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Date: 06 Dec 1999
Malaysian Islamic party urged to scrap taxes on non-Muslims
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 6 (AFP) - Malaysian Chinese-dominated parties from both ruling and opposition camps warned an Islamic party Monday to scrap plans for a special tax on non-Muslims in a state where it won election.
The Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has proposed legislation to collect compulsory tithes or "zakat" from Muslims in northeastern Terengganu, and a corresponding tax or "kharaj" from non-Muslims.
But the Democratic Action Party (DAP), PAS' ally in the country's first formal opposition alliance, warned it risked losing support of non-Muslims.
"PAS should seriously weigh the political costs of imposing kharaj at the expense of alienating the sensitivities of non-Muslim Malaysians," chairman Lim Kit Siang said in a statement.
The DAP will form a special committee to study all proposed new laws by PAS in Terengganu and neighbouring Kelantan to ensure they are aligned with the Alternative Front's common manifesto, he said.
The committee will also check on any "infringement or disrespect of the rights and sensitivities of the different races and religions," he said.
PAS and DAP are part of the Alternative Front, along with the National Justice Party and the Malaysian People's Party.
In November 29 polls, PAS retained Kelantan which it has ruled since 1990 and captured Terengganu. The Islamic party also more than tripled its parliamentary seats to 27.
Following PAS' victory, new Terengganu chief minister Abdul Hadi Awang immediately abolished bridge tolls and taxes on residential properties.
He has announced plans to halt gambling and limit alcohol sales in the state, as well as impose tithe payments and special taxes, as part of an Islamic administration.
State education, missionary and Islamic laws implementation committee chairman Harun Taib reportedly said non-Muslims need to pay between five and 10 percent tax on the net income from their business activities.
A similar rate will also be imposed on Muslims as tithes on their net annual income from economic activities, Harun was quoted as saying Monday in The Star daily.
"We are now conducting an in-depth study on the matter, including the administration aspects," he said, adding that the state government would be flexible in collecting the taxes.
Malaysians, both Muslims and non-Muslims, already pay income taxes to the federal government. In addition, Muslims pay tithes on a non-compulsory basis.
S. Vijayaratnam, vice-president of the Chinese-dominated Gerakan party which is part of the ruling National Front, reportedly told non-Muslims to ignore such taxes.
"Under the federal constitution, additional taxation cannot be imposed arbitrarily. It is most unfair for them to institute such taxes on non-Muslims who are not governed by sharia (Islamic) laws," he said.
As their rights are protected under the federal constitution, non-Muslims could take the PAS government to court if necessary, he added.
Malaysian Chinese Association vice-chairman Chua Jui Meng said the National Front would protest PAS' move to protect the interests of the Chinese community.
"We don't want a situation where they become so powerful that they think they can impose any form of taxation they want," Chua said.
PAS president Fadzil Noor defended the Terengganu government's move, saying it was aimed at correcting the imbalance in taxes paid by Muslims and non-Muslims.
"The collection of kharaj is to balance the situation," he told AFP. "It is just a minimal payment to contribute to the state government revenue and will not burden the people."
Fadzil declined to say if similar laws would be imposed in Kelantan, saying this was up to the state government.
DAP's Lim said he would urge the Alternative Front to set up a council to review all new laws proposed by PAS in the two states at their first post-election meeting Wednesday.