THE dip in ties between Malaysia and North Korea dominated the first week of the fifth session of the 13th Parliament but the PAS president’s bid to amend syariah law continued to cast a shadow in the august Hall.
The diplomatic spat sparked by Kim Jong-nam’s murder on Malaysian soil led to a tense Tuesday when all eyes were on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on how the country would respond to North Korea’s decision to bar 11 Malaysians from leaving the reclusive state.
On Tuesday, as news broke about the prohibition by North Korea, Najib told reporters that Malaysia would take a strong stand against North Korea but stopped short of severing ties with its East Asian neighbour.
The Prime Minister said his main goal was to see the safe return of all 11 Malaysians there.
On Wednesday, he assured Malaysians that fellow citizens in North Korea were safe and could go about their daily activities.
The next day, Parliament was abuzz when Najib chaired a meeting with senior government officials to discuss the North Korean issue.
The meeting also saw Najib making a phone call to Malaysians, including three embassy staff members, stranded in North Korea.
He didn’t speak to newsmen after the meeting, only raising a finger to his lips as he was leaving to signify “no comments” .
Two Malaysians with the United Nations’ World Food Programme left North Korea for Beijing on Thursday.
DAP attempted to table a motion to debate the North Korean issue but was denied.
There was also anticipation on when Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s Private Member’s Bill on syariah law would be tabled after it was listed on the Order Papers. It had been moved back and forth from No. 6 to No. 7 between Tuesday and Thursday.
Members of the media were on pins and needles following talk in the corridors of power that Najib was meeting non-Muslim leaders from Barisan Nasional component parties to seek their support if and when the Bill was eventually tabled.
However, a senior Sarawakian federal minister, when contacted, said he was not aware of any such meeting.
Kota Baru MP Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan, who is PAS secretary-general, said he did not hear of such a meeting and nonchalantly added that there was nothing for Najib to convince the others as Hadi’s Bill had nothing to do with them.
On Tuesday, PAS vice-president and Bukit Gantang MP Idris Ahmad, when met at the Parliament lobby, acknowledged that Hadi’s motion to table his Bill could only happen if a government minister moved a motion to allow it to take priority over government Bills.
Attempts to confirm this with several senior ministers drew a blank.
DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, meanwhile, drew flak for issuing a statement demanding that non-Muslim Barisan leaders resign if Hadi’s Bill was tabled.
In response, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs, Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, chided Lim for inciting non-Muslim MPs to go against the Bill “aimed at upgrading syariah courts”.
He reminded Lim that the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355 was amended in 1984 and 1989 without even a word of protest from DAP.
Like in previous meetings in May and November last year, Hadi’s Bill is likely to be fast-tracked on the last day of the current meeting which ends on April 6.
The Bill proposes to amend the current syariah punishments from a maximum of three years’ jail, six lashes of the rotan and RM5,000 fine to 30 years’ jail, 100 lashes and RM100,000 fine.
There are currently four government Bills that will take precedence over Hadi’s. And this does not include the possibility of the Child Sexual Crimes Bill being introduced by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, to protect children against sexual predators.
The coming week will see workers rectifying defects to the Dewan, which was just restored and refurbished after a six-year project costing RM520mil.
Adding to the hiccups to the audio system for media coverage were complaints by several MPs that the new chairs in Dewan were uncomfortable, and the microphone system was poor.
Questions were also raised as to why there were separate areas for press conferences for ministers and MPs. Azalina, who is in charge of Parliament, visited the new media room and promised to look into their grouses.
Lawmakers will resume debates on the motion of thanks on the Royal Address until Thursday before the respective ministerial replies.
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