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Deferral of ‘hudud Bill’ angers Malaysian opposition

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian opposition lawmakers yesterday hit out at Parliament Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia over his handling of the debate of a controversial Bill to enhance the power of the Syariah courts, accusing him of abusing his power.

People holding up placards outside the Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, in support of PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang tabling a Bill to amend the Syariah Courts Act. Photo: Malay Mail Online

People holding up placards outside the Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, in support of PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang tabling a Bill to amend the Syariah Courts Act. Photo: Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian opposition lawmakers yesterday hit out at Parliament Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia over his handling of the debate of a controversial Bill to enhance the power of the Syariah courts, accusing him of abusing his power.

They were upset with Mr Pandikar for allowing opposition Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) President Abdul Hadi Awang to table his Private Member’s Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, only to defer the debate on the matter hours later.

Mr Lim Guan Eng, the Democratic Action Party’s (DAP) Member of Parliament (MP), said the current parliamentary sitting has been used for a “political game”. “The sitting should not be politicised like this. Bringing up a Private Member’s Bill and then deferring debates while there is still time, this has never happened before in Parliament history,” he said, referring to Mr Hadi’s Bill — also known as the “hudud” Bill — aimed at raising the punishment ceiling meted out by Syariah courts in Kelantan.

Describing yesterday’s events as a “theatre”, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) MP Rafizi Ramli said the opposition — minus PAS — will hold a mock parliamentary sitting to allow their members to state their views on Mr Hadi’s Bill. The session will be aired live over the Internet.

After two failed attempts, Mr Hadi yesterday tabled the controversial Bill, which seeks to raise the punishment ceiling meted out by Syariah courts to 30 years in prison, RM100,000 (S$31,588) fine and 100 strokes of the cane. Currently, the penalties only state a maximum jail term of three years or a fine of RM5,000 or six strokes of the cane.

The move came after Prime Minister Najib Razak said last month that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition will not be tabling amendments to the Act following a discussion with all 13 of its component parties. The initial backing of the Bill by Mr Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (Umno) has resulted in strained ties with its non-Muslim partners, who are concerned the move will enable hudud laws to be implemented in Malaysia.

After allowing a PAS MP to voice his support for the Bill following opening arguments by Mr Hadi, Mr Pandikar yesterday invoked his discretionary powers to halt the Bill’s proceedings.

The move caught MPs off-guard and drew loud protests from opposition lawmakers, who felt they were denied an opportunity to debate the Bill.

They hurled words like “takut” (scared) and “ayam” (chicken) at him.

However, Mr Pandikar said he was not restricted by any rules when presiding over parliamentary sittings.

“A friend once told me: ‘If you have the power, you are very powerful. If you do not use the power, you are a fool.’ So today, I am using the power to end this meeting and the debate for the Bill will held at the next parliamentary sitting (in July),” he said.

Putrajaya on Thursday rushed five federal Bills and deferred four more, in a marathon sitting that lasted 20 hours, to pave the way for Mr Hadi’s Bill to be debated yesterday.

Tabling his Bill, Mr Hadi reiterated that both his proposed amendments and the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act do not concern non-Muslims and urged them not to worry about the outcome of his Bill. “History has proven that; since this Act was passed, no non-Muslim has been charged under this law,” he said.

He also criticised non-Muslim MPs for objecting to his Bill, stressing that they also have a responsibility to their Muslim constituents.

Several of Mr Hadi’s party’s comrades expressed their jubilation when the Bill was finally tabled in Parliament, with PAS’ MP Nasrudin Hassan taking off his glasses to wipe away tears when Mr Hadi was speaking.

Amid the developments, BN leaders yesterday said the ruling coalition had decided during its meeting last month to allow the contentious Bill to be tabled in Parliament, but not debated.

“The decision was to allow PAS to present their case and there was agreement that there won’t be voting today. So ... we followed the decision in the BN Council,” said Dr S Subramaniam, President of the Malaysian Indian Congress. AGENCIES

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