- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

GOMBAK, Malaysia — Malaysia’s biggest opposition party yesterday declared its goal of forming an Islamic state, with punishments such as stoning and amputation for criminals and a ban on non-Muslims becoming prime minister.

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has almost no chance of winning power outright in the national government, but it plays a key role in setting the tone for political debate in the predominantly Muslim Malay community. It also controls the government in two of Malaysia’s 13 states.

Party leaders tempered the announcement by promising the country’s large non-Muslim minorities they would not lose religious freedoms guaranteed by the constitution or the right to hold other government posts.

“We present to you this morning our belief and conviction for how our society can be redeemed and reconstructed,” party President Abdul Hadi Awang said as he outlined the plan — a key part of its platform for national elections expected next year.

The crowd of party loyalists, many wearing Islamic skullcaps and turbans, responded with shouts of “Takbir, Allahu akbar,” or “Proclaim God is great.”

Malaysia, a democratic nation of 25 million people, has a large non-Muslim population and does not enforce sharia, or strict Islamic law.

But the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party made inroads among the nation’s majority Muslim community in the last elections in 1999.

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

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

UMNO, which relies on the support of ethnic Chinese, Indian and other non-Muslim parties to form its ruling coalition, says the opposition is too radical and is distorting Islam for political motives. About 60 percent of the population is Muslim.

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,” Mr. Lim said. “The proposals raised would alter the citizenship rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims.”

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