The Malaysian government's decision to support a bill in parliament that seeks the introduction of an Islamic penal code has caused uproar in the multi-ethnic country.
The proposed law provides for punishments such as amputations and stoning,. The critics of embattled prime minister Najib Razak say the move is aimed at gaining the support of the Muslim Malay voters.
They say the scandal-tainted prime minister is using 'hudud' to prop up his support ahead of ahead of key by-elections in June and a general election in 2018.
The Umno government backed in parliament a hudud bill proposed by the Islamist group Parti Islam se-Malaysia's (PAS) in a surprising move.
The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a key party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, said the hudud bill was "unconstitutional".
"As we repeatedly pointed out, the implementation of Hudud law is against the spirit of the Federal Constitution, and would ruin the inter-ethnic relationship in the country," MCA President Liow Tiong Lai said, according to Reuters.
Reacting to criticism, Najib said the bill was "misunderstood". "It's not hudud, but what we refer to as enhanced punishment," he said after a meeting of tghe United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party.
"It applies only to certain offences and this comes under the jurisdiction of the Syariah court and is only applicable to the Muslims. It has nothing to do with non-Muslims."
Najib explained that the punishments will be limited and canings will not cause injuries or draw blood.
Though the ruling coalition lacks the two-thirds majority needed to pass the hudud bill into law, critics say the move will help Najib deflect attention from the multi-billion-dollar scandal at the state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).