My Say: Let’s make our MPs accountable

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UMNO minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz incurred the wrath of many when he described those who discussed hudud — from whichever political party — as “stupid” because it cannot happen without an amendment to the Constitution.

Pas information chief Datuk Mahfuz Omar wants Nazri to retract the statement, adding that the spirit of democracy allows one the right to deliberate on many issues, including hudud. If this cannot be allowed, then maybe after this, “dreaming about it will be deemed wrong”.

Nazri’s cabinet colleague and de facto law minister Nancy Shukri shares his sentiments. She says it is impossible to implement hudud in multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia and that it will not get the support of Sarawak members of parliament.  

The punishment for offences under the Islamic penal code, she elaborates, would clash with those already covered under criminal laws. Subjecting a person to hudud might result in double jeopardy — prosecuting him or her twice for the same offence.

The views of Nazri and Nancy are notwithstanding the fact that all 12 state assemblymen from Umno (the linchpin of the ruling Barisan Nasional[BN] coalition), together with 31 Pas representatives and one from PKR, voted on March 19 to amend the 1993 Shariah criminal code, which provides for the application of hudud laws. Punishment includes stoning, amputation and lashes for Muslims.

Hudud, says the Kelantan bill will only be enforced on Muslims but non-Muslims are not buying it. Gerakan has filed an application in the Kota Baru High Court to challenge the constitutionality of the Kelantan state assembly’s move. If Pas brings the matter to Parliament, DAP and PKR — Pas’ partners in Pakatan Rakyat — are not supporting it.

MCA, on the other hand, continues to blame DAP for the situation the nation is facing, conveniently forgetting that its coalition partner, Umno, supported it at the state level. All Sabah and Sarawak-based parties — including those with Muslim MPs — seem bent on not backing the private member’s bill that PAS intends to table in Parliament.

Meanwhile, former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam wants Umno to make a stand, and reminded the party that hudud is not suitable for Malaysia. At the same time, another party stalwart, former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, declared support for the state’s move.

Then, there were reports that the Sultan of Kelantan supports the state assembly’s stance but that the Conference of Rulers opposes amendments to a federal law that will allow the enforcement of hudud. But almost immediately, the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal lodged a police report, denying it and stating that the Conference of Rulers has never discussed the matter.

Joining the debate, the Group of 25, comprising former top civil servants and professionals, sees any imposition of hudud laws as signifying to the world that Malaysia is abandoning its moderate path.

The group quoted Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), who said the application of shariah must be governed by ijtihad or creative thought, and that preconditions — including fair and equitable economic conditions and eradication of poverty — must be met before hudud can be implemented. Pas president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang is a IUMS vice-president.

And I have not included the numerous diverse opinions of local and international Muslim scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim NGOs and civil rights movements. As it is now, there is a lot of confusion out there.

In the midst of all this, as at press time on Friday night, surprisingly, the Cabinet and prime minister had yet to issue a statement on the official stand of Umno and BN.

The Prime Minister’s Office declared as fake a report that had been making the rounds, which claimed Datuk Seri Najib Razak would allow Umno members to decide for themselves whether to support a private member’s bill by Pas.

If the majority of lawmakers supported the bill, the government would have “no other choice” but to ensure that the law is implemented, the fake message said.

However, the federal government had in the past said it had never rejected hudud but qualified that “loopholes and shortcomings” must be addressed before such laws can be implemented in Malaysia.

As all this confusion could eventually lead to tension, it would be better for us as a nation to take the initiative to resolve this democratically. In this column  (Hudud — let the democratic process prevail, May 5,  Issue 1013) last year, I argued that it is the right of Pas in a democracy to table the hudud bill at the state assembly — which Umno has supported — and later take it to Parliament.

Pas has emphasised that any agreement on hudud will be done in an open manner in accordance with the law and Constitution and that introducing a private bill in Parliament is its democratic right. Politically, there is nothing sinister about it and what it is proposing is within the law. Pas has said that it will accept Parliament’s final decision, even if it is not in its favour.

If we follow this democratic path via Parliament, we will know if the bill can be passed via a simple majority or whether it needs an amendment to the Constitution, which would require a two-thirds majority. There are opposing views on this matter.

By going to Parliament, we can clear up the confusion and allow a more constructive debate on hudud to take place.  Then take a vote. If it requires a two-thirds majority, it is a forgone conclusion for the Pas initiative. If a simple majority is needed, I still believe the bill will not pass.

And if it goes through — and that is a big if — democratic processes allow it to be challenged in the courts.

By taking the matter to Parliament, we can make each parliamentarian truly accountable and not allow them to just make vague statements with a lot of “buts” and “ifs” outside the august house, while they continue to use hudud as a political tool.

As a voter, I want to know how the prime minister, his deputy, the cabinet and the likes of Nazri Aziz, Nancy Shukri, Tengku Razaleigh, Jamil Khir, PKR, and Muslim leaders from Sabah and Sarawak will actually vote.

A vote in parliament will at least end the political manoeuvring and stop the hudud issue from further distracting the nation. And maybe for Muslims, it will give us the chance to discuss hudud in a more sensible manner, sans the entrapment of irresponsible politicians.

Azam Aris is senior managing editor at The Edge

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on March 30 - April 5, 2015.