“With faith and gratitude to Allah the almighty, I declare that tomorrow, Thursday May 1, 2014, will see the enforcement of sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases,” the absolute monarch said in a royal decree Wednesday.
Thus with a sweep of the absolute monarchs pen does a gradual descent into Hell begin for the Ruritanian sultanate. Over the next 3-years sharia law will be gradually introduced in phases:
- Phase 1, Commencing on 1st May 2014 will introduce sharia punishments including fines or jail terms for offences ranging from indecent behaviour, failure to attend Friday prayers, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
- Phase 2, Commencing in Late 2014 will cover crimes such as theft and robbery and include more stringent penalties such as severing of limbs and flogging.
- Phase 3, Commencing in Late 2015 will cover more severe punishments punishments such as death by stoning for offences including sodomy and adultery.
The rationale behind this move has been stated as the Sultan’s deepening religious beliefs, but the reality has more to do with securing his throne against scandals such as the recent UK case against his brother Prince Jefri in which excesses, fraud and embezzlement were revealed, but also the recognition that the country’s oil and gas reserves won’t last forever.
The scope and operation of the new laws is still open to question, particularly whether it will apply to Brunei’s non-Muslim residents, which are a diverse collection of Chinese Buddhists, Christians and others representing about 23% of the total population.
The move is seen as significant in the region and has emboldened others, such as the Muslim dominated Kelantan state in Malaysia to attempt to introduce sharia locally (despite constitutional protections)
Moves against this are already under way across Malaysia, led by the ethnic minority Chinese and Indian political leaders, but in the long-run, such moves may be doomed to failure given the federal structure of Malaysia and the concentration of Muslim’s in different parts of Malaysia.
For myself as a resident of Malaysia, this is a worrying development and significant enough that some of the newer members of my expat group in Penang are holding off on property investments unless there is a swift, firm and guaranteed rebuttal of this.
Constitutional guarantees (such as Article 3) are all very well, but the constitution can be amended and is subject to the vagaries and political/religious bias of the judges in the Federal Court of Malaysia (equivalent of the Supreme Court).
Equally, the court has been crushed under the heel of the executive before (in the 1988 Malaysian constitutional crisis) so unlikely to defy the determined will of the executive if push-comes-to-shove.