(The king reigns but does not govern)
On Friday Malaysiakini published Raja Nazrin: Rulers will not act on wrong advice.
Instead of rejoicing that we may be getting some so-called royal ‘check & balance’, au contraire I was filled with dread. I have not been impressed in the least by HRH's speech.
The democracy of Malaysia, warts and all, already has a system of ‘check & balance’, which admittedly didn’t work too well until recently, but then, when it didn’t work well, where were the royalty?
Why then is our democratic system of the tripartite ‘check & balance’ (executive, legislative and judiciary) beginning to awake from its Rip-Van-Winkle-an slumber?
Maybe AAB has loosened the shackles, maybe Anwar Ibrahim has provided the leadership, maybe the people have been sick of the arrogance of unfettered racism and the rampant exploitation of politics for reasons of individual avarice, and thus are more prepared to exert their voice, etc?
Whoever, whichever, whatever, our political reawakening and enjoyment of a more liberal political environment have been attained without any help from royalty! Not an iota! None whatsoever!
They were deafeningly silent when they should have spoken out, but now, like us they too are flexing their own Mahathirised-atrophied muscles in the changed socio-political environment, and reinventing their role in and relevance to society, to enhance their personal status and claw back their stripped down power.
Prior to the March election I believe the rakyat had actually lost confidence in the power of their own voices and votes (not daring to dream of the political tsunami to come), instead resorting in desperation to appeaqls and votive offerings to both God and any local messiah for political salvation.
Some saw the royalty as our political saviour, and went about promoting and egging the rulers to intrude into the political world to ‘rescue’ the people from Darth Vader. Alas, we should have been familiar with the story of Darth Vader, shouldn’t we?
Those royals were even considered as the ‘silver bullets’ to kill the UMNO werewolf.
Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK) had been one of those ardent promoters of royal political interventionism. I wasn’t all that surprised that RPK had done so, he being a member of a royal family. In his writing, we read frequently of his (coincidental of course) slipping into exaltations of his granddad being Tun Raja (Sir) Uda, and boasting of his cousin the Sultan and his kinship with this and that royal house.
But where were the royalty when we needed them?
Some years ago the Perak Mufti had nearly caused an ugly incident of seditious proportion? Now that was a State religious issue, unlike this year's sacking of an insubordinate Director of JAIP by the Perak MB. So .....?
The general public in desperately clamouring for a political messiah had indicated their approval, prior to the general election, of royalty assuming a greater and more direct role in politics. I felt then the blog Malaysia-Today had promoted the royals beyond their constitutional role.
I have no doubt that those promotions of the royalty as potential political saviours had encouraged the royalty to begin exerting their powers, and in many incidents, in clumsy unconstitutional manner.
Their post election interferences by some Sultans were prime examples which regrettably many supported in glee, revelling in the embarrassment of an UMNO PM without realizing the more constitutionally-dangerous significance of those royal manoeuvres. I hate to use cliché but those silly sycophantic supporters couldn’t see the bigger picture.
In The dangers of royal political activism I wrote:
We shouldn’t rejoice that AAB had his ass whipped nicely by royalty because those royalty must not interfere with the decision making of the PM, the people’s choice of a national leader selected in accordance with our democratic process.
It’s hypocritical to talk about democratic process when we cheer processes that haven't been politically correct just because those processes have gone against a disliked person.
Another lamentable example had been the Perak Sultan's undermining of Perak MB Nizar’s authority by rescinding the latter’s sacking of the State religious director.
MB Nizar sacked the bloke because of his insubordination, his refusal to cooperate and work with the State elected government. How could a MB work with an insubordinate State civil servant, who incidentally has been a member of UMNO Parit Buntar, and no doubt been UMNO appointed and obviously UMNO-affiliated?
Nizar said: “Bagaimanapun kerajaan negeri terpaksa mempertahankan hak dan dasar yang diperjuangkan sepertimana yang disuarakan melalui manifesto Pakatan Rakyat pada pilihan raya lepas. Sikap tidak menghormati pendirian kerajaan oleh kakitangan awam sememangnya satu sikap yang tidak profesional, sedangkan semuanya telah termaktub dan ditentukan oleh Allah SWT.”
Publicly chopping the MB’s authority off at the knees, in a show of unnecessary but raw royal power play, the Prince (acting on behalf of the Sultan) justified his action on the fact that the Sultan as the religious head of the State had the royal prerogative on State religious matter.
That's true but unfortunately the sacking didn’t have anything to do with any religious issues or policies but rather a case of a civil servant demonstrating sheer insubordination to the MB by refusing to implement the State government’s directive.
Though the word ‘sacking’ had been used, in fact the MB had merely returned the civil servant to the State Secretariat, from where he had been on loan to run the State religious department.
But regardless of whether it was a case of insubordination by a civil servant or a MB committing a faux pas with a State religious issue, was there really such a need for HRH to publicly humiliate the new MB and undermine his authority as the State’s CEO? Surely a quiet royal word to Nizar and the MB would have been right royally apologetic (even if he wasn’t incorrect).
In Supremacy of the people's voice in democracy I wrote:
Karpal Singh had been absolutely correct for speaking out against royal interference with politics and political decisions and management. Even though the man was the director of a State religious department, his sacking was not related to religious matters but rather his political behaviour as a State public servant - certainly that would then be within the powers and right of the MB to dismiss him.
The MB and his exco has been elected by the rakyat and in a democratic constitutional monarchy, the voice of the people (expressed through their elected representatives) is supreme.
There were the usual politically motvated calls, no doubt from BN, to charge Karpal with lèse majesty.
But any royalty who brings him/herself incorrectly down into the political arena must be prepared to accept political criticism. Lawful political dissent and criticisms are the supreme right of the rakyat.
The royal person who wants to play politics shouldn’t expect to enjoy royal immunity from the laws (including a legal suit) or claim that those who criticise him/her have been guilty of lèse majesty, treason or affronting his/her royal person.
Yes, it was only the Lion of Gelugor who thundered against the royal interference, against their unconstitutional meddling in State politics. As mentioned, Karpal Singh was threatened for lèse majesty by the usual suspects. UMNO, already smarting after the March election, saw a malicious opportunity to attack Karpal and vicariously the DAP. Led by AAB, UMNO leaders demanded of the AG to charge Karpal Singh for sedition.
But the saddest part was that Karpal was alone in his courageous, constitutionally competent and correct chiding of improper royal interference in the state non-religious political management.
The normally verbose and bombastic Opposition Leader was strangely (perhaps not) silent, but more shamefully none of his DAP MP and (Perak) ADUN colleagues supported him. They must have been intimidated by sensitive issue of the position of the Sultan.
In the Malay world the Sultan holds a special place. If we remember the story of Hang Tuah and Jebat, Tuah was the quintessential loyal subject who remained loyal even to a tyrannical ruler, whilst Jebat the loyal friend of Tuah took up the cudgel of justice on behalf of a passive Tuah (passive to the Sultan’s unjust dictates) and became the notorious traitorous rebel, the wannabe Faisal bin Musa'id bin Abdul Aziz of the Malay world.
Mythical Jebat was deemed such a traitor that the first PM and ardent monarchist, Tunku Abdul Rahman, refused to have the Royal Malaysian Navy’s 2nd frigate named KD Jebat. He changed it to KD Rahmat.
I wrote 2 years ago in Hang Jebat lives again, but ...! (extracts follows):
Dr Azy Rahman has expounded in his article Neo-feudalism of the cybernetic Malays on the influence of the legendary Hang Tuah on the Malay psyche. I posted that in Malays' neo-feudalism hypermodern inner construct - excuse me while I untie my tongue.
Dr Azly said: “The concept of a hero in Malay society is enshrined in Hang Tuah, the most popular symbol of the warrior-class in Malay history; the good ‘polyglot’, the magical-mystical Malay hero who pledged blind loyalty to the Sultan. The image of the warrior-blind loyalist is well-inscribed into the literature and consciousness of the Malays”.
Note the word ‘blind loyalty’ and its derivative ‘blind loyalist’.
Dr Azly continued: “Today, enshrined, is the modern-day doctrine of allegiance to the ruler in the form of the Rukunegara or the ‘Principles of the Nationhood’. The myth of Hang Tuah, arguably, together with his friends Hang Jebat, Hang Lekir, and Hang Lekiu has been inscribed into the consciousness of the Malays and forms the foundation of the master-slave narrative”.
Well, yesterday, Dr Mahathir has in his lecture A dialogue with Tun Dr Mahathir organised by Malaysia-Today blog, stated the same thing. He said:
“Let me quote the story of Hang Tuah: Whenever the King gives an order, Hang Tuah and his brethrens would say, ‘mana titah, patih junjung’ (whatever you command, I shall obey) ….. That is why Hang Tuah killed his friends. He was too loyal …”
What Dr Mahathir meant of course was the ‘blind’ loyalty of Hang Tuah, who on the orders of the Sultan killed his best friend, Jebat. The story of Hang Tuah has not only been controversial but deeply disturbing because many readers, including myself, wondered how Tuah could kill Jebat, the very man who had defended him against a tyrant. And to make matters worse, Tuah did so on the orders of the tyrant.
But to an earlier generation of Malays - or according to Dr Azly, they had been brainwashed to believe - Tuah had been the epitome of that highly valued Malay characteristic, unimpeachable loyalty, whereas Jebat was the exact opposite, the treacherous rebel.
Tuah killed on the orders of his Sultan, no questions asked. Jebat, on the other hand, was pissed off with a tyrant who wanted to kill a loyal subject, but regicide, particularly of one's own, was a no-no in Malay culture. Therefore Jebat was a traitor and to be despised.
It first took Malaysia’s foremost Malay intellectual Kassim Ahmad to smash the conservative mould of thinking in his university thesis “Perwatakan Hikayat Hang Tuah” (the characters in the story of Hang Tuah).
As Dr Bakri Musa, a Malaysian who's a regular columnist in Malaysiakini and one of my favourite writers, said:
“Kassim frontally challenged the orthodox Malay thinking on authority, and royalty in particular. According to Kassim, the real hero is not Hang Tuah, rather the hitherto presumed renegade, Hang Jebat. To Kassim, Tuah is the typical palace sycophant who willingly sells his body and soul to the sultan, a loyalty conveniently reinforced by whatever largesse the sultan could bestow.”
“Jebat is the rugged individualist, not awed by those who wield power. His loyalty is to institutions, not individuals. To Kassim, Jebat is the true hero, not the prodigal son, Tuah.”
“It is a conflict of commitment to principles and institutions represented by Jebat, versus personal loyalty as presented by Tuah. It is this universal conflict, concretized in the setting of a traditional feudal society, which makes Hikayat Hang Tuah such a powerful and enduring piece of literature.”
And it was during Dr Mahathir’s PM-ship that Jebat was properly ‘rehabilitated’ as a heroic Malay warrior, where the RMN finally named a ship after the mythical admiral.
I heard also (please confirm if anyone knows, because I haven’t seen what was told to me) that in UMNO’s headquarters, the biggest room, the place of honour, is named after Jebat whilst the smallest room was allocated to the memory of Tuah.
If true, surely all these must have alarmed the Malay royalty. Furthermore, the growing republican movement around the world, manifested in dramatic fashion in Nepal, the last bastion of the Hindu God-King, must have added to their concerns.
So the recent royal ‘power surges’, in the face of a weak PM and the unjustified adulation of the Brigade of Lost Hopes, have been Ops Claw-back by the Malaysian royalty.
And guess what happened after MB Nizar succumbed to such traditional Malay royal psy-war and reinstated an insubordinate State civil servant?
The Prince Regent in a subsequent speech (3 months later in late July) attempted to change (by stealth) his justification for his royal interference from that of religious matters to administrative fairness.
I again blogged on that in Miscellanous - from reformasi to royalty based on a Star Online news article titled Rulers have special roles where I stated:
Highly admired Regent of Perak, once (prior to the March 08 election) touted as the ‘silver bullet’ to kill off the BN werewolf, told us yesterday that Malay Rulers are not decorative symbolic monuments who merely carry out ceremonial duties. Rather, they have roles in society, which means their views should not be taken lightly.
He then gave several examples of the royal righteous roles, one of which caught my eye.
HRH said of Nizar, the new MB, who sacked the state religious director without getting the Ruler's assent first.
HRH justified (or in kaytee’s reckoning, attempted to do so) his humiliation of Nizar, stating: “That is why the state government was asked to withdraw it!” because, according to his HRH, Nizar contradicted the principle of basic justice as the director had not done any wrong and was not given an opportunity to defend himself.
If you read my Supremacy of the people's voice in democracy I brought out HRH’s initial reason for rebuking and forcing Nizar to back down, on the grounds that the dismissed chap was a director of a State religious department, and the Sultan, as the State’s head of Islam, has his royal prerogative on all matters of State religion, including deciding who should be sacked or not sacked involving State religious issues.
And on those (religious rights) grounds, he revoked the MB’s decision in the dismissal.
[3 months later] HRH did not bring out the Sultan’s right as the head of Islam in revoking the MB’s decision to dismiss that insubordinate bloke.
That's right - that reason was totally absent! What HRH said was that MB Nizar contradicted the principle of basic justice as the director had not done any wrong and was not given an opportunity to defend himself.
So it has now been admitted by HRH that it was an administrative issue and not a religious one!
A case of basic (administrative) justice! And so, according to HRH, he had (on behalf of Papa) intervened to ensure there was basic justice.
What about the unacceptable issue of insubordination to the MB? And the subsequent public humiliation of a MB? Was there basic justice for MB Nizar?
Quite frankly, by raising the case again and changing HRH’s reason for revoking the MB’s administrative decision, the Regent has made his justification worse. [...]
I saw the whole series of royal interferences (Perlis, Terengganu, and Perak) as opportunities for flexing of their once-absolute-but-neutralised royal muscles after Dr M left the stage.
The royal humiliation of MB Nizar left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Silver bullet?
And since when has royalty assume the role of an administrative court in deciding State management fairness?
I had warned time and time again that the royalty had been the problem rather than the solution, and true to my words, the Kelantan Prince confirmed that by slapping the faces of his father’s non-Malay subjects, and his hurtful warning had recently been confirmed by the recent Rulers Conference, namely, the so-called ’social contract’ …
… which Royal Prof Ungku Aziz had already described as a non-existent ‘fantasy’ by some politicians. Well, the ’social contract’ has now been given real life by their royal/political imprimatur.
While the Sultans have a place under the Malaysian Constitution, they should be careful not to step down from their royal pedestal onto the grubby world of politics where they then draw justified criticisms unto their political (and not royal) persons.
And may I leave you with a statement by Ben Jonson in Explorata: Illiteratus Princeps ..
They say Princes learn no art truly, but the art of horsemanship. The reason is, the brave beast is no flatterer. He will throw a Prince as soon as his groom.