Three things we learned from: Kelantan's hudud ambition

Kelantan Mentri Besar, Datuk Ahmad Yakob speaks during the Kelantan State Assembly at the Kompleks Darul Naim in Kelantan, March 19, 2015. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Kelantan Mentri Besar, Datuk Ahmad Yakob speaks during the Kelantan State Assembly at the Kompleks Darul Naim in Kelantan, March 19, 2015. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KOTA BARU, March 20 — The Kelantan Legislative Assembly passed yesterday amendments to the Shariah Criminal Code II 1993 in a move that could pave the way for hudud law to be enforced in the state.

Despite strong concerns and opposition by non-Muslims on grounds that the strict theological law violates the Federal Constitution, 43 out of the 44 state assemblymen from PAS and archrival Umno voted for the Bill that amends the Islamic penal code first introduced in 1993.

What is left to do for PAS, which seems to have made hudud a key campaign issue, is to try and sway members of Parliament to make the necessary amendments to the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 and allow the Islamic courts to mete out punishments that include amputations of limbs for theft, and death by stoning for adultery and apostasy.

After more than 20 years of failed attempts to carry out “Allah's will”, PAS is now just inches away from realising its hudud goals.

But at what cost? Here are three things we learned about the Kelantan success in passing the Shariah Criminal Code II 1993 (Amendment) yesterday:

1. It is not about justice

Conservative PAS leaders would like to believe that by implementing hudud, they are dutifully performing “Allah's will” to serve justice, but rushing through a complex justice system that remains under scrutiny even by Muslim scholars worldwide can hardly be seen as an attempt to administer true justice.

Can one believe the Kelantan PAS government is serious about wanting justice when, as statistics show, it has done little to develop the state that it has ruled for more than 20 years?

Employment opportunities remain low here while poverty is rife. Salaries have barely risen and businesses are deflated. Kelantan's biggest produce is timber, but yields have also been on the decline.

This lack of income — and innovation, for that matter — has forced Kelantan to operate on a budget deficit for more than a decade now.

Yet PAS appears to be more interested in combating the byproducts of its policies — social ills such as nation’s worst drug addiction and HIV infection rates —  rather than providing genuine solutions to the conditions that created the problems in the first place.

If PAS had really wanted justice, it would have put more effort into solving the economic woes plaguing the state’s people.

But despite having had all the time to rectify this, its “ulama leadership”, the self-professed near- irreproachable representative of Allah, have changed nothing.

2. It is about staying in power

One of the things PAS has not been forthcoming about is that its hudud ambition is also chiefly political in nature. So much so that it is willing to risk the bigger goal of evicting its rivals Umno and Barisan Nasional from Putrajaya.

PAS's hudud goals have pushed Pakatan Rakyat into the brink of collapse. This potential to break up one of, if not the strongest opposition force ever to be seen since Independence is now more real.

It could be as close as this Monday when the DAP meets to review its position in the pact, after accusing PAS of violating its Common Policy Framework. In this, PAS also stand to lose more support from the non-Malay communities.

But PAS appears undisturbed by this. Why? Because PAS is dealing with its own decay and it wants to survive. After a lacklustre performance in the 13th general election, PAS needs a miracle.

Umno has race; PAS has Islam. But since PAS has exhausted much of Islam's symbolism for support, it is running out of ideas.

It cannot provide sophisticated alternative policies that befit a modern and savvy society to win votes, since many of its hardcore leadership are only skilled in theology. So it resorts to the only thing it knows best: selling the promise of paradise in the afterlife.

And hudud can be that vehicle to carry you there. Or at least that is what they want you to think.

3. Political parties will be political parties

When push comes to shove, political parties will do what it must to endure: politicking. PAS, despite portraying itself to be the selfless servants of God, has again demonstrated that political parties are not as altruistic as they make themselves to be when stripped bare.

By passing the hudud bill, PAS gives the impression that it has abandoned all of its promise for progressive politics. Gone are the excitement stirred by what was thought to be PAS's realisation for the need to engage in multi-ethnic, multi-religious cosmopolitan politics.

At that time, progressive Malaysians thought party full of turban-wearing clerics made a significant political leap forward when it said would now fight for a “welfare state” instead of a theocratic one, after party grassroots voted in a progressive leadership lineup at the party's 2011 elections.

There was euphoria. The Chinese, who traditionally baulk at supporting PAS, were emboldened enough to make the most radical of fashion statements: donning T-shirts of the late Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat in a show of faith that the Islamist party had found the light and shed its conservative skin.

The Islamist party also formed a non-Muslim wing. Observers even went as far as calling PAS the new moderate poster boy at the time.

But yesterday, all that proved to be nothing but a phase. Political parties have phases. When moderation was trendy, political parties being political parties jumped on the bandwagon. PAS was no exclusion.

After that, PAS — dealt with probably the lowest level of support since its creation in the 60s — began to show its true colours; that, just like its archrivals Umno, it was also a political chameleon that changes its outer skin when the environment requires it to.

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