Malaysia: state okays Islamic penalties

A worker cleans an Islamic plaque of calligraphy saying “Mohammad” on the morning of Eid al-Fitr in a mosque in Kota Bharu, in Malaysia’s northeastern state of Kelantan in this January 8, 2000 file photo. (Reuters)

A Malaysian state governed by an opposition Muslim party passed a law on Thursday mandating tough Islamic criminal punishments, a move that threatens to break up a fractious opposition alliance.

The state assembly of Kelantan, which is controlled by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), unanimously passed penalties including amputations for theft and stoning to death for adultery, according to Malaysian media reports.

The Islamic criminal code, known as hudud, cannot be implemented as Muslim-majority Malaysia’s federal constitution forbids it. PAS conservatives plan to submit a bill in parliament to change that, but its chances of passage are uncertain.

But the push for hudud in the conservative northern state has already severely strained relations with PAS’s two moderate national coalition partners, who say it violates an agreed policy framework.

The Democratic Action Party (DAP), which represents the diverse country’s large ethnic Chinese minority and strongly opposes hudud, has said it will meet next week to consider its future in the alliance.

“PAS has openly demonstrated that they cannot be trusted,” Gobind Singh Deo, a DAP parliamentarian, said in a statement Thursday.

“It is therefore now untenable for us to remain in any relationship with PAS.”

The three-party opposition alliance took 51 percent of votes cast in 2013 national elections, though it failed to win parliament from Malaysia’s 58-year-old regime due to the way seats are apportioned.

The opposition coalition also includes the moderate, multi-racial People’s Justice Party.

Despite its electoral gains, the seven-year-old bloc’s cohesiveness has long been questioned due to the deep ideological gap between PAS and its allies.

The hudud tension comes as the coalition, known as Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact), is already reeling over the jailing last month of its overall leader Anwar Ibrahim on a sodomy conviction.

Now serving a five-year prison sentence, Anwar has said the case was fabricated by the government to stymie the opposition’s momentum.

Government officials deny the charge.

Analysts said Pakatan Rakyat could still iron out its differences, especially if hudud remains unenforceable.

Malaysia practises relatively tolerant Islam, but conservative attitudes have gained ground, fanned in part by intensified jockeying between PAS and the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) for the key Muslim vote.

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

PAS officials say Kelantan’s hudud would apply only to Muslims.

The hudud bid reflects an effort by PAS’s conservative leadership to underline its Islamist credentials as it battles progressive factions for control of the party, political analysts say.