Malaysia's Conference of Rulers on March 26 denied a report by Malaysian Insider that the country's sultans would intervene in the steadily worsening crisis over whether the fundamentalist Parti-Islam se-Malaysia could implement harsh Islamic law in the eastern state of Kelantan.
Asia Sentinel quoted the report on March 25 to say the decision would cool the rising political temperature in the country. However, the rulers issued a statement that the report is untrue.
That still doesn't answer whether the rulers will take a stand on the issue. According to Malaysian law, the sultans are the guardians of the faith in the country and PAS must come to them for a decision. PAS hasn't done that.
Nonetheless, the sultans issued a statement that the rulers have made no stand on hudud law in Kelantan.
Hudud, as the seventh-century criminal code is called, would include amputation of limbs for theft, death by stoning for adultery by married individuals, and death by crucifixion for assault and robbery, among other punishments. Sodomy between couples is outlawed.
The Kelantan state assembly, controlled by PAS, passed enabling legislation with 12 members of the United Malays National Organization voting with the 32 members of PAS in the majority on March 19. It would now take a vote in the federal parliament to amend the constitution for the penal code to go into effect.
Abdul Hadi Awang, the religious leader and head of PAS who is behind the attempt to implement hudud, denied that the sultans had decided against implementation.
After months of relative lack of attention to the issue, as it has veered closer to reality, individuals and lawmakers have started to come out in opposition. Nazri Aziz, the tourism minister, came out earlier this week to say that “It’s stupid for anyone to even be discussing hudud."
The so-called Group of 25 senior civil servants and former diplomats and others who issued an open letter in December calling for moderation this week renewed their call, saying the imposition of hudud would signify to the world that the country had abandoned its oderate path.
Opposition leaders and others have accused the Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, of being behind a “unity government” strategy to support PAS in its effort to implement hudud in Kelantan as a means of destroying the opposition coalition, which has been shaky since it was cobbled together seven years ago out of disparate elements.
The DAP had threatened to pull out of the coalition if the harsh law were introduced, despite promises by PAS that it would apply only to Malay Muslims. On Monday, in an apparent effort to drive a wedge between moderate and conservative factions of PAS, leaders of the DAP met to say they would no longer support Hadi Awang although they were not asking PAS to leave the coalition. Malaysiakini, another independent news site, reported that may have backfired, with support rising for Hadi.
If it indeed was Najib’s strategy, it set off a chain reaction that threatened to wreck his own Barisan as well when 13 component parties including two Chinese parties, the Malaysian Chinese Association and Gerakan, and several Christian parties in the east Malaysia states of Sarawak and Sabah said they would refuse to support the filing of Hadi’s private member’s bill.
Lim Kit Siang, the parliamentary leader of the DAP, suggested that the fractured coalitions might develop into a new scenario in which members of parliament from both sides of the political divide might come together to create a new coalition, leaving UMNO to stand alone in the wreckage of the Barisan in company with PAS, which also appears to be fracturing within itself as moderates, called “Erdogans” after the moderate prime minister of Turkey, push back against the move to implement hudud. In early February, that led to the beating in his home of Dzulkefly Ahmad, the head of the party’s research unit, by thugs siding with the fundamentalists. The moderates are being asked to break away altogether and join the moderates of Anwar’s party.
The PAS move in Kelantan has also raised concerns that other conservative states in the rural areas including Terengganu, Perlis and Kedah, all controlled by UMNO, would seek to enact their own hudud laws under pressure from conservative ethnic Malay voters. Leaders in Terengganu have also threatened to push through a hudud bill.