Amendments to shariah act: Umno hedging its bets, says Baru

baru-bian-hadi-hudud-parlimen-1PETALING JAYA: Sarawak PKR chairman Baru Bian says Umno and PAS are working “hand in glove” over the private member’s bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Act 355) which has resurfaced in the current Dewan Rakyat sitting.

In a statement today, the Ba’ Kelalan assemblyman said Umno was using Act 355 as a “political tool”.

He said Prime Minister Najib Razak’s announcement that Umno would take over the bill, and the government’s subsequent reversal on the issue, as well as the previous fast-tracking of the bill after a marathon parliamentary sitting was proof that Umno was “playing it both ways and hedging its bets”.

“Do the other Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition parties wonder what Umno’s stand really is?

“On such a crucial issue, they surely want an answer from Umno, but we know from past experiences that Umno leaders are experts at flip-flopping and nothing they say can be taken at face value.”

The current Dewan Rakyat sitting began on Monday. 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.

On April 6, the last day of the previous parliament session, Hadi’s proposal to amend 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.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said the federal government would take over and table the bill.

However, on March 29, Najib said the government had decided to call off plans to table the bill after taking into account the consensus of the BN coalition parties.

Baru said the fact that Umno was using Act 355 as a political tool was telling of its agenda.

“They do not care that their ambivalence towards RUU355 and hudud emboldens the religious extremists to be even more bold and outrageous,” he said, using the Malay acronym for Act 355.

“The perception is that the government is on their side as the leaders have failed to make a strong stand on this issue.

“What PAS refuses to acknowledge is the undeniable fact that the foundation of this country was never hudud.

“Islam was made the official religion for ceremonial purposes but the intention was that Malaysia be secular, with religious freedom for all.

“Hudud or shariah law was never in the minds of our forefathers when the idea of Malaysia was mooted and eventually carried out.”

He said despite Najib’s claims that Malaysia was a model moderate Muslim country, religious and racial intolerance was slowly increasing.

Although this was not yet obvious in Sabah and Sarawak, he warned that unless such prejudices were addressed now, they would trickle in and take root in those states as well.

“The need to fight against religious extremism and racial intolerance must not be taken lightly – many of us have family and friends working, living and studying in West Malaysia. What happens there affects us all,” he said.

The bill to amend Act 355 to enhance the powers of the shariah courts was first tabled in May last year by Hadi.

Shariah punishment is currently capped at three years’ prison term, RM5,000 fine, and six strokes of the cane.