Sarawak BN objections may doom Act 355

Terence Netto
(Updated )

COMMENT Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak could not have reckoned with the objections of BN component parties in Sabah and Sarawak to Act 355 when he announced last November that Umno would “take over” PAS president Hadi Awang’s private member’s bill to further empower Syariah courts.

Earlier this week, in a meeting with leaders of these parties, he was taken aback by the near unanimity of their resistance to the Umno move.

The fate of Act 355 - the popular shorthand for the bill initiated by Hadi in May last year and left ever since in a kind of suspended animation until the PM threw the weight of his office behind it - continues to be uncertain.

The current sitting of Parliament, supposed to end on April 6, may be extended a few days to enable the tabling of the bill.

However, the prognosis is that Umno is going to find it very difficult to conjure away the objections of the Sarawakian parties, in particular, to it.

What would it take for the Sarawakian BN parties to drop their resistance to Act 355 was Najib’s plaintive request of his interlocutors at the meeting, after his surprise at their intensity had worn off?

Exemption for Sarawak and Sabah, and for their people resident on the peninsula to its provisions, the PM was apprised in no uncertain terms.

Ironically, such exceptionalism would undermine the very argument that the Borneoan objectors to the Bill had relied on in their fulminations against it.

This was Act 8 of the Federal Constitution, which posits as a fundamental tenet, the equality of all citizens under the law. Act 355, which differentiates between Muslims and non-Muslims, would founder on the equality before the law tenet embedded in the Federal Constitution.

In other words, an exemption from the very basis on which the Borneoan parties had erected their case against Act 355 would be grounds for their acquiescence to the bill.

Of course, this stance is a philosophical non sequitur; its absurdity is enough to give a sense of the contortions Act 355 would have to undergo to persuade the Borneoans to come round to supporting it...

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