Umno support for hudud law puts Najib in hot seat

Umno support for hudud law puts Najib in hot seat
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia and UMNO president.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is coming under increasing pressure to explain his Umno party's support for hudud law as members of opposition parties - as well as his coalition partners - slammed efforts to strengthen the controversial Islamic penal code as unconstitutional.

Yesterday, the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), Mr Lim Guan Eng, said ally Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) lost its non-Muslim support when it passed amendments to syariah law in Kelantan on Thursday and that the Islamist party was delusional if it believed otherwise.

"Such acts of betrayal by PAS Kelantan and some PAS national leaders may have also sealed the fate of PR (Pakatan Rakyat), and not just PAS in Kelantan," the Penang Chief Minister said in a statement.

Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru yesterday also called the move in Kelantan unconstitutional. "The enactment goes against the secular structure of our federal Constitution, which does not envisage a theocratic Islamic state, or a parallel criminal justice system where Muslims and non-Muslims are subjected to unequal treatment before the law," Malaysia's The Star reported him saying yesterday. He added that drafters of the Constitution had never intended a dual criminal justice system, one at federal level for non-Muslims, and another at the state level for Muslims.

Datuk Seri Najib had been expected to make his own stand on the issue clear yesterday. Sources close to the Prime Minister later said his office would release a statement next week, but expect it to be "watered down" in an effort to not alienate his party.

As Umno president, Mr Najib is walking a tightrope. At an emergency meeting on Thursday, it was understood that all of the component leaders of Barisan Nasional (BN), including Mr Najib, agreed that hudud law was unconstitutional. Yet some Umno ministers openly expressed support for it.

That has put the Prime Minister in a precarious position in Umno, where he needs more friends than foes.

On the one hand, he has come under continual attack from former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and former finance minister Daim Zainuddin. On the other hand, Umno's largest coalition partner, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), has voiced its discontent over the issue and its vice-president, Mr Gan Ping Sieu, warned that the party would leave BN if PAS' hudud Bill is passed in Parliament.

"If Umno endorses the Bill, it will constitute breaking the fundamentals of the nation, nation building, and the social contract."

The MCA has often been reluctant to criticise Umno, choosing instead to attack the DAP for not keeping PAS in check. The MCA's former president, Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek, has however called on his party to stop Umno from supporting the Bill.

While PAS' push for hudud law cleared its first hurdle in the Kelantan state assembly on Thursday, federal law still stands in its way. It will need votes from other parties in Parliament to amend existing laws.

The issue was also heating up in the media. Radio journalist Aisyah Tajuddin received death and rape threats yesterday after she questioned how implementing hudud could fix Kelantan's economy in a video titled Hudud Isi Periuk Nasi? (Does Hudud Fill Our Rice Bowls?). The Business Radio Station has since removed the video.

This article was first published on Mar 21, 2015.
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