Thu, Nov 13, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Malay opposition plans establishing Islamic state

AP , GOMBAK, MALAYSIA

The largest opposition party yesterday unveiled its plan to make Malaysia an Islamic state, including the introduction of punishments such as stoning and amputation for criminals and a ban on non-Muslims becoming prime minister.

But party leaders promised the country's large non-Muslim minorities they would not lose religious freedoms currently guaranteed by the Constitution, or the right to hold other government posts.

While the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has almost no chance of winning power outright in the national government, the party plays a key role in setting the tone of political debate among the predominant Muslim Malay community.

It also controls governments of two of Malaysia's 13 states.

The party's blueprint for rule at the national level -- if it ever were to come into power -- has been long-awaited and forms a key part of its platform for national elections expected by mid-next year.

"We present to you this morning our belief and conviction for how our society can be redeemed and reconstructed," party president Abdul Hadi Awang told 500 party loyalists at the official launch of the plan.

The crowd, many wearing Islamic skull caps and turbans, responded with shouts of "Takbir, Allahu akbar!" or "Proclaim God is great."

The fundamentalist party is one of Malaysia's oldest and largest political groups, and the biggest challenger to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

The party made strong inroads into UMNO territory at the last elections in 1999 and party leaders believe they can win at least one more state in the coming elections.

Since the last elections, Islam has become an increasingly political issue.

The opposition party, which is strongest in conservative, relatively poor rural areas, claims UMNO is corrupt and fails to reflect Islam's tenets.

UMNO, which relies on the support of ethnic Chinese, Indian and other non-Muslim-based parties to form its ruling coalition, claims the opposition is too radical and is distorting Islam for political ends.

Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the Democratic Action Party, the main ethnic Chinese opposition group, warned that the plan for an Islamic state could create "a new dichotomy between Muslims and non-Muslims."

"It confirms the worst fears of the non-Muslims in Malaysia," Lim said. "The proposals raised would alter the citizenship rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims."

At yesterday's launch, party members also watched video clips which strongly suggested that Western suspicion toward Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US had motivated the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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