KUALA LUMPUR: The private member’s bill by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang has been listed as item number 10 under the Dewan Rakyat’s order paper for the current sitting which started today.
On April 6, the last day of the previous session of parliament, Hadi’s proposal to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Act 355) was brought forward to become the first item on the order paper.
It eventually became the only item of the day with Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia then postponing the debate on Hadi’s bill to the next session.
By normal convention, after Hadi (PAS-Marang) had presented his bill and Takiyuddin Hassan’s (PAS-Kota Bharu) two-hour long seconding of the motion, the debates would normally take place, followed by a vote whether to pass the motion.
However, despite protests from many on the opposition bench, Pandikar said he had the right to postpone the debate and close the parliament session.
“I have the full right to decide how this meeting goes, I am not tied down by Standing Order 15,” Pandikar said, referring to the fact that it was a private member’s bill and the speaker had full discretion to decide on the proceedings.
On March 29, Prime Minister Najib Razak said the government decided to call off plans to table the private member’s bill to amend Act 355, after taking into account the consensus of the Barisan Nasional coalition parties.
“Therefore, it will remain a private member’s bill and if it is presented, it will depend on the speaker’s instructions,” Najib had reportedly said after chairing the BN supreme council meeting.
Prior to Najib’s announcement, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said that the federal government would take over and table the bill.
Aside from most opposition parties, BN component parties had also strenuously objected to the bill, which some had interpreted as a way to introduce hudud law in Malaysia.
The bill to amend Act 355 to enhance the powers of the Shariah court was first tabled in May last year by Hadi.
On May 26, 2016, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said submitted a motion to the Dewan Rakyat to elevate Hadi’s hudud bill in order to increase its chances of being tabled.
The hudud bill submitted by Hadi had previously been the 15th and final item in the day’s order papers, but the motion was moved up to be tabled after the government’s bills.
However, Hadi did not wish to proceed and asked for the bill to be deferred to the next Parliament sitting in October last year.
However, last October, PAS said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom will take over the bill, “until the end of the process”. Jamil is the minister in charge of religious affairs and heads Jakim.
Eventually, the bill was not tabled in the last sitting but deferred to the current sitting as amendments were made, changing it from enhancing the power of the Shariah courts, to just increasing the punishment that Shariah courts could impose.
It will now cap the penalties prescribed under Act 355 at 30 years’ jail, RM100,000 fine, and 100 strokes of the cane.
Currently, shariah punishment is capped at three years’ prison term, RM5,000 fine, and six strokes of the cane.