Sultan Raja Azlan Shah of Perak celebrated his Silver Jubilee on February 3. Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin had declared that day a State Holiday.
Two days later, on 5 February, His Highness sacked the Menteri Besar Mohd Nizar and the next day, amidst policetear-gassing street protesters in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, swore in a new UMNO MB based on the defection of 3 state representatives out of Pakatan Rakyat to become "BN-friendly" Independents.
The decision to reject Mohd Nizar's request for dissolution of the State Assembly sent shockwaves through the state and to the nation at large. Public sentiment had veered strongly towards fresh elections, rather than a new government it has not voted for.
Yellow banners of Sultan Azlan Shah are still hanging on every lamp-post and adorning public buildings in the state capital.
The Internet community had harsh words for the Sultan, who had headed the judiciary before ascending the throne in 1984.
Most of the milder views expressed disappointment. One posting on The Malaysian Insider website said:
“I always believed that when rakyat (citizens) was bullied and robbed, some conscience sultans will be there to product us. Well, it doesn't seem like that.”The intense disappointment was not surprising.
Perak Royal Palace's High Moral Ground
The British-educated Ruler and his intellectual son Raja Dr Nazrin Shah had built up a reputation as the voices of the nation's conscience. They took the moral high ground in erudite speeches on issues of governance, judicial independence and race relations, among others.
Sultan Azlan Shah was also believed to be instrumental in persuading the country's hereditary Malay Rulers to reject certain judicial appointments seen as controversial. His son declined state funds for his wedding in 2007.
They had endeared themselves to Malaysians. But this week, the disappointment of the people poured forth as they perceived that the Ruler had not taken their side when it mattered.
“There were very high expectations that the Sultan would uphold a decision for democracy and morality, rather than pure legality,” said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.
The anger was evident yesterday when thousands of Malays tried to stop the swearing-in of Zambry by blocking the road to the palace in Kuala Kangsar. But the protest was foiled by tear gas.
Setback to Revitalise the Credibility of the Monarchy
This episode could deal a severe setback to the hard-won revitalisation of the monarchy that had been constrained by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The Rulers were regaining credibility to the extent that some Malaysians even yearned for a more powerful monarchy.
But the PR leadership took pains not to fan the flames. There was a sense of pragmatic restraint designed to focus on the decision rather than the Ruler.
This was clear at a rally at the menteri besar's residence on Thursday, soon after Nizar declared that he would not step down as directed.
The banners put up were respectful in tone, appealing to the Sultan to dissolve the state assembly and return power to the people.
The fiery speeches from PR leaders, too, did not attack the Ruler, but focused on Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“It is pointless to fight the Sultan, it means fighting the entire monarchy,” said an opposition MP.
The monarchy still holds significant powers in Malaysia, as this Perak episode has shown. And PR still governs four states, three of which have Malay Rulers — Kelantan, Selangor and Kedah.
Many Malays, too, will be uncomfortable with verbal attacks on the monarchy.
Even DAP chairman Karpal Singh's decision to sue the Sultan startled his opposition colleagues. This was later overturned by opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
PR's decision to focus its anger on the BN, in particular Najib, will do more to further its agenda. It won 54 per cent of the popular vote in the general election last March.
“ I think the Pakatan Rakyat wants to isolate the dissatisfaction by focusing on the BN rather than be seen to implicate the palace. It understands the special position of the palace and does not want to complicate its case with the people,” said Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian.
PR has chosen its battles judiciously.
But the PEOPLE's sentiment over the Sultan's decision is clear. They are disappointed.
From a reader in The Ancient Mariner Blog article "The Right Royal Mess"
Excerpts: Read here for more
"... I am saddened but a friend told me if I am a student of Hikayat Hang Tuah or history of the Malay Sultanates, I should not be too sad.
He said this:
a) The Perak Sultan cannot be so dumb and silly for not knowing the law and constitutional process having been at the top of the heap in the judiciary. His Highness is a smart person.
b) Why did he almost immediately after meeting Najib, ask Nizar to resign?
c) Why did he immediately told Nizar if he didn't, his MB post will be vacant immediately?
d) Why did the sultan hurriedly appoint a new MB?
e) He knew the PR has contested the decision of the EC on the froggies's seats.
d) MB Nizar said in the press conference that when he told the Sultan of what he wrote in a book by the Sultan himself, Nizar said the Sultan did not make eye contact and just looked downward. That was an interesting observation.
[Note: Mohd Nizar was reported as saying during his audience with the Sultan, His Highness quoted a verse from the Holy Quran, translated as "Sesungguhnya Allah bersama dengan orang-orang yang sabar." (Allah will be with those who are patient]
All above action (as) out of character of His Highness. The sudden and hurriedness are very unlike of judges and those in the legal profession and also as a ruler of age and wisdom. The Malay adat of tenang and sabar.
It is hard to reconcile a monarch and his son who voice aspirations of his subjects to make such unfriendly decision on his subjects.There must be something else at work in the minds of the Sultan, unspoken and to be revealed in slow motion fashion.
The rumour mill is the Sultan is poking an eye on (DPM) Najib ( who is not a Perakian and is an Federal MP) who came to see him on his state's internal affairs. Being a monarch and in ways of royalty, he had to remain a royal in the face of such crude affront from Najib.
We can be sure His Highness is against defections as unethical and unacceptable, yet UMNO and Najib as DPM are putting pressure on him. So His Highness says to himself: OK if that is what you want, I will give it to you. I will give it to you right away. I will take and bear the "cross" so to speak, the criticism from my own subjects.
By doing so, the door is open to Anwar and the PR to capture Najib's federal goverment by calling out the other frogs in BN. And if Anwar succeeds, Najib and UMNO cannot play double standards. His Highness in a sleigh of hand, is opening the door for PR and Anwar to (take) the Federal Parliament before the next general election. UMNO has lost the high moral ground on the defecion issue when Anwar makes his move for the Federal Parliament takeover.
The contrary view is the issue of GAMUDA. The Perak Palace has a high stake in it with her daughter caught with declining revenue from the royal family investment in the company. Read in between the lines in Zorro's writeup...."