Lawmakers in Kelantan, Malaysia, unanimously passed a controversial bill on Thursday that puts the northeastern state a step closer to enforcing a harsh set of penalties sanctioned by sharia law.
The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which on Wednesday tabled the bill in the state legislature it controls, now plans to introduce a parliamentary bill seeking the removal of legal obstacles at the federal level.
These have prevented PAS from implementing the penalties since 1993, when the faith-based party first tried to implement the Islamic penal code in Kelantan.
The set of criminal penalties framed by the bill – but which apply only to Muslims – include amputations for theft and stoning for adultery, Agence-France Presse reported.
The country’s secular-based constitution forbids the Islamic penal code from being implemented, but PAS officials hope to change that by introducing a private member’s bill in parliament, they say, according to local media reports.
"The Kelantan government wants the private member’s bill to be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat [House of Representatives] as soon as possible, and there is still time as the Dewan Rakyat sitting now will end on April 9," the state-run Bernama news agency quoted PAS Assistant Secretary-General Takiyuddin Hassan as saying after the assembly cleared the bill.
"We only need a simple majority for the private member’s bill to be passed in parliament. I reiterate that all Muslim MPs will realize it is their duty to the religion to support and pass the amendments," said Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, PAS’s state deputy in Kelantan, referring to 132 Muslim lawmakers in the 222-seat lower house, according to Bernama.
PAS belongs to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance, whose member parties are bitterly split over the hudud issue.
Critics on both sides of Malaysia’s political divide have accused PAS of pushing a law that, they say, could undermine the secular constitution and stoke religious and racial divisions in the multi-ethnic country.
The controversy promises to trigger the break-up of the opposition bloc.
"PAS has openly demonstrated that they cannot be trusted," AFP quoted Gobind Singh Deo, an MP with the partner Democratic Action Party (DAP), as saying in a statement issued Thursday.
"It is therefore now untenable for us to remain in any relationship with PAS."
And while the issue also divides the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition, PAS officials are expressing confidence that they will have enough votes in parliament from members of the United Malays National Organization (Umno), the most powerful party in that bloc.
In Kelantan, all 12 assembly members who represent Umno in the state legislature backed the bill.
But Prime Minister Najib Razak’s current position on the issue remains unclear.
According to the Star Online, the Umno leader is expected to issue a statement Friday revealing Barisan Nasional’s stance on the issue.
By BenarNews staff with details from news reports