Yesterday was the last day of Parliament sitting for the year. Parliament will reconvene in March 2017. I will try in this posting, to make sense of the so called Hadi Awang hudud bill saga.
What happened in Parliament yesterday?
Yesterday at 12 noon, Hadi Awang with a frail voice and demeanour, backed down tremendously after a year of fire and brimstone of his pro hudud stand. His speech in Parliament was in short, a complete sell out of his own position.
The background story
The background leading to yesterday was such: over many months, countless of MPs from Pakatan Harapan were sent direct and indirect political overtures to pressure us to support Hadi’s hudud agenda.
In Kelana Jaya, the local PAS leaders were respectful and their pro hudud visits to my office were friendly. They were willing to listen to my counter arguments and although they were upset that I would not support them, they were never angry nor threatening. One said he will have no choice but to instruct their 5,000 Kelana Jaya members to switch votes to UMNO in the next GE. To which I said they can do as they wish but that will mean they will be supporting Najib, Rosmah and 1MDB. Not exactly the two most Islamic role models in Malaysia for PAS to support.
In other constituencies, I have heard from colleagues that PAS has openly threatened to mobilise their supporters to vote against incumbent MPs, if they don’t support Hadi’s bill. In marginal seats, no MP can ignore such threats. Many of you, may not realise the immense lobbying and political pressure that was going on leading up to yesterday.
Therefore, it was totally unexpected to see Hadi Awang mumble in Parliament that he will in fact withdraw his original hudud position and amend to a milder version.
What has changed to the 355 bill since yesterday?
Originally, Hadi wanted to introduce a law that will enable the state governments to increase syariah punishments with NO LIMITS except such punishments cannot result in death. Hadi Awang’s proposal will effectively allow stoning, amputation and whipping as long as these do not result in death.
This proposal obviously got everyone upset and riled up. Our opposition to his proposal was spun as being insulting and disrespectful to Islam. With UMNO’s help, they spread accusations of us being insensitive to Muslims’ desire for hudud. Some government muftis openly urged people to support the bill. I have seen a video of civil servants taking oaths to support the bill and to fight enemies to the bill.
Hadi’s proposal if accepted and made law, will radicalise Islamic practices in Malaysia, punish women and cause economic collapse when investors flee. In my view, the proposal was utterly too radical, not holistic and as such unconstitutional, irresponsible and bad law. However because it had the support of UMNO who allowed it to be tabled and read in Parliament (not once but twice), we had to be on full alert yesterday to oppose it.
Yesterday, Hadi Awang withdrew all these hudud elements and instead replaced it with a different set of “milder” punishments. The new punishment limits (which are clearly NOT hudud) are 30 years jail, 100 whips and fine of RM100,000. This is still a dramatic jump in the current punishment limits of 3 years, 6 whips and RM5,000 fine.
Can Hadi Awang survive this political step down?
Straight after his speech in Parliament, Hadi went out to the media area and declared he will mobilise his supporters to support his new bill. In the halls of Parliament he was sheepish but outside the hall he was pretending to be a lion, rallying his supporters to continue the fight, ignoring the fact that only 5 minutes ago he voluntarily withdrew his own hudud bill!
I think Hadi will survive politically within his own party but his reputation as a champion of radical Islam has been severely damaged.
What will happen to Najib?
The episode showed up how weak Najib really is. He clearly wanted to secure Hadi Awang’s undying loyalty but instead had to back down in face of a Borneo rebellion. Malaysian politics has entered uncharted waters where Sabah and Sarawak will push for greater autonomy. Zahid on the other hand came out of this episode with positive vibes as a leader willing to listen.
What will happen next to the bill?
When Parliament resits on March 2017, the bill will still be debated. This time on whether the new amendments are still too harsh. Hopefully Zahid Hamidi’s select committee will be formed before hand.
I will definitely object to the amendments unless clarity is given on what limits apply to which particular syariah crime. For example, if an unmarried Muslim couple is apprehended for holding hands in KLCC park under khalwat, should they be subject to a maximum sentence of 30 years, or RM100,000 or 100 whips?
The new Hadi bill must be amended again to specifically limit every syariah crime and it must be subject to reasonable level of punishment. The propensity of Hadi to throw in blank cheque legal proposals is just bad law and reflects a reckless irresponsibilty. Hadi will do Malaysia a real favour to consider his bills carefully and not use them as political tools to tear apart Malaysia. Najib too must stop enabling this kind of behaviour.