Tan Sri Joseph Kurup is not just anybody, he is a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and he has always been a between of yes-man and a silent man when he disagrees.
He has never said ‘No’ to the government policies, and he has always been diplomatic with his words when he disagrees, but there was never a ‘No’.
He did say out once about removing race from all official forms, but that was said and never mentioned again.
However, he seems to be turning the table over now, when he has decided that enough is enough and that when his faith as a Christian is challenged by the very government he represents, he has to stand up and say ‘No!’. He has also decided that as he represents Sabahans who are of all religions living in harmony without any form of religious law dominating, he has to speak up for all of them.
And now, he is not only saying ‘No’, he is also threatening and this means business, for he is threatening that Sabah and Sarawak may just be tempted to go their separate ways from that of Peninsula Malaysia.
It has all to do with the amendment to the Syariah Courts Act proposed by PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and supported by mainly Umno MPs, including the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak himself.
The Star reported that Kurup as the Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) had stated that Sabah and Sarawak may be tempted to go their separate ways if the amendment to the Syariah Courts Act are passed in Parliament.
The law, he said, would have a divisive effect on the unity and understanding that was cultivated since the formation of Malaysia in 1963.
“If it (the Bill) is forced into Parliament and passed, I’m afraid it will trigger more feelings among the people of Sabah and Sarawak to go their separate ways. They (Federal Government) shouldn’t have the slightest thought of introducing this law,” he said yesterday.
This is no simple threat, for although PBRS is seen as a minority party in Sabah, its influence is strong as it comes from a bigger party Parti Bersatu Sabah.
And Kurup would not have mentioned Sabah and Sarawak, had he not consulted his Sarawak counterparts in the cabinet. Perhaps he is the only one daring enough to say it and not afraid to lose his position.
The Syariah Courts Act amendment will ultimately permit the state legislatures to empower the Syariah Court to impose any form of hudud (islamic crime law) punishment other than the death penalty (for example, 100 lashes of whipping for an unmarried person guilty of adultery; or the amputation of hands for theft).
This is very much in line with the Kelantan state government wanting to implement hudud in the state, a main reason the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat broke up, after Hadi insisted and then cuddled up to Umno to propose the Syariah Courts Act amendment Bill in parliament in the last session.
Umno had openly come out in support, despite much opposition from MCA, and some grunts from the other non Muslim BN counterparts, but Kurup is the first one to say it out openly and talk about cessation, a much feared issue by BN.
Many Muslims too have openly spoken up against the Bill, for fear it is all a mere misuse of religion by overzealous PAS, in the name of exerting their political power.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who has been waning in popularity depend very much on Sabah and Sarawak support and in recent years, he has increased East Malaysian cabinet members as well as poured in millions into Sabah and Sarawak development.
If Kurup does turn the table over on Najib, it would be a major dent in Najib’s support and then it may just start the domino effect in Sabah and Sarawak.
It is a known fact that Sabahans and Sarawakians greatly cherish and value their religious freedom and will not stand for any imposing by any one religion alone, never mind it is the official religion.
Even Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem had said that many times and hinted it openly.
Kurup may have issued this threat politely, but it is something which must not be taken lightly by the government of the day, for Kurup speaks for many – Muslims and non-Muslims – and not for himself alone when it comes to the Syariah Courts Act Amendment Bill.