KUALA LUMPUR // A Malaysian Muslim party on Wednesday launched a push for Islamic criminal punishments in a state it governs, threatening to tear apart an opposition political alliance which had soared to the brink of power in the last election.
The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) action in the northeastern state of Kelantan drew a strong rebuke from one of its partners in Malaysia’s three-party opposition alliance.
The Democratic Action Party (DAP) said it had been “stabbed in the back” and would review its participation in the coalition, after the PAS moved in the Kelantan state assembly to update and strengthen a 1993 law setting out Islamic penalties – or hudud.
Penalties levied include amputation of limbs for theft and flogging for offences such as consuming alcohol.
The stepped-up campaign by PAS has torn open festering divisions in the coalition just as it struggles to hold together following the jailing last month of its overall leader, Anwar Ibrahim.
The opposition partnership attracted a swelling tide of votes in recent elections, winning 52 per cent of ballots cast in 2013 polls, though it failed to take parliament from Malaysia’s authoritarian regime.
The law has never been enforced as it conflicts with the federal constitution, but PAS’s leadership plans to submit a bill soon in the national parliament seeking a federal law change to allow it.
In response, the DAP said it would meet next week to reassess its participation in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat [People’s Pact] coalition.
PAS officials say hudud in Kelantan, a rural state in Malaysia’s northern Islamic heartland, would apply only to Muslims.
Muslims make up around two-thirds of Malaysia’s diverse population of about 30 million.
Analysts said the hudud bid reflects an effort by the conservative leadership of PAS to underline its Islamic credentials amid a power struggle with more progressive party factions.
“It looks bad on the surface for Pakatan Rakyat,” said Ibrahim Suffian, head of independent polling firm Merdeka Center.
But he said the alliance could weather the storm, particularly if hudud is eventually scuttled on constitutional grounds, and if progressives are able to assert some control in PAS party elections in June.
Besides PAS and the DAP, which represents Malaysia’s large Chinese minority, the opposition coalition also includes the moderate, multi-racial party of Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar was jailed last month for five years on a sodomy conviction, a major blow that removes the opposition’s best-known figure.
Umno, which controls the federal parliament, has helped stir the opposition discord by supporting PAS’s move, but it remains unclear whether it would back the required federal law change.
* Agence France-Presse