Leaders in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition have threatened to quit their Cabinet posts if Umno helps opposition Parti Islam seMalaysia (PAS) implement Islamic criminal law, or hudud.
The warning came after Prime Minister Najib Razak tried to play down the so-called "hudud" Bill tabled in Parliament last Thursday.
Over the weekend, Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) chief and Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai as well as three other ministers vowed to quit should hudud be introduced. BN leaders from Sabah and Sarawak, which have Muslim chief ministers, also pledged to block the Bill from being implemented in East Malaysia. They warned that such laws may force the two states to leave the Malaysian federation.
"There's no point for me to stay on any more, you know. I have to be very firm on this. In principle, I cannot accept this unconstitutional act," Datuk Seri Liow told The Star newspaper last Saturday.
Yesterday, he was joined by his Malaysian Indian Congress counterpart and Health Minister, Datuk Seri S. Subramaniam, as well as MCA deputy president Wee Ka Siong, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Department.
The Umno-led government allowed the Bill submitted by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang to be tabled in Parliament but he chose to defer debate on the motion to the next sitting in October.
NO POINT IN STAYING
There's no point for me to stay on any more, you know. I have to be very firm on this. In principle, I cannot accept this unconstitutional act.
DATUK SERI LIOW TIONG LAI, Transport Minister and Malaysian Chinese Association chief, on his pledge to quit should hudud be introduced.
While hudud has great traction within the Malay-Muslim majority, non-Muslims are opposed to the law despite assurances that it will not apply to them.
Mr Najib said after chairing an Umno leadership meeting last Friday that the Bill had nothing to do with hudud, but was meant instead to strengthen syariah courts that adjudicate Islamic affairs.
However, allies of the ruling Malay party pointed out that the amendments would open the door to implementing punishments short of the death penalty, such as stoning and amputation.
These punishments exist in PAS-controlled Kelantan, and amendments to state enactments would allow them to be meted out should Datuk Seri Hadi's motion be passed in Parliament.
Although the re-emergence of hudud has heightened bickering within the opposition, it is now also causing repercussions in the ruling coalition.
Mr Liow yesterday appealed to MPs across the political divide to oppose the Bill.
The president of Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah, Tan Sri Joseph Kurup, said the Bill goes against the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 - no state religion in Sabah and Sarawak - and the secular Federal Constitution.
"If it is forced on Parliament and passed, I'm afraid it will trigger and force the people of Sabah and Sarawak to go their separate ways," Mr Kurup, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department who is in charge of national unity, said last Saturday.
The tabling of the hudud Bill came just weeks before two by-elections are to be held in the Malay-majority areas of Kuala Kangsar in Perak and Sungai Besar in Selangor on June 18.
Both Umno and the PAS will contest the seats, but given the sizeable Chinese minority, the BN has been forced to address concerns over hudud.
Mr Liow said yesterday that Chinese voters would not be swayed as the MCA had explained to them that hudud runs counter to the Federal Constitution, while Selangor Umno chief Noh Omar said he would meet his BN counterparts to clear the air over his party's support of the PAS motion.