Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak has expressed support for strict Islamic laws as he seeks to consolidate support of ethnic Malay Muslims at a party meeting this week, as frustration over graft and the economy cloud his prospects for the next election.
Mr Najib has battled calls to resign over the past 18 months as a scandal at his pet project, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), drew the anger of the public, opponents and members of his own United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) ruling party.
Prime Minister Najib, caught in the middle of a corruption scandal, has in recent months been using the colonial era Sedition Act and other draconian laws to arrest government critics, jail opposition leaders and stifle free speech by suspending media groups and blogs.
A new opposition party, led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin — who Mr Najib sacked for questioning his handling of 1MDB — is threatening to split the majority Malay vote that has given UMNO victory in every election since independence in 1957.
Ahead of the annual party meeting, Mr Najib said it was the responsibility of Muslims to support a plan by the rival Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party to push for the adoption of ‘hudud’, the Islamic penal code, that sets out punishments like amputation and stoning.
“We want to develop Islam,” Mr Najib said in an interview with a pro-government broadcaster.
“Non-Muslims must understand that this is not about ‘hudud’, but about empowering the sharia courts.”
With rising prices and poor economic prospects for next year, Mr Najib is expected to bank on ethnic and religious sentiment to woo majority Malay voters.
An election is due by 2018.
UMNO meeting to focus on Malay, Islamic interests
Mr Najib said his policy speech at this year’s UMNO meeting would focus on the interests of Malays and Islam.
“This is my speech as UMNO President, so my main audience are UMNO members and the Malays and ‘bumiputera’,” he said, using a term that roughly translates as ‘sons of the soil’, and includes Malays but not members of the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t care at all about the others, but this is an UMNO assembly.”
Mr Najib faced the biggest challenge to his leadership last year, after reports that hundreds of millions of dollars was misappropriated from state fund 1MDB, which he founded.
He acted swiftly to preserve his position, sacking critics in his administration and closing a graft investigation.
Nevertheless, the scandal clouds prospects for an early election that Mr Najib could call to cement his position, with multiple international investigations going on and a suit related to the case filed by the US Department of Justice.
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Tags: 1MDB, allows punishments like amputation and stoning, graft investigation, hudud, Islamic penal code, Malaysia, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, Muhyiddin Yassin, Najib, Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, Sharia courts, UMNO