it would meet next week to reassess its participation in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) coalition.

"The DAP protests vehemently the action of Kelantan PAS that has defied (the coalition's wishes and)... is tantamount to an act of provocation to break up Pakatan Rakyat," the party's national organizing secretary Anthony Loke Siew Fook said in an emailed statement.

PAS officials say hudud in Kelantan, a rural state in Malaysia's northern Islamic heartland, would apply only to Muslims.

Muslims make up around two-thirds of Malaysia's diverse population of about 30 million.



Malaysia practices a relatively tolerant brand of Islam, but conservative attitudes have gained ground in recent years, fueled by intensified jockeying between PAS and the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) for the key Muslim vote.

Analysts said the hudud bid reflects an effort by PAS's conservative leadership to underline its Islamist credentials amid a power struggle with more progressive party factions.

"It looks bad on the surface for Pakatan Rakyat," said Ibrahim Suffian, head of independent polling firm Merdeka Center.

But he said the alliance could weather the storm, particularly if hudud is eventually scuttled on constitutional grounds, and if progressives are able to assert some control in PAS party elections in June.

"Being practical politicians I get a sense they won't immediately work toward disbanding the coalition," he said.

The fracas, however, is seen as heightening voter doubts over whether the fractious alliance could be trusted with national government.

Besides PAS and the DAP, which represents Malaysia's large Chinese minority, the opposition coalition also includes the moderate, multi-racial party of Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar was jailed last month for five years on a sodomy conviction, a major blow that removes the opposition's best-known figure.

He has dubbed the case a conspiracy to thwart the opposition's momentum.

UMNO, which controls the federal parliament, has helped stir the opposition discord by supporting PAS's move, but it remains unclear whether it would back the required federal law change.

© AFP 2018

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A Malaysian Muslim party on Wednesday launched a push for harsh Islamic criminal punishments in a state it governs, threatening to tear apart an opposition political alliance which had soared to the brink of power.
Malaysia, politics, religion, Islam
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 06:43 AM
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