Malaysia transport minister Liow Tiong Lai says will quit Cabinet if hudud Bill is passed

Malaysia's transport minister Liow Tiong Lai.
Malaysia's transport minister Liow Tiong Lai. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/Asia News Network) - Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mah Siew Keong have said they will resign from the Cabinet if the Islamist party's hudud Bill is passed in Parliament, amid a chorus of opposition to the draft Islamic law.

Datuk Seri Liow, who leads the Malaysian Chinese Association, told The Star he was trying to harness political will across party lines to stop the Bill introduced by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) chief Abdul Hadi Awang on Thursday from going through.

But if he fails, said Mr Liow, he is ready to leave his position in the Government - a decision which even he admitted would have "repercussions" on the political scene.

"I'm trying to stop it. I'm trying to get all the component parties to stop it. I am urging both sides of the political divide to come together and stop this Bill," Mr Liow told The Star on Saturday (May 28).

"If we cannot do it, we will have to sacrifice. I will resign," said Mr Liow.

"There's no point for me to stay on any more, you know. I have to be very firm on this."

 
 

On Sunday (May 29), Mr Liow appealed to all MPs to vote against the Bill.

"We want support from both sides of the political divide to come together to stop this Bill, because it is in conflict with the spirit of our Federal Constitution," he told reporters.

Mr Liow has been one of the most vocal critics of Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang's Bill, which would lead to strict Islamic criminal laws – called hudud – being implemented in Kelantan state if passed. The law authorises stiff penalties like amputation for thieves.

PAS was previously blocked from debating the hudud Bill in Parliament by the Barisan Nasional government, which is led by MPs from Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak's Umno party and also includes Mr Liow's MCA.

When the Umno Speaker of Parliament allowed Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang to debate his proposed Bill on Thursday, many MPs were caught off guard. The move set tongues wagging on growing PAS-Umno ties.

Four of the 13 BN coalition parties issued a statement on Thursday to voice their opposition to the Bill. MCA, the biggest ethnic Chinese party in the camp, has already suffered its first casualty. Gurun assemblyman Leong Yong Kong announced on Thursday that he was quitting the party to protest against the Bill.

But Datuk Seri Najib said the Bill was "misunderstood" and only meant to strengthen the current law for Syariah courts. 

Mr Mah, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and head of Gerakan, another ethnic Chinese party in the BN coalition, on Saturday reiterated the party’s objection to any attempt to implement Islamic criminal law and said he would also quit the Cabinet the law is implemented.

“I will be prepared to do what Datuk Seri Liow has announced,” Mr Mah told The Star.

Asked about MCA's position in Barisan should the Bill be debated and passed, Mr Liow said the party would remain in the ruling coalition.

"I'm not going to talk about that (MCA in Barisan). We want to be in Barisan. We have to talk about Barisan spirit. You see when you are in Barisan, you need to have Barisan spirit.

"We need to have the consensus in Barisan to stop this Bill. I think that is more important. I think stopping this Bill is more important," he said.

Mr Liow stressed that he was making the statements in his capacity as the Transport Minister.

"MCA has to continue (in Barisan). But I am prepared for it (to leave Cabinet).

"I am not worried about what I have said," said Mr Liow.

He would be steadfast in opposing the Bill, which he said contravenes the Federal Constitution, he said.

The Bill seeks to remove safeguards referred to as "3-6-5" from the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 which limits punishment for any offence to a jail term of not more than three years, whipping of not more than six strokes or a fine of not more than RM5,000 (S$1,686).

"What Abdul Hadi's Private Member's Bill is trying to do right now is to dismantle all of these and the Bill, in its current form - if passed - is against the spirit of the Federal Constitution, which is Article 8 on equality [of everyone] before the law," Mr Liow told The Star.

"It is very scary. The country will be chaotic. There will be two judicial systems," he said. "How are you going to face the country like that?"