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Judicial CP - April 2015

Corpun file 26035 at


The Economist, London, 4 April 2015

Malaysian politics

Riding a tiger

A floundering government indulges calls to toughen Islamic law


Map showing location of Kelantan in Malaysia

SEVERING a thief's hand is the work of seconds, but a campaign to introduce strict Islamic punishments in Kelantan, a state in northern Malaysia, has ground on for 50 years. It could now be reaching a climax. In March state politicians in Kelantan's capital, Kota Bharu, took a big step towards forcing a vote in the federal parliament that they hope will lead to local judges being allowed to sentence miscreants to whipping, amputations and even death by stoning.

It is hard to imagine hudud, corporal and capital punishments laid down in traditional Islamic law, actually being implemented in Kelantan. But the renewed discussion is harming Malaysia's reputation as a bastion of moderate Islam. It is worrying Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indians, who make up more than one-third of the population, not to mention a great many ethnic-Malay Muslims. It risks tearing apart the country's opposition coalition. And it should concern America, which has made Malaysia a key ally.

For decades Malaysia has allowed Islamic courts to operate in parallel with secular ones, handing down rulings on civil matters to Muslims. Federal law limits the sentences such courts may deliver to three years in jail, a moderate fine or six strokes of the cane. But that is not enough for some members of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has run Kelantan since 1990. At the very least they want fiercer lashings -- up to 100 strokes for drinkers and adulterers. But they are also pushing for courts to have the power to order adulterers to be stoned to death. They want national lawmakers to vote on the issue. A private-members' bill may force them to do so in May.

This is an old debate. What distinguishes the latest row is the ambiguous position of Malaysia's ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). It has governed the country in coalition since independence but nearly lost at the most recent general election (the opposition won the popular vote but not a majority of seats, thanks to gerrymandering). UMNO has long opposed hudud, but behind the scenes it has lately been encouraging PAS, even though that party forms part of the opposition. Najib Razak, UMNO's leader and Malaysia's prime minister, has yet to clarify his stance. If a vote goes ahead he may tell his MPs to decide as they wish.

The UMNO leadership has reason to appear sympathetic to PAS's hudud demands. It will exacerbate divisions in the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, a fractious alliance that binds PAS with two larger and more mainstream parties: the People's Justice Party, a liberal, multi-ethnic outfit, and the Democratic Action Party, a secular, ethnic-Chinese one. Both complain that PAS is reneging on an earlier promise to suspend its quest for hudud. Meanwhile, the jailing in February of Pakatan's charismatic leader, Anwar Ibrahim, on a sodomy charge looks politically motivated. Spinning out a debate about Islamic punishments is one way to widen rifts in Pakatan, which is struggling without Mr Anwar.


These dark clouds explain why Malaysia's ethnic-Chinese and Indian citizens -- and many moderate Muslims -- are not reassured that hudud is promoted by its advocates only in the conservative north. Some clashes caused by Malaysia's existing dual-track legal system are still unresolved, such as who should rule in divorces and custody battles when only one spouse is Muslim. Meanwhile, introducing stricter punishments for a particular ethnicity is unlikely to improve Malaysia's already fraught racial politics.

It remains uncertain whether Parliament will vote on the bills that PAS has introduced. The government could decide its interests are best served by stringing out the public debate. Certainly, the chances of PAS gaining the simple parliamentary majority needed to implement hudud -- not to mention the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution, which many experts reckon would be necessary -- seem small. PAS may end up asking Parliament to sanction a greatly diluted version of the judicial code that it appears to want.


Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2015. All rights reserved.

Corpun file 26039 at

New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, 22 April 2015

No plans to review caning, says Wan Junaidi



KUALA LUMPUR: The government has no plans currently to review caning, specifically on children because it is seen as still relevant.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the prisons had specific procedures before implementing caning whether on male, female or child offenders.

"(Caning for children) is not the same as for adults. They are whipped using a small cane and the caning system may be slightly different.

"Currently, we have not done any study to improve on the caning system. What we have now is already suitable, based on what we study for women, children and adults," he said during the question and answer session in the Senate here, today.

He was replying to a supplementary question from Senator Khairiah Mohamed who wanted to know whether the government wanted to review caning against children or juvenile offenders in prison.


© 2014. New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad (4485-H). All Rights Reserved.

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