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Malaysia's Najib drops support for Shariah

Bill to introduce Islamic criminal law will now be a private member bill in parliament

ucanews.com reporter, Kuala Lumpur

ucanews.com reporter, Kuala Lumpur

Published: March 30, 2017 08:49 AM GMT

Updated: March 30, 2017 09:23 AM GMT

Malaysia's Najib drops support for Shariah

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said his government will not table a bill that would enhance the powers of Malaysia's Shariah Courts. (Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP)

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has backed away from proposed legislation that would allow Islamic criminal law 'Hudud' to be used in the country.

A week before the first parliament sitting of the year ends, Najib announced March 29 that the government was dropping its plan to take over and table the bill to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdictions) Act or Act 355.

The reversal comes less than two weeks after Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on March 17 that the government was looking to take over the bill.

The bill seeks to increase the penalties that the Shariah Courts can mete out, as well as expand its criminal jurisdictions over Muslims in criminal offences.

If passed, it will allow states with existing Islamic penal code legislation to enforce harsher punishments and for more offences, as previously they were bound by restrictions in Act 355.

Najib said his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government supreme council had decided that the federal government would not take over the bill tabled by Abdul Hadi Awang, president of PAS-Malaysian Islamic Party (commonly known by its Malay acronym PAS).

Thus, the bill will continue to be a private member's bill and it will be up to the speaker to decide.

"If the speaker decides to allow it then it will be tabled," Najib, who is also BN chairperson, said after the coalition's supreme council meeting at the Putra World Trade Center March 29.

Observers noted that the BN coalition parties in Sarawak and Sabah states located on the island of Borneo along with three non-Muslim BN member parties in the Malay peninsular turned the screws on the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) ruling party not to act unilaterally.

They added that there is also an election due next year, with most believing that it will be called soon with the possibility that parliament may even be dissolved after this sitting.

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The BN coalition parties from Sarawak and Sabah have always stated that passing the amendment to the act was an encroachment on their rights when Najib announced to the UMNO general assembly in November that the government would support Hadi's bill.

Najib dismissed allegations of an about-turn by his UMNO-led coalition government saying the decision was in line with its practice of consensus.

"We all believe in the spirit of consensus. That is BN's way," he said.

It is not known however if parliamentarians will even vote for the bill, or whether BN lawmakers will support it if tabled by the speaker.

"Maybe there will be a vote, or not. Up to the speaker's instructions," Najib said.

The motion to table the bill to amend Act 355 was first tabled by Hadi during last year's parliamentary session but the debate and voting for the motion was delayed at his request.

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