Then (and even now) I have nothing against monarchy PROVIDED those royals remain as constitutional heads of state, whether of Malaysia the nation or of the respective nine states with Sultans (and a Raja), based on my understanding of the concept of constitutional monarchy in a democracy.
Sometime in August 2007 I read with some alarm a letter to Malaysiakini titled No more backbenchers' role for Rulers written by a person with the pseudonym of Truly Malaysian which stated, in my humble opinion, dangerously for our democratic system:
The rulers have finally realised that we as a nation are heading towards obscurity. They are now really living to the true manifestation of being the rulers. [...]
It is, of course, better late than never, and aren't we all are glad that the Malay rulers have finally decided to take a stand and voice their own dissent on various affairs that do not serve the public's and nation's interests at large. [...]
Although they have played the backbencher's role in the past, they are now coming forward and we should hand them our support for them to play a more pertinent role in moulding the future of the nation rather than moulding the future for a few.
For a start, the writer didn't even know what was(is) a backbencher, and to refer to the rulers playing the backbenchers' role showed his bizarre and Truly pathetic ignorance.
But no doubt he/she would have changed his/her opinion by now with the sad advantage of hindsight of royal interference in the Perak political debacle.
Anyway, I had then with the gravest concerns written to MKINI the following:
I refer to Malaysiakini letter No more backbenchers' role for Rulers which has me rather worried.
The author might not have realized the constitutional implications of his words such as "The rulers ... are now really living to the true manifestation of being the rulers ..." and "... Although they have played the backbencher's role in the past, they are now coming forward and we should hand them our support for them to play a more pertinent role in moulding the future of the nation ..."
While I understand the author's euphoria over the Council of Rulers' rejection of the PM's candidate for a senior judicial position, I note that the author's infatuation with the royal dissent came on top of several other high praises for the Perak Prince and Sultan of Selangor when the two, especially the former, raised their voices on issues closed to the dissatisfied public's hearts.
|Dr Chen Man Hin|
The author has not been alone for Dr Chen Man Hin, a former DAP strongman, had even proposed the Perak Prince as an advisor to the Prime Minister (PM).
It would seem that the rulers are making a comeback after years of public scorn at their irrelevance, perhaps caused mainly by one particular individual, who had believed he could still rule as per medieval times, as an absolute monarchy.
I most certainly appreciate the Perak Prince's reminder of our constitutional pillars, though in reality he didn't say anything much that the Opposition hadn't pointed out before. But yes, his official stature gave his words more force (and attract more attention) than a Lim Kit Siang or a Nik Aziz could manage.
But we need to remember Malaysia is a democracy built around a constitutional monarchy, meaning the voice of the people, and not those of the rulers, prevails.
Sure, our royalty as in the model of the Perak Prince, the Council of Rulers questioning the PM in his choice of a candidate for the bench, and the pronouncement of the Sultan of Selangor to keep politics out of our Merdeka celebrations have been most welcome. They have both a constitutional role and an exemplary role model to play.
But we must never talk as if, or even suggest that they had been 'backbenchers' moving forward (presumably) to the 'front bench'.
That's dangerous talk, to suggest the rulers may play a direct political role (or even as an political advisor to the PM) while serving as respective Heads of States or as the Yang Di Pertuan Agong, or still retaining their royal prerogatives.
It's certainly a sign of our frustration with the current government that some of us believe the royalty could and would be our saviour. We, the politically frustrated public members, are in reality grasping at straws in much the same way as many of us had embraced a former UMNO reject as a political saviour against a previous regime even when there was no evidence of his reformist qualities during his various ministerial roles.
|in a democracy|
No matter how good any individual royalty is, no matter how bad any politician is, let us not unwittingly change our system of constitutional monarchy to one of absolute monarchy, or of one where royalty has a greater degree of direct political participation. That will be a regrettable step backwards.
That was in mid-2007.
Exactly a week following the March 2008 general election I wrote another post Lim Kit Siang opened Royal Pandora Box? where I criticized Uncle Lim as follows (extracts):
|Lim Kit Siang|
So Malaysiakini tells us that the political Deal’s stitched, & it’s all systems go for Perak.
Alas, the parties have finally acquiesced to royal demands, with many of them forgetting that in a political democracy it's the political party which commands the majority in the State Assembly (outright or through a coalition, formal or otherwise) who picks the CM or MB (or at the federal level, the PM) to be approved by the constitutional ruler.
I had posted this reminder of the people's right and power two days ago in Perak Papadum Ping Pong Primadonnas, where I stated:
… kaytee believes the coalition has done something quite stupid. In submitting 3 names to the Sultan to choose it has unwittingly involved royalty in State politics in an unprecedented way.
It’s not for the Sultan to choose from a list of three.
Certainly the Sultan can disagree with a name but he should only be given one name (at a time). For example, the Sultan could say no to DAP Ngeh and say, gimme another name!
But it’s not for HRH to be given 3 names and decide on one he prefers.
The choice of an MB is a political one and to be left to the political parties as elected by the rakyat; the acceptance of the choice is the prerogative of HRH, but HRH cannot and should not be making a political decision by choosing one name from a list of three.
Yes, the ruler cannot reject the candidate forwarded for his approval, save where there is perceivable concerns the candidate has a dodgy record or perhaps is infirmed, etc* which may affect the proposed candidate’s ability to head the State government.
* an example of ‘etc’ being the case of the new Selangor State government where the ruler wanted to confirm the new MB has the support of the loose coalition –see my post Post election snippets (1). I stated: "The Sultan wants to ensure that the coalition can be a stable one. Obviously he doesn't want his State to be run like Italy, where shaky minority governments are changed faster than underwear."
|HRH Sultan of Selangor|
Now, the Star Online has indicated two worrying cases where the State rulers of Perlis and Terengganu have taken it into their hands (or heads) to appoint their choices against that proposed by the winning political party. [...]
In the rulers' increasing (and unjustified) discretion in such appointments the Sultans must have found comfort from the support (direct or otherwise) of the stupid political parties undermining each other.
The rulers had been living in tolerated disgrace following the castration of a notorious royal brother by Dr Mahathir (rightfully so and an action fully supported by most Malaysians), but since then they have (under a certain erudite leader) slowly but steadily been clawing their way back to prominence and regained respect and adulation from their subjects.
In fact they have already reclaimed lost grounds if we recall how many anti-BN people, desperate for a political messiah, have even considered Raja Nazrin as a potential saviour, without even realizing what adverse consequences to democracy they have been promoting. […]
Much as I respect, admire and have supported Lim Kit Siang, I believe he has been the one who opened the royal Pandora box when he abdicated the political rights of the DAP-PKR-PAS in deciding who should be the MB for Perak to the Sultan of Perak (as represented by his son the Regent).
Uncle Lim was of course attempting to minimize adverse DAP grassroot reactions to his party agreeing to a PAS MB when the DAP has the most number of seats in the coalition. So, he staged a public sandiwara (theatrics) of being against a PAS man becoming the MB of a State while pushing the decision making to the ruler.
He must have thought it would be brilliant tactics to abdicate the (publicly) difficult decision of accepting a PAS man as MB of Perak to the Perak royalty, but he didn’t realize it would be bad strategy to surrender political rights to a constitutional monarchy, who through such small gains will shift gradually from a constitutional status to an increasing absolute authority.
The sadder irony of it all, and the most gross injustice to Uncle Lim, is he has been portrayed as a racist by some anti-DAP bloggers (and I am not talking about the BN) as well as some Malaysiakini journalists and columnists, even though the issue has never been about race but rather, the PAS avowed political intention to make Malaysia into an Islamic State governed by Islamic syariah laws.
But as for most things in Malaysia, why let facts stand in the way of a good emotional (and sinisterly contrived) bashing of the DAP through Lim Kit Siang!
That very same day, so much was I perturbed that I followed up with another post Royalty threatens constitutional crisis?, way way before Perak was turned upside down, where I stated (extracts):
I consider the [Terengganu] Sultan's assertive action, in selecting his own preferred candidate for the MB's post, is constitutionally dangerous for Malaysian citizens, regardless of our ethnicity, religion or political affiliations; we can't afford to allow royalty to interfere directly with such political preserves; it's like usurping the people's democratic rights.
I like to see some bipartisan response especially from both PAS' Nik Aziz and Anwar Ibrahim, but alas, with a de facto PKR leader in an (childish by Western standards) acrimonious relationship with the BN, in particular UMNO, selfish partisanship may rule the day. Lim Kit Siang as a non Malay should preferably stay clear of this very sensitive issue, lest it worsens in the current critical period.
|Pak Haji Nik Aziz|
But it's likely that, apart from PAS and PKR partisan stand, greed among some of the State's UMNO MPs ('divide & conquer') compounded by the traditional Malay blind obedience a la Hang Tuah to HRH, may see the constitutionally undesired come about. It'll then be a humongous loss to Malaysian democracy.
Today, from RPK's Malaysia-Today I read Dr Bakri Musa's 2 (out of 3) parts posts, namely, The Sultans' Daulat is a Myth and The Sultans' Daulat is a Myth - Part Two with some vindication (besides the vindication that regrettably came from the sad sorry saga of Perak). Dr Bakri's posts review a book by Zaid Ibrahim titled Ampun Tuanku - A Brief Guide to Constitutional Government.
Dr Bakri, being a Malay, is able to write his comments on the rulers in the way I a Chinese couldn't, where at most I could only warn and remind readers of the political system we have, that of democracy with a constitutional monarchy. I suppose I could also say 'I told you so' wakakaka.
Dr Mahathir, being also a Malay (though many would readily argue against that wakakaka), was able to do more than that, in a very forceful and significant manner. Dr Bakri said of Dr Mahathir's action in this regard:
Both were possible because of the strong executive leadership of Prime Minister Mahathir. Today with a government with a less-than-robust mandate and a leader with a banana stem spine, the sultans are emboldened to re-exert themselves; hence the insistence of their daulat or special status.
|Koon Yew Yin|
Yesterday in MKINI, Koon Yew Yin, a retired chartered engineer and philanthropist, wrote a brilliant but most uncomplimentary assessment of Dr Mahathir's likely legacy in an article How will history judge Mahathir? where he (Koon) said:
Mahathir will ultimately be remembered not for the quality of his leadership or the way in which he has sought to unlock the potential of all our citizens. He will certainly not be remembered for his standard of governance or the example he has set in arousing Malaysians to give their best to the country.
Rather he will most be remembered for his extraordinary long record of leadership in the country. It is a 22 year record of political opportunism and survival secured through appealing to the baser instincts of self aggrandizement and greed and the manipulation of the major institutions of government.
This is why history will not judge him so kindly but will place him in the company of lesser and even failed leaders such as Ferdinand Marcos, Suharto and Robert Mugabe.
But I like to mitigate against Koon's unfavourable assessment with a plus for Dr Mahathir, that he as PM had de-fanged the rulers when the action was most required and which the rakyat believed appropriately deserved. Unfortunately his good work in this was not consolidated but allowed to erode, not only by two successive weak PMs, but in a couple of cases by his (Dr Mahathir's) own (recent) actions.
I thought it might be appropriate for me to end with a quote by Denis Diderot but on second thoughts, perhaps that by a Chinese like kaytee could be far too provocative, so the following should do:
“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt