I KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 – Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaking up against the latest child marriage case in Kelantan has given some hope to Malaysians. This came after Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail suggested that Putrajaya is powerless about it.
Many supporters of Pakatan Harapan, including those who are members of its component parties, have expressed their disappointment on the lack of political will nor action by Wan Azizah Wan Ismail since the case of a 41-year-old Kelantanese man marrying an 11-year-old Thai girl on June 18 went viral.
On July 10, the Gua Musang syariah court let off the man with a mere RM1,800 fine for marrying a minor without prior consent from the court and for engaging in polygamy without permission from his spouse.
There was no further action taken by the government, nor has there been any effort to look at making the necessary changes to legislation at the federal level to ban child marriages and set a minimum age for marriage.
Powerless in Putrajaya
Yesterday, when referring to the latest case of another Kelantan man, aged 44, getting married to a 15-year-old teenager, in Tumpat, Wan Azizah said the couple had been married with approval from the Syariah Court in Kelantan.
As a result, the women, family and community development minister said Putrajaya could not do anything about it as it needed to abide by the states’ jurisdiction when it comes to Islamic laws.
NMT believes Mahathir’s comment that he will now look into the issue shows up Wan Azizah’s weakness as a member of the new Cabinet.
It also reflects how she simply has no ability to deal with the issues that really matter and is likely considered a pushover by many authorities, as well as fellow lawmakers in PH.
Powerless in PKR
Let us not forget that Wan Azizah has surrendered the presidency of PKR to her husband Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who won the post unopposed in the party’s recent polls nomination process.
She therefore now holds the post of DPM only by virtue of being the president of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, for which Mahathir is the chairman and Anwar is the “Ketua Umum”.
The compromise within PH to tolerate weakness among its Cabinet is therefore most exemplified by Wan Azizah and her actions, or lack thereof, following the coalition’s victory at the 14th general election last May.
Amend Act 355 in Parliament
It is disingenuous of her to claim there was nothing that could be done as the two cases of child marriage above fell under state syariah laws.
The tabling of a private member’s bill by PAS President Dato Seri Abdul Hadi Awang to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, or known as Act 355, last year shows how the Dewan Rakyat can do the necessary to limit or expand the powers of syariah enactments at the state level.
Even if Putrajaya is still powerless over some areas of Islamic jurisdiction in the states, then Wan Azizah need look no further than Selangor for the fastest solution on the matter.
Selangor shows the way
Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah last month decreed that child marriages will no longer take place in the state, saying that the minimum age under Syariah law be set at 18.
He had also ordered the state Islamic authorities to propose the necessary amendments and the law was duly changed at the state legislative assembly.
Some credit needs to be given to former Selangor menteri besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and his successor Amirudin Shari, who may have advised the Sultan on the need for such changes to the law in the state to check the issue of child marriages once and for all.
Use close ties to state rulers
So, why can’t she and Anwar take the issue directly to the rulers, who are said to be close to the new PKR president.
After all, they had visited these rulers shortly after Anwar received a full pardon from the Yang diPertuan Agong and was freed from prison last May.
The meetings had prompted rumours that Anwar was undermining Mahathir by forging a pact with the rulers, who share a testy relationship with the prime minister. However, this was denied by the PKR president.
Surely, they could make an appeal to the rulers to issue a similar decree to that which the Selangor Sultan had done.
Is Wan azizah a puppet leader?
Getting back to Wan Azizah and her weakness, the reality looks like is she is just a puppet for Anwar, more so now that he is set to become an MP by standing for the by-election in Port Dickson.
His Islamic credentials are quite well-known and as much as she might deny it, she is only a place-holder for Anwar making a full return to government, likely as prime minister directly taking over Mahathir, rather than just being made a minister first.
That’s been his ambition for more than 20 years, and he is not going to allow any one to derail him now. Hence, Wan Azizah has to maintain the charade of being a minister and pretending to take action for at least another year or so.
-By K Anand