Malay Muslims look to PAS for 'true leader'

A Muslim worshipper kissing the hand of Dr Haron Din, spiritual leader of Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
A Muslim worshipper kissing the hand of Dr Haron Din, spiritual leader of Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS). PHOTO: THE STAR

Like most other Malay Muslims, carwash owner Muhammad Kamarul Arshad complains about Malaysia's slowing economy.

His solution to the problem is to find a "true Muslim leader".

The 41-year-old told The Straits Times: "When one is pious, the person will most definitely be thorough and honest in carrying out his duty. There will be no hanky-panky and corruption will definitely be a problem in the past. That will definitely turn the economy around."

A more Islamic government is the panacea to economic woes for those like Mr Kamarul, who will be giving their vote to Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

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The Islamist party has in the last two years pushed hard for stronger religious laws, including hudud, a criminal code that prescribes stoning to death and amputation as punishments.

Under Malaysia's syariah laws, which operate in a dual justice system alongside secular laws, the majority-Muslim community can be punished in the syariah courts for offences such as gambling, consuming alcohol and adultery.

PAS is trying to push legal amendments through Parliament, known as RUU 355, which would allow the syariah courts to mete out punishment of up to 30 years' jail, 100 lashes and a RM100,000 (S$32,000) fine, a huge increase from the existing penalties of up to three years' jail, six lashes and RM5,000 in fines.

The party, which left the opposition coalition two years ago, believes stronger Islamic laws will cure social ills in Malaysia.

But a survey by opposition-run research centre Invoke found that fewer than three in 10 Muslims know about RUU 355. Among those who do, 35 per cent said it trumps economic concerns as the top issue for the upcoming general elections.

Restaurateur Irfan Zaim, 36, said: "Inflation is an important issue but we need to go to the core of the problem. I'm confident we will be able to overcome any economic crisis if there are heavier and stricter punishments in the syariah courts."

Mr Muhamad Akhil Ibrahim, 45, a night market stallholder, concurs, saying that the source of problems lies not just in corrupt leaders, but how businesses are conducted.

"The situation here would definitely have been better if debts are handled carefully and businesses are run with integrity. Instead, we're drowning in more and more debts. I'm confident that PAS can turn things around," he said.

Nadirah H. Rodzi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline 'Malay Muslims look to PAS for 'true leader''. Print Edition | Subscribe