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Najib backs hudud laws, says Muslims should support them

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has expressed support for strict Islamic laws in a bid to consolidate support of ethnic Malay Muslims, as he called on the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) party on Tuesday (Nov 29) to gear up for the next general election.

Najib backs hudud laws, says Muslims should support them

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak inspects the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) youth during the annual assembly at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 10, 2015. Reuters file photo

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has expressed support for strict Islamic laws in a bid to consolidate support of ethnic Malay Muslims, as he called on the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) party on Tuesday (Nov 29) to gear up for the next general election.

In an interview with pro-government broadcaster TV3 in conjunction with the annual Umno General Assembly, Mr Najib said it was the responsibility of Muslims to support a plan by rival Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), to push for the adoption of hudud, the Islamic penal code that sets out punishment such as amputation and stoning. 

“We want to develop Islam,” Mr Najib said. “Non-Muslims must understand that this is not about hudud but empowering the Syariah courts.” 

With the rising cost of living and poor economic prospects for next year, Mr Najib is expected to bank on ethnic and religious sentiments to woo a majority of Malay voters. An election is due by 2018 but early polls are anticipated, which give the five-day Umno meeting that kicked off on Tuesday additional significance. 

Explaining why his policy speech at this year’s Umno meeting would focus on the interests of Malays and Islam, he said: “This is my speech as Umno president, so my main audience are Umno members and the Malays and bumiputra. It doesn’t mean we don’t care at all about the others, but this is an Umno assembly.” 

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang last week tabled a controversial parliamentary Bill to raise the punishment ceiling meted out by Syariah courts in PAS-ruled Kelantan.

Mr Najib’s support for the move could well see a loose coalition between Umno and PAS in the lead-up to the next election, said Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at the Iseas Yusof-Ishak Institute.

“Najib has pretty much given up hope in reaching out to the Chinese because the Chinese voters overwhelmingly prefer DAP to MCA,” he added, referring to the opposition Democratic Action Party and the Malaysian Chinese Association which is part of the ruling coalition led by Umno.

“As such, Najib believes that his best shot for his coalition to be returned to government is to enhance his Malay-Muslim voter bloc. 

“Non-Malays should be concerned about Najib’s remarks because he is sending the message that the secular space in Malaysia is being further constricted with the greater interjection of Islam into the public sphere.”

Mr Najib has battled calls to resign over the last 18 months, as a scandal at his pet project, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), drew the anger of the public, opponents and members of his own party. 

But he has put the biggest challenge to his 40-year political career behind him to emerge stronger than ever. Denying any wrongdoing, he has sacked his critics, including his former deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, stacked his Cabinet with loyalists and secured the backing of powerful Umno division chiefs.

However, a new opposition party led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Mr Muhyiddin, has threatened to split the majority Malay vote that has handed Umno victory in every election since independence in 1957.

Against this backdrop, analysts said this week’s general assembly will see more pro-Malay rhetoric from both delegates and leaders in a bid to defuse any political threat from the splinter Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. 

In a closed-door address to Umno members on Tuesday, Mr Najib stressed the importance of party unity and told them to begin preparing for the next election immediately. 

“He wanted us to make early preparations for the general election. We don’t know when (it will be) but the war horn has been blown for Umno to be ready for the polls,” Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said.

Umno Supreme Council member Razali Ibrahim described Mr Najib’s opening address as a “heart-to-heart” one. “He spoke about the current challenges the country is facing — the unfavourable economic conditions. He also touched on the importance of being united as we will be gearing up for the next general election,” Mr Razali said. 

The general assembly is attended by some 6,000 delegates from across the country. The Malay nationalist party is also the country’s biggest party with 3.5 million members. WITH AGENCIES

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