How will the “hudud bill” play out?

For those not in the know, there is a private members bill called RUU 355 currently brought up by the Islamic conservative party (PAS) in Malaysia’s parliament.

It raises the stature of the Sharia Court to be on the same level as the Malaysian civil courts with regards to the level of punishment it is able to dole out. 100 lashes, RM500,000 fine, and also 30 years in jail.

This bill, raised by PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, has now been deferred from being debated to the next parliamentary session in March 2017.

The bill has faced brickbats from both government and opposition lawmakers – in particular, the non-Muslim lawmakers whereas Muslim lawmakers have hedged themselves into being non-committal on direct answer to the point that Schrödinger would be proud.

Government side

The MCA has been wavering a bit, from saying they will vote against any such bill to amend sharia law last May, to now forming a legal committee to look at the proposed amendments.

MCA has 7 votes in parliament.

Meanwhile, Sarawak MPs have all be instructed to vote the bill down by their state Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem on Nov 23. This is the stance of all of the Barisan Nasional coalition parties, except one.

However, PAS is now saying that the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) led by Tiong King Sing will not stop it.

This makes it 22 votes within the BN coalition which will vote “No”, but 3 voting “Yes”.

Meanwhile, MIC has said that they will adhere to whatever agreement that the coalition has made with regards to the bill, bringing about 4 votes.

Opposition side

So what about the Opposition?

Well, they’ve been waffling. For example, Amanah tried to introduce their own Sharia bill, which was shot down. And thus, to this end, have gone mum.

At the same time, DAP keeps telling everyone the bill is bad, even to the point of asking Barisan Nasional allies to leave the coalition if it is voted through. But honestly, they have yet to give a proper yes or no.

The same goes with the PKR and even PPBM.

What now? What’s up for grabs?

Let’s look at a rough tally then. To carry the bill would need a majority.

Number of Seats Yes No
Barisan Nasional

133

UMNO

87

87

MCA

7

MIC

4

4

PBB

14

Gerakan

1

SUPP

1

PBS

4

PRS

6

SPDP

4

4

UPKO

3

LDP

0

PBRS

1

PPP

0

Pakatan Harapan

89

PKR

30

DAP

38

 

Amanah

6

Other

16

PAS

15

15

PPBM

1

Total

222

110

 

The total would be 110/222 for.

A simple two seats would be enough to pass the bill, but it would actually cause a major rift in the BN coalition, and might even be used as bullets for the next General Election campaign by the Opposition.

Will Umno believe in ramrodding this through, or will they consider diplomatic means of alleviating this situation?

What is up for grabs?

For starters, we are talking about the Malay Muslim vote – about 40% of the Malaysian population. Bumiputera makes it 60%, but would include other groups who may/may not be Muslims. Thus, if we wish to make an educated guess, it would put it to 50% of the vote.

But then again, the Malay community itself is divided on this issue, thus 40% could very well be 35%, with 5% more being the minority, social liberal but loud population, yours truly included.

A survey by the Merdeka Centre in 2014 sums it up quite nicely.

The survey carried out among voters in Peninsular Malaysia found that 58% of Malays, 59% of Chinese and 61% of Indians felt that the country is not ready to implement hudud laws.

Has that figure changed in the last two years? I expect so. Especially among the Malays, considering this part:

“Among Malay respondents, the survey found high support for hudud and yet at the same time low level of readiness to see it implemented,” said Merdeka Center.

“In our opinion this possibly reflects their desire to conform to established norms about the primacy of the Sharia laws at a personal level but at the same time indicate hesitation to see it fully implemented publicly,” the statement read.

This was perhaps why Hadi decided to amend the bill from a total hudud law bill – cutting hands and all, stopping short of a death sentence – to a mere increase in Sharia court power to the same level as the civil court level.

A possible scenario?

Instead of making it a straightforward vote come March 2017, what could happen instead is this.

The bill is put up to the vote, and Umno says it will vote the bill down with respect to their non-Muslim colleagues. Thus, the motion fails.

Meanwhile, Datuk Seri Najib Razak tells Hadi he will reintroduce the bill under the government, which MCA and all parties will have to support, and does so during the same parliamentary seating.

But while debating this motion, Najib ceremoniously calls for the dissolution of parliament and a general election.

And thus, turning it into his bullets for the Malay vote, as well as the non-Malay vote.

To the Malays, he says Umno needs to get back into parliament to pass the sharia bill, which they were going to do anyway. To the non-Malay component parties, they can say they need to get back in after delivering the delayed sharia bill to the grave thus far.

Meanwhile, both parts of the coalition will whack the Opposition for not having a stand on it at all, claiming the Opposition didn’t do enough to bring it down, while also claiming they guaranteed it would pass in the next session.

PAS would also be able to say they did their best and got screwed by the government, still maintaining their vote base.

And the rest of the Opposition will be firefighting throughout the campaign – PKR for being undecided, Amanah for losing its credentials as an Islamic party like PAS, and the DAP for being anti-Islam for not wanting to approve it.

And hudud is once again put on hold for another year, but held as an albatross over everyone’s neck.

Conclusion

Whichever way this plays out, the key thing would be to take a look at not so much morality, or even religious reasons. This pulls down to simple politics.

If the Malay community goes so far as to increase its distance against the bill, it would work to the favour of voting it down in Peninsular Malaysia. In fact, this will divide the nation, Sabah and Sarawak versus Peninsular Malaysia all over again.

At the same time, it will be the Malays versus everyone else as well. Might lead to further alienation and putting national unity even further down the pipeline than the 2055 date Najib has pushed it to during his Budget 2017 speech.

It depends just how far people will want to put religion as a political tool in government here. The way it looks, I’m pretty sure we are swinging so far right that we will in fact be looking at sharia law implemented – but when, is a different question.

 

 

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