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Election Watch

PAS risks disunity over hudud

Date: 18 October 2011

KUALA LUMPUR: The opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia appears to have painted itself into a corner over the hudud issue, with its non-Muslim members raising worries that it will hurt the party in upcoming national elections.

Mr Hu Pang Chow, president of PAS' non-Muslim wing, allegedly warned of a mass exodus of non-Muslim members if PAS pursues its goal of implementing hudud law. Hudud is the Islamic penal code which prescribes punishments such as amputation for theft and stoning for illicit sex.

Conservative Muslims view hudud as a necessary goal for living a pious life, while non-Muslims and moderate Muslims fear it as a move towards religious extremism in multi-racial Malaysia.

Mr Hu later denied that he had predicted a mass exodus, but maintained that this is just the sort of issue that unnerves the membership he has worked hard to build. PAS has 20,000 non-Muslim members, or 2 per cent of its one million members.

'It is part of the Islamic law and no one should question that, but I want to ask, 'Why now?' Why raise it now to create havoc among the non-Muslims ahead of the next general election?'

He blamed former premier Mahathir Mohamad for reviving the issue by mocking Kelantan for not implementing hudud, despite enacting it to fanfare in 1993.

Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat retorted that hudud could not be implemented because Tun Dr Mahathir refused to allow it at that time.

But instead of letting the matter lapse, Mr Nik Aziz went on to seek legal advice on whether it can be implemented. Most constitutional lawyers say the Federal Constitution prohibits it.

PAS president Hadi Awang also recently said it will implement hudud in Kelantan in line with the wishes of the people, 98 per cent of whom are Muslim.

The party, once known for its hardline Islamic positions, has become more centrist since 2008, when it formed a successful coalition with non-Muslim parties. This cost it some Malay support.

PAS' refusal to let the matter go this time suggests it is trying to regain the confidence of its core electorate, said political analyst Ng Yeen Seen, director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies.

'This hudud push may well be for political mileage, but it reminds many that PAS is an Islamic party and Islamic laws come as part of the package,' she said.

PAS' non-Muslim wing started as an informal club in 2007 before being formalised last year. PAS has said it will be fielding some members as candidates.

Mr Hu, a former journalist and teacher, and others say they are attracted to PAS because it is principled and clean. It helps that PAS has increasingly focused its campaign on governance issues such as justice and transparency.

But in the case of hudud, Mr Hu said PAS has not done enough to address non-Muslim concerns. There are already cases of non-Muslims affected by Islamic law, such as custody battles where one parent converted to Islam. The non-Muslim parent is left without redress as the civil courts refuse to hear such cases.

Ms Ng said non-Muslims have legitimate questions over issues such as crimes jointly committed with Muslims, or whether a non-Muslim woman raped by a Muslim man can be charged with illicit sex if there are not four male witnesses to testify to the rape.

To contain the fallout, PAS now plans to hold a briefing session for its members, and a public roadshow that will not only explain hudud but also re-emphasise its welfare agenda.

The controversy may hurt not just PAS, but its Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition partners, especially the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP), if the DAP is seen to be condoning hudud.

PR has declared unequivocally that hudud is not part of its election manifesto. 'We have agreed not to agree on hudud, and it is not in our common policy,' said PAS MP Mujahid Rawa.

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