Kedah's gambling ban plan stirs concerns among Malaysia's non-Muslims

The state said it would not renew licences for gambling operators there. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's northern Kedah state is set to effectively ban all licensed gambling operators in the state, raising concern among critics that non-Muslim activities are being subjected to moral policing.

The state, which is governed by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) said it would not renew licences for gambling operators there, just a week after the authorities in the capital Kuala Lumpur imposed a limited ban on liquor sales in stores in the territory.

Kedah Menteri Besar Sanusi Md Nor made the announcement on Sunday (Nov 14), saying he wanted Kedah to be "free of gambling" and that gamblers who would like to purchase lottery tickets should instead head to neighbouring state Penang.

Kedah would also ban the sale of alcohol in its rural parts, he said.

Kedah is one of three Malaysian states governed by Islamist party PAS, but unlike the other two states of Kelantan and Terengganu, it has a sizeable non-Muslim community comprising more than 20 per cent of the two million population. Malay Muslims form the majority community in Malaysia.

Datuk Seri Sanusi has sparked controversy before. Earlier this year, he cancelled the Thaipusam public holiday for ethnic Indians in Kedah, citing the ongoing national lockdown for Covid-19.

Mr Sanusi's latest announcement comes just over a week after Kuala Lumpur City Hall imposed a ban on liquor sales in grocery shops, Chinese medicine shops and convenience stores in the federal territory.

Beer is also allowed to be sold only until 9pm according to the new guidelines.

Both the Malaysian Indian Congress and the Malaysian Chinese Association - the Indian and Chinese-based parties that partner PAS in the federal administration - have criticised Mr Sanusi's move as "illogical".

The opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) has questioned the validity of Mr Sanusi's declaration.

Mr Sanusi has ordered all Kedah local councils not to renew the licences of Kedah gaming shops, however DAP legal bureau chief Ramkarpal Singh on Sunday said that such refusals should be issued only when businesses fail to comply with operating regulations, and not used to impose arbitrary blanket bans.

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng on Monday labelled the move as an "extremist" policy by PAS.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday said that a government led by his party, Parti Pejuang Tanah Air will guarantee the privileges that non-Malays enjoy.

"A Pejuang dominated government will uphold democratic principles and the rule of law," Tun Dr Mahathir said in a blog post on Monday. Pejuang is a Malay-based party that currently serves as part of the opposition bloc in Parliament.

In October, several politicians, including those from PAS, had demanded that the name for a local whiskey, Timah, be changed, claiming it was the short form of Fatimah, the name of Prophet Mohamad's daughter.

On Saturday the government announced the name could be retained, but with an explanation on the label that the name means tin ore in Malay.

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