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Uncommon Sense with Wong Chin Huat: Can PAS and DAP survive hudud law dispute?

MALAYSIANS have been seeing PAS and DAP cooperate on a level not thought possible before. When DAP Member of Parliament Teo Nie Ching received brickbats from Umno for speaking in a surau’s prayer room, PAS leaders spoke up in her defence, saying non-Muslims are allowed in Muslim houses of worship. Earlier this year, Umno leaders argued that sports betting should be legalised. PAS and DAP begged to differ. Umno said Christians should be banned from using “Allah” to refer to God. PAS leaders said otherwise.

But what about the ultimate bones of contention — hudud law and an Islamic state — both of which DAP opposes? Can PAS and DAP really put aside their differences on this to form a lasting coalition in Pakatan Rakyat (PR)? The Nut Graph asks political scientist Wong Chin Huat in the latest installation of Uncommon Sense.

TNG: PAS and DAP disagree over the implementation of hudud laws every so often. The most recent incident involved DAP chairperson Karpal Singh reminding PAS that hudud and the Islamic state are not within PR’s policy. How will this play out if PR manages to form the next federal government? Will either side have to compromise and if so, will those compromises alienate their respective voter bases?

Karpal Singh

Karpal Singh

Wong Chin Huat : The issue will disappear once they form the next federal government provided Umno is sufficiently weakened but not completely wiped out.

While their ideological commitments are real, DAP and PAS have always been strategic in the issues they highlight. There are many ways to showcase PAS’s contribution in promoting Islam other than implementing hudud. DAP won’t have problems with Islamisation if it involves islamising the financial system or expanding social welfare as long as non-Muslims are not discriminated against or forced to follow Islamic laws.

Before 8 March 2008, you would expect DAP to stand up to defend the right of non-Muslims to gamble, a position now ironically taken over by Umno on the sports betting issue. Instead, DAP supported the anti-gambling position and packaged it with a strongly non-Muslim flavour by announcing Penang’s state-level ban on sports gambling outlets on Wesak Day.

All things are possible in politics. What we should be concerned about is how to divert attention away from the divisive issue of hudud or at least not make it a priority. The answer lies in giving PAS and DAP enough power so that they appreciate that forsaking such power over hudud is suicidal. This rests more on non-Muslim voters than on Muslim voters. Imagine if PAS won 40 parliamentary seats, with half of those won in mixed seats due to crucial non-Muslim support. Would they harp on hudud if they risked losing these 20 seats in the following elections?

However, if Umno/Barisan Nasional (BN) is completely destroyed in the next elections and PR starts to feel it is unbeatable, there will be some who will want to play hero again within Pakatan Rakyat on the issue of hudud. So the issue will come back.

PAS leaders have said they will adhere to PR’s Common Policy Framework (CPF) and called a truce for now on the hudud issue. How binding is this document and do you foresee PR parties sticking to it on principle, even at times when it may hurt them politically?

If the prospect of PR coming into power is real, the CPF will be binding. They will definitely stick to it before the next elections even if it hurts. What happens after the next elections will depend on who survives and who triumphs.

Siti Mariah Mahmud (source:

If people like Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Khalid Samad and Siti Mariah Mahmud lose in the next general election, then they can stick to the CPF all they like, but it won’t matter anymore. Collectively, politicians are opportunists. It’s part of their job requirement. So, don’t test them on their principles more than you want to deliberately test your partner on their fidelity. All we should aim for is a good outcome, not a heroic but tragic ending.

Does the CPF bind PAS’s actions in the states where they hold a majority such as Kedah and Kelantan? Have they been abiding by the CPF’s principles so far?

There are clearly sins of omissions to say the least. Kelantan and Kedah have shown no interest in local democracy. Kedah’s policy of reserving 50% of housing lots for Bumiputeras certainly does not fit well with PR’s vision of an inclusive and colour-blind Malaysia.

Why is the CPF not being followed religiously? The simple answer is that it is not being indoctrinated effectively. It remains an official document, not an ideological guide. If you tested DAP and PKR’s party election candidates and asked them to list out five specific issues in the CPF, I don’t know how many would pass.

Is this a problem? Yes, the lack of interests and seriousness in CPF means that we can’t expect a clear picture of how this country will be run. The CPF is rather vague to begin with. But this is not a serious issue, and it is not one that will break the Pakatan Rakyat.

Taib Mahmud

As long as federal power is still within sight, DAP and PAS will love each other. By the same logic, the moment the prospect of power fades, Umno will bid farewell to MCA, MIC and other member parties. For example, in Sarawak, because Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud is increasingly unpopular, his once-loyalists in SUPP have hinted they might leave BN.

At the end of the day, all political coalitions are marriages of convenience. We don’t have to ask whether there will be true love at the time of adversity. We should just make sure that the marriage works out well when they are in power or on the road to power. This is the problem with BN — their marriage is not even working when they are still in power.

Have PAS and DAP leaders been saying different things to different constituencies in order not to ruffle any feathers? How consistent have both their stands been on hudud and the Islamic state issue since March 2008?

Nik Aziz

Nik Aziz

No. The exchange of words between Karpal and PAS spiritual leader Datuk Seri Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat over hudud is the case in point. With the increasingly multilingual population, double-speak or dog-whistling has no chance of success but will backfire.

The challenge for PAS and DAP is exactly how to remain consistent and reconcilable with each other at the same time. It’s how to persuade their members that some issues just need to be left to time and they just need to agree to disagree for now.

Will one way of compromise be that PAS implement its Islamic state model only in states where they hold a majority? Will this result in creeping Islamisation state by state?

Islamisation has two approaches in general.

The first is Islamisation of the state, using state power to impose Islamic values and institutions, as understood and interpreted by the ruling elites, on the rest of population. This is basically Islamisation by coercion — even though its advocates would call it part of believers’ duty or even that of residing minority groups. The fact remains that those who refuse to follow cannot opt out. Such Islamisation will not work even if carried out only at the state level because citizenship and civil rights should not be differentiated by region.

The second approach is Islamisation of the society and economy through persuasion and incentives. People are encouraged to adopt Islamic values and practices because such values and practices benefit them. The best example is of course Islamic finance, where non-Muslim Chinese are said to be one of the most enthusiastic groups. Halal standards are also adopted by many non-Muslim restaurants because they want Muslim business. Surely Islam has more to contribute to the society, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, on a voluntarily basis. If state governments are competing to Islamise in a non-compelling way, such competition is only good for making Malaysia more diversified.

So the key is really not how Islamised Malaysia should be, but how Malaysia is to be Islamised, by persuasion or by force.

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4 Responses to “Uncommon Sense with Wong Chin Huat: Can PAS and DAP survive hudud law dispute?”

  1. Andrew I says:

    “Collectively, politicians are opportunists. It’s part of their job requirement. So, don’t test them on their principles more than you want to deliberately test your partner on their fidelity. All we should aim for is a good outcome, not a heroic but tragic ending.”

    Well, isn’t that the truth.

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      @ Andrew I
      @ Wong Chin Huat

      No, that´s absolutely not the truth.

      Ok, I´ve got to go now. Someone is getting too close to my dog. I wonder if that stranger is going to feed my dog some treats. You can´t trust your dogs too much these days… you never know when they are going start wagging their tails at strangers or bite the hands that feed them.

  2. mnz says:

    Should have asked him –

    If PAS and DAP control the government:

    1) How will foreign policy be like? What’s PAS policy in relation to the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, etc.?
    2) How the rest of the world will view Malaysia if PAS is in the government?
    3) Will PAS’s fight end once PR is in power? Have to remember that PAS eventual goal is an Islamic state.

    There are so many practical issues at stake, when secularists and Islamists share the governing of a country. Unless PAS is dominated by the Erdogans…

  3. Bad Rabbit says:

    Dear MNZ,

    Why on earth would it be necessary to ask those questions?

    1) Neither the Taliban, Muslim brotherhood nor Hamas forms a national government. The Taliban did, but they visited and interacted with the US far more than with Malaysia (before 9/11). As such, the question is irrelevant. You may as well ask how a PAS government’s relationship with the Girl Guides would work.

    2) The rest of the world ignores Malaysia except for two key instances: when Malaysia embarrasses itself yet again, and when the Malaysian palm oil industry causes more environmental mayhem.

    If the Pakatan Rakyat comes to power you may see one or two more articles just after the election, but the rest of the world will view Malaysia in exactly the same way as before.

    3) According to one contributor of this site […] Malaysia is a de facto Islamic state already… though what percentage of the population already believes this?

    As for the implementation of syariah law and hudud, I’m all for it. The only question I have is where is the syariah-compliant codification covering maritime law in Malaysia? Likewise the syariah code covering cyber-crime, identity theft, electronic fund transfers and insurance fraud? If we’re going to implement syariah law, all of these areas have to be covered. How can there be hudud if there is no codified law? Or are these issues covered and codified in the Hadith? There’s mention of them in the Quran – I double-checked just to avoid embarrassment…

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