KUALA LUMPUR – A plan by Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government to table a controversial amendment that would raise the Syariah Courts’ criminal powers has quickly drawn criticism from its own ally, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), over worries that non-Muslims will be affected.
This is the latest move by the Anwar administration in an apparent effort to appeal to Muslims and out-Islamise the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition dominated by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), ahead of crucial polls expected in July in six states.
On Thursday, de facto minister for religious affairs Mohd Na’im Mokhtar told Parliament that the government plans to table the amendment – also known by its Malay initials RUU355 – to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act after getting Cabinet approval. However, the minister did not provide a timeline for when the approval will arrive.
PAS vice-president Idris Ahmad, who was religious affairs minister from August 2021 to November last year, said the previous Cabinet had already greenlit the amendment for tabling.
“During the previous administration, the Cabinet had already approved it, and sent it to the Attorney-General,” he told The Straits Times on Friday, adding that it had been slated for tabling in November last year until Parliament was dissolved for the general election.
MCA vice-president Ti Lian Ker tweeted on Friday that its leaders were “prepared to quit the Barisan Nasional Cabinet” back when the amendment was proposed and supported by Umno, but highlighted how this time, there was silence from the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP), a key ally of Datuk Seri Anwar’s unity government.
MCA has two MPs and DAP 40 MPs.
Analysts said the law will not affect non-Muslims as it will only involve the Islamic courts, but many non-Muslims remain wary of it. The Bill aims to raise the Syariah Courts’ maximum sentencing limits for criminal offences to 30 years’ jail, a RM100,000 (S$29,300) fine and 100 strokes of the cane. The current limits are three years’ jail, a RM5,000 fine and six strokes.
Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said that the unity government is facing a dilemma in how to boost its religious credibility without losing support from non-Malays.
“The unity gover...