Malaysia Islamic party revives contentious plan

Opposition scrambles to heal potential rift with non-Muslim allies after saying it still supports imposing strict religious laws in theocratic state.

Badawi 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Badawi 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Malaysia's Islamic opposition party scrambled Tuesday to heal a potential rift with its non-Muslim allies after creating an uproar by saying it still supports imposing strict religious laws in a theocratic state. Husam Musa, vice president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, drew criticism from other members of their three-party alliance when he told a forum Saturday that his party hopes to enforce Islamic laws if the opposition comes to power. Husam voiced surprise Tuesday over the controversy, saying he had not said anything new because the party's "policies are very familiar to everyone by now." "We stick to our stance and we cannot abandon that," Husam told The Associated Press Tuesday. "But we assure our partners that in terms of implementation, there won't be unilateral action. It must be a multilateral decision by all (opposition) members if we want to implement this," he said. The Islamic party has long advocated a theocratic state, a stand that appeals to many rural Malay Muslims, especially in its stronghold states of Kelantan and Terengganu in the northeast. But the party, known by its Malay acronym PAS, toned down its religious rhetoric after forming a political alliance with the left-leaning Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and the multiracial People's Justice Party before the general elections last March. The alliance made unprecedented gains in the elections on pledges of racial and religious fairness, and many believed that PAS was unlikely to revive its religious platform. Husam brought up the issue because he was publicly asked whether PAS still favors strict Islamic laws. His response could win some support from conservative Muslim voters in Terengganu where a Parliamentary by-election will be held next month, pitting PAS against the ruling United Malays National Organization party. Both parties draw their support from the Malays, who are Muslims and form two-thirds of Malaysia's 27 million people. Because the Malay votes are divided, support from the Chinese and Indian minorities - mainly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus - is crucial for both sides. Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party, said Husam's statement could "create unease, anxiety and opposition" among non-Muslim voters. Political observers have long said PAS has no hope of ever enforcing strict laws because non-Muslims and many moderate Muslims would oppose it. The laws allow public whipping, stoning or amputation of limbs for various crimes.