Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rulers no 'Silver Bullet'

When I posted Defeat the new Triad, I was flattered that Raja Petra Kamarudin of Malaysia-Today picked it up for a place in his blog’s section on ‘From Around the Blogs’.

Mind you, selection by Raja doesn’t mean my posting was good, but merely that it was ‘good’ for controversial dissection by his visitors ;-) and by golly, did they dissect!

I have always enjoyed the range of opinions, most of which are in hard hitting no-holds-barred style. I gather from there that my advice against recruiting the Rulers in our struggle against the non-accountable, non-transparent and non-sensical BN, a move that I likened as akin to leaping from the frying pan into the fire, has been thoroughly rejected.

Raja wrote an erudite piece in
Yes, we are embroiled in a Constitutional Crisis in his very popular column ‘Corridors of Power’. In his usual inimitable style, he spiced up an interesting presentation on a near (but not totally) ambiguous constitutional area with tales of sizzling paced high adventure a la ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’.

The thing I love about Raja is his highly entertaining article which of course he stamped with his usual authoritative style. But it doesn’t mean I agree with him on every aspect ;-)

I am no constitutional lawyer but I have difficulty in accepting every one of his arguments. For example, I have doubts about his argumentative acrobatics with the word ‘advise’. He wrote (just an extract):

Even those who are aware of the Constitution point out that Article 43 of the Constitution forbids The Agong from interfering in the running of the government. The Agong, they argue, can only act on the advice of the Prime Minister. Actually, that is not quite true.

Article 43 (1) says: The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall appoint a Jemaah Menteri (Cabinet of Ministers) to advise him in the exercise of his functions.

Note that it says the Cabinet is ‘to advise him in the exercise of his functions’. It says ‘advise’ and this is the one word that has been wrongly interpreted as The Agong receives instructions from the Cabinet. If they had meant for The Agong to receive instructions from the Cabinet then Article 43 (1) would have used the word ‘instruct’ and not ‘advise’.

I would like the opinion of a constitutional lawyer quickly because I believe Raja has not only been incorrect in his arguments (on that aspect) but has strayed into highly dangerous grounds.

As I mentioned before, most of the Rulers have been the problem rather than what has been touted, that they'll be the solution to sorting out a democratically elected government but one who fails repetitively to practice good process of governance, transparency and accountability.

The problem confronting us is just that, a democratically elected government but one who fails repetitively to practice good process of governance, transparency and accountability (even one who indulges in gerrymandering naughtiness and questionable creativity in elections), and not a constitutional problem.

On the other hand, enlisting the Rulers into our struggle for democractic reforms would in fact give rise to precisely that, a constitutional crisis.

There’s no denying that as we read of tales of woe by the AAB government every day in Malaysiakini, the Chinese Press and, on those odd occasions when it suits the MCA after UMNO had squeezed or kicked the party right in its testicles, The Star, we become desperate, and as some readers said, desperate times call for desperate measures, even unto recruiting the Rulers.

I wrote that our struggles must be via the ballot box though there may be some parties who have been and may still be fond of a 3rd alternative, taking to the streets to demonstrating their demand by a show of violence a la 1969, 1987, 1998 etc.

But back to our topic - There is no silver bullet to be found in the Rulers, which was why I wrote:

I cannot support any change in constitutional arrangement from our current constitutional monarchy, where those rulers have (correctly so) only a minor role in rule making or ruling.

It shall and must be the rakyat (people) who rule, through the ballot box! Let us not step back into the Middle Ages. I know many are enamoured with Raja Nazrin but let me quote a saying - one swallow doesn't a summer make.

If you have a look at Dr Darren Hsu’s posting
Rakyat Itu Raja! (The people are supreme), he quoted an article by Dr Farish A Noor.

Farish Noor talked about the Thai people’s reliance on his Thai Majesty who eventually let them down, most abysmally. His concluding paragraphs were:

Thus in 1976 the King turned a blind eye when a vicious and barbaric counter-coup was launched by the army, police, Buddhist conservatives and right-wing middle-class; leading to the storming of the campuses of Chulalongkorn and Thammasat universities and the massacre of students there.

There were even reports of student leaders being executed and having their heads chopped off and mounted on the gates of the universities by right-wing thugs. Where was the benevolent King of Thailand then, whom many had applauded as the hero and saviour of democracy in 1973?

If there is a lesson to be found in all this, it is that a democratic reform process can only begin from below, and never above. Kings and Monarchs do not good democrats make, for they are the first who need to be taught the value of citizenship and civic responsibility. Furthermore any democratic reform must take into account the will of the demos- the people themselves- and give voice to the masses and not the elite.

And so it is with this painful lesson in mind that we take the recent calls for royal intervention with a bucketful of salt. Facing a government as inept, incompetent and clueless as we have at the moment is a task in itself; but it need not be made even more difficult by replacing one regime with another. In the end, the only maxim we ought to adhere to today is the clarion call of the 1940s, when Malaysians cried out: Raja itu Rakyat, Rakyat itu Raja! (The King is a citizen, And the citizens are King!)

And we have the historical notoriety of some of our dear Rulers too.

I have also blogged in
50 posts to Independence, where I wrote:

Democracy – definitely far from being practiced at 100%, indeed very much far from that aspired state.

Yet ….. yes, yet in the well-known obscenity of the pork barrelling and dodgy government tactics in various recent by-elections, I detect in these underhanded conduct, through corrupt pecuniary influence, the desire to win an election via the ballot box.

Leaving the unfair conduct aside for a sec, I see the ballot box still a sacred cow where only the campaigning had been bull-poo-ish-ly dodgy. And if the pork barreling had been over the top, it demonstrated in a perverse way the ruling party had been scared of the ballot box and therefore worried of losing.

On that I dare say, with a ballot box still respected, we haven’t yet deteriorated into an Idi Amin-ish state.

Pork barrelling per se is quite common in western democracies as well – currently Australian PM John Howard has been doing the porky rounds. except that in western democracies, they pretend it’s finely developed policies. Additionally they are of course less crude, but then in Malaysia, refined subtle pork barrelling may escape the target recipients' notice. It's a function of voters’ preference, so suck on that if you want to win – via the ballot box of course and not through another Memali.

But what I have been annoyed with has been the unfair obstructions placed in the way of the opposition and the mainstream press’ obedient and obsequious toeing of the party line.

But I say we still have hope for democracy.

Thus I stand by my views that the BN’s Triad must be neutralized through the ballot box.

Dangerous euphoria over 'political' royalty


  1. Democracy, however imperfect it may seem to be, is still the best form of government. Democracy means that it should be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

    In democracy, there is supposed to be a separation of powers , in order to have a check and balance, and to ensure that the people's powers remain supreme.

    And the 3 pillars of democracy, namely the executive, the legislative and the judiciary,can be augmented with a fourth pillar which is the press, and in this era of the internet, includes the blogs.

    The rulers may have a role to play to ensure that these pillars function independently as depicted in the Constitution. Their role is more a supervisory one.

    It is the people who is the boss of the country, and the people who should push for reform and to ensure that good governance prevails.

    The people can do so by means of votes of course and also by means of influencing public opinion.

    The press has been the traditional tool for influencing public opinion, but unfortunately, the press can be easily controlled and manupulated. So the blogs have become increasing important as a tool for forming and influencing opinion.

    More people should take up blogging, but blog with your conscience. Do not oppose for the sake of opposing. Blog also with responsibility.Do not create hatred among the people.It should eb used to preach good governance, equality, fairness, unity and universal rights and values.It can also be used to exposed incompetency, corrupt practises and abuse in power.

    It is one of the means to ensure the supremacy of the people.

    Sword is mighty, pen is mightier than sword; but mark my words, blogs are going to be mightier than all these.

  2. Unfortunately, apart from notable exceptions such as Raja Nazrin and the Sultan of Selangor, many of our Royal Houses are themselves embroiled in the excesses of the ruling regime.

  3. fine if the 4 estates are functioning. but none are as every estate is subservient to the executive either by way of intimidation or abuse of laws such as OSA to serve their ends. against this background, like you said short of a memali, the royalty will have to play their role now to rehabilitate and allow the 4 estates to function again. i see no other option coz the ballot box will only work if the institutions are functioning as they should have.

  4. KT
    There is no way the royalty can do a thing about this country even if they want to. The Agong will be as reluctant since his tenure in office is supposed to be a honeymoon period. It would be too taxing for him to alter the flow of water from its original course. He will be faced with a multitude of problems and may not even get his next month allowance if he were to rock the boat.
    Such drastic changes can only happen if there is a Coup D'etat by an army general like what happened in Thailand. Otherwise it will be a futile excercise. The General in the army is only loyal to master that pays his salary.
    The ballot box wont be able to change things much either since the ruling party is so powerful with a warchest in the billions from the rip off of the country's coffer.
    Any attempt at informing the Agong of his constitutional powers will be construed as a form of instigation can only lead to the application of the draconian ISA on the purported instigator.

  5. A lesson from Australian experience on Constitutional Crisis.

    In 1975, the Governor-General, a rep of the Queen of Australia ( ie the monarchy), sacked the Prime Minister and appointed the Leader of the Opposition to form Govt

  6. Kay Tee said, "Thus I stand by my views that the BN’s Triad must be neutralized through the ballot box."

    He who controls the ballot box is the Election Commission, and EC is under the control of the BN.

    The ballot box is already neutralized by the BN... the BN is one step ahead of you.

    Think of a viable alternative, please. Think OUTSIDE the ballot box for once.

  7. Thanks frank,

    but you didn't mention the circumstances leading to that - namely the Supply Bill was blocked by the opposition dominated Senate in an attempt to force the Whitlam govt to call for an election. Whitlam refused to budge to the Senate' demand and the day to day government running (its financial obligations) was jeopardised due to the Budget being not passed.

    That the Senate became opposition dominated was due to two Labour Senators "leaving" the Senate (one died and one became a judge). Two non-Labour State govts refused to replace the two Senators with new Labour candidates but instead with candidates who opposed PM Gough Whitlam. The scandalous actions by the non-Labour State Premiers went against convention under which a Senator who dies or resigns mid-term is replaced with a nominee from the former Senator's political party.

    The GG, John Kerr was badly advised by the CJ of the Australian High Court, Garfield Barwick, a former minister of the Conservative Party and therefore hardly impartial. His sacking of the PM was Australia's most famous (or infamous) constitutional crisis.

    One of Australia's most respected journalists Paul Kelly has written several of books considered to be the most accurate and comprehensive account of the crisis. His latest one is "November 1975". Kelly points out the flaws in the Australian constitutional system that made it possible, but he puts the majority of the blame on GG John Kerr for doing little to encourage a negotiated solution to the crisis.

    If we keep egging the Rulers or Agong to dismiss a democratically elected PM AAB, who doesn't even face the Australian situation of a blocked Supply Bill that triggered the sacking of the Gough Whitlam govt, we would certainly be precipitating (and responsible for) a constitutional crisis.

    Much as we may dislike or even hate the AAB govt, they were elected by the majority of the Malaysian people. We cannot precipitate a constitutional crisis (illegal sacking of a duly elected govt) because of sh*t stirring "out there" - are these people representative of the majority of voters? If not, tough! But indeed if the majority of Malaysians want AAB and company out then there is the ballot box.

  8. Ktemoc

    The point I want to raise is that it can be done. That is, when push comes to shove, the monarchy would act as it sees fit, rightly or wrongly from others, or in hindsight.

    The reasons and the rationale are irrelevant, because when the monarchy decides to act, against the convention, and as it is allowed in its narrow interpretation in the Constitution, it is done.

    So, the debate that the Ruler cannot trigger an action that is seen as a constitutional crisis does not arise. Whether it SHOULD OR NOT IS A MATTER OF DEBATE.

    Usually, the monarcy will only intervene if there is already a constitutional crisis developing, like the BLOCKING OF THE SUPPLY BILL in Australia.

    In Malaysia's case, the constitutional crisis was triggered by the actions of the Chief Justice.

    It is rarely the case that the genesis of a constitutional crisis comes from the monarchy in recent times.

    The judgment call is from the Council of Rulers whether its action will deteriorate an already bad situation.

    I still hold that it is still within the constitutional right of Malaysians as subjects of the rulers to seek their intervention and the Council of Rulers are still operating within the constitution should they decide to intervene.

    After all, the Council of Rulers is a creature of the Constitution.

  9. Ktemoc

    Democracy in Malaysia for all intent and purpose is dead. It is a shell with no substance.

    Democracy is founded on the separation of powers of the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary.

    It is not the case in Malaysia. Furthermore the Fourth Estate is the slave of the Executive since it is owned by the Executive.

    Any view that Malaysia is a vibrant democracy is rubbish.

    Malaysia, as one blogger commented, is more like a fascist state.

  10. I agree that Malaysia lacks a vibrant democracy but to say that democracy is dead is a different thing altogether and may be a bit too exaggerated. The fact of gross pork barrelling in Ijok and various recent by-elections was indicative of the ruling party being still fearful of the ballot box.

    If, wait, let me correct that - as the judiciary in the person of the CJ has been tainted by the Lingam tape, let's sort him out rather than rush into precipitatious use of the Agong's power to dismiss the government - and then, on what constitutional grounds?

    Much as there have been egging-ons by certain quarters, I don't believe the Agong's limited power was ever meant for that, and I respectfully disagree with your example of the Australian 1975 constitutional crisis (caused by the GG John Kerr rather than the Whitlam govt) to illustrate the path for Malaysia.

    Indeed where is the constitutional crisis here? Yes, there are rampant corruption, non transparency and non accountability, but these are poor piss-poor conduct of governance by a govt voted into power by the majority of Malaysians. We just have to suck on our foolish choice.

    Just because a couple of opposition parties have been pushing for the use of the Monarch's limited power to dismiss AAB's party, I do not believe that should be done, not only because there is no constitutional crisis, but that those opposiiton parties hardly represent majority will.

    Alas, much as we hate the UMNO-led govt, we need to be mindful that democracy can be an ass at times - yes, we voted them in. But if we ourselves talk a lot and aloud about democracy and then when it suits us, we overthrow the process, what would that make us?

    We (the majority of Malaysian) voted the BN in, and they failed to perform, then let's vote them out. It is the only democratic avenue.

    I am as leery of people who propose 'clever' non-democratic actions as I am of the UMNO-led govt. Let's have a minimum standard or we're no better than those we condemn.