Syariah Bill appears on Malaysia's Parliament order paper

Parti Islam SeMalaysia's (PAS) president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.
Parti Islam SeMalaysia's (PAS) president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

PETALING JAYA - A private member's Bill by Parti Islam SeMalaysia's (PAS) president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang to strengthen sentencing powers of the country's syariah courts has appeared on the order paper for the Malaysian Parliament sitting that began Monday (July 24).

The Bill, which proposes to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, also known by its Malay language acronym RUU355, is unlikely to be brought up this sitting, according to The Star daily, as government Bills take precedence over private member's Bills. The syariah bill is the 10th item listed on the order paper.

The speaker of the house however, can decide whether to resume debate on the syariah Bill, which was last tabled on the final day of the last Parliament sitting on April 6.

PAS Member of Parliament Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan was the sole lawmaker to address lawmakers on the amendments that day, before the speaker, Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, adjourned proceedings sine die. The controversial move irked MPs who opposed the Bill as they did not get the chance to voice their views or debate the amendments.

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According to the New Straits Times, the Bill could be fast-tracked for debate this sitting if a motion is tabled and approved by Parliament.

The syariah court today can mete out what is called the 3-5-6 punishment, that is, imprisonment of up to three years, a RM5,000 (S$1,583) fine and six strokes of the cane. RUU355 will raise these to a maximum punishment of 30 years' prison, a RM100,000 fine and 100 strokes of the cane.

Malaysia's ruling party Umno has supported the Bill, speeding up its progress through Parliament.

This support has fostered Umno's friendship with opposition party PAS and burnished its Islamic credentials among Malay voters, the key demographic that will determine the outcome of elections which must be held by August 2018.

But the Bill has also caused concern among Umno's multicultural partners in the Barisan Nasional coalition, as it is widely viewed as a backdoor push by PAS and Islamists in the government to introduce a harsher Islamic penal code, or hudud, in Malaysia.