Islamic law debate puts more pressure on Malaysia PM

Photo from highly conservative Aceh, Indonesia

(Reuters) – Feuding over an Islamic penal code that stipulates stoning for adultery and amputation for theft has put a spotlight on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s struggle to secure the majority Muslim vote and fend off attacks on his leadership.

The ‘hudud’ [sharia] controversy was triggered by the Islamist party that rules Kelantan, a northern state where nightclubs are banned and there are separate public benches for men and women.

Parti Islam se-Malaysia’s (PAS) push to have ‘hudud’ recognized under federal law, so it can be implemented in Kelantan, risks splitting the national opposition coalition to which it belongs: an already wobbly three-party alliance.

The opposition’s squabbles would be heartening for Prime Minister Najib were it not for the divisions that the row has highlighted within his own party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

Stunned by the desertion of ethnic Malay votes in the 2013 election, conservatives within UMNO see the issue as an opportunity to burnish the Islamic credentials on which their party built its power base in this Muslim-majority country.

Malays make up almost all of Malaysia’s Muslim population…