Friday, 13 February 2009

Sultans' Relevance Depends on Their Ability to Read RAKYATS’ Mood Correctly

by

Dr. M. Bakri Musa


Quote

"...The reputation and salvation of (Perak Sultan) Raja Azlan specifically, and that of the institution of Sultans generally, would require of him to look beyond the law for a solution.

Contrary to the assertions of constitutional scholars and legal practitioners, this is not a legal issue.

Its solution does not lie with the court system. Nor does it require of us to return to the old feudal ways of blind loyalty to the sultan, as some traditionalist would wish.

The continued RELEVANCE and indeed SURVIVAL of our Sultans depend on their ability to read the rakyats’ mood CORRECTLY , NOT on some cultural traditions, court precedents, or political expedience.

What surprised me is that this power grab is being led by a Sultan who is generally acknowledged as the most enlightened of the lot, having served as the nation’s chief justice, and who has, as his Crown Prince, an intellect schooled in the finest universities of the West.

That they chose to revert to their feudal past given the slightest chance was a great disappointment.

With a deeply polarized citizenry, the days of a supra majority government are gone. It is for this reason we must have an institution like the sultan that can act as an honest broker so as to maintain political neutrality and stability. Now that too is gone.

That is what disappoints me most with this latest political crisis in Perak. If a sultan as enlightened as Raja Azlan could not disentangle himself from this political morass, we have LITTLE hope that the OTHER sultans would be any better.

There is a silver lining to all this. Thanks to Nizar’s Jebat-like stance of Patek menyembah mohon derhaka!” Malaysia will never degenerate into an absolute monarchy.

In times like this, we have to savor such blessings!
- Dr. M. Bakri Musa



The current tussle between the Sultan of Perak and his Pakatan Chief Minister is not the first, nor will it be the last, such crises in the country.

Contrary to the assertions of constitutional scholars and legal practitioners, this is not a legal issue. Its solution does not lie with the court system. Nor does it require of us to return to the old feudal ways of blind loyalty to the sultan, as some traditionalist would wish.

I am not surprised that Sultan Raja Azlan, a former chief justice, would view this as a legal matter. However, the reputation and salvation of Raja Azlan specifically, and that of the institution of sultans generally, would require of him to look beyond the law for a solution.

Anything less and he would risk our country degenerating into another Thailand , cursed with endless constitutional and political crises. Coming as it is during these trying economic times, it would also be a major distraction, one we could do without.

The continued relevance and indeed survival of our sultans depend on their ability to read the rakyats’ mood correctly, not on some cultural traditions, court precedents, or political expedience.

Lessons From The Past

Past experiences have shown that it was rare for the sultans to emerge from these political crises with their reputations enhanced, or the institution of royalty strengthened. Even when the sultans emerged as heroes, they exposed their blemishes.

Raja Azlan needs to be extra diligent to make this episode the exception. Thus far it has not been promising.

The Malayan Union

The sultans meekly agreed to the British “suggestion” of turning the country into a dominion. Whether it was British perfidy or the sultans’ stupidity, the result was the same. The price tag too was modest: piddling pensions and perfunctory visits to Buckingham Palace for the sultans. As a sweetener, just in case, they were awarded the knighthood of some medieval English order.

Fortunately their subjects, then almost exclusively Malays, were not as meek, or easily hoodwinked and cheaply bought.

Under the leadership of the late Datuk Onn Jaafar, the Malay masses, on the pretext of paying homage, descended upon the palace in Kota Baru where the rulers had gathered. They effectively prevented the sultans from leaving the premise to ratify the agreement with the new British governor, effectively scuttling the treaty. Thus ended the brief and naked British power grab.

It was also a devastatingly effective demonstration of the halus (refined) ways of our culture. Fortunately the sultans correctly read the subtle message from their rakyats. Good thing too, for had it not been for those village peasants intervening, our sultans would today be reduced to the status of the Sultan of Sulu. Today’s highflying sultans must be reminded of this – and often – lest they forget, as they are wont to.

Independence

Less than a decade later with the Federation of Malaya (1946) replacing the Malayan Union, and with the sultans securely ensconced in their palaces, this delicate balance between the ruler and the ruled would once again be tested, this time in the negotiations for independence.

It turned out that our sultans were LESS than enthusiastic with the idea, at least initially. Not an unreasonable posture, considering the fate of their brother hereditary rulers in independent India and Indonesia . Fortunately the sultans again correctly read the rakyats’ mood.

Sultans' Enhanced Status After Independence

After all, the pro-independence Alliance coalition scored a near unanimous victory in the 1955 general elections. Despite that, those rulers did not give in easily. They demanded – and received – assurances that their royal status would be enhanced. Indeed the Reid Commission tasked with drafting a constitution for the new nation codified the role of the sultans beyond their being mere feudal heads of their respective states.

The new constitution provided for a new national body, The Council of Rulers, headed by a “King” to be chosen from among his brother rulers. Unlike real kings however, the new Agong would, apart from being “elected,” have a limited tenure of only five years – unheard of for any royalty anywhere. Further, this Council would have veto authority on legislations passed by the bicameral (House and Senate) Parliament.

Functionally this Council of Rulers would thus be a Third House of Parliament, a miniature House of Lords but with an exclusive membership of only nine sultans.

This enhanced status of the sultans also satisfied the Malay masses, feeding their vanity patriotism of Ketuanan Melayu.

With their now elevated status and considerably more generous civil allowances, our royal families soon acquired regal tastes beyond what they could have imagined in their kampong days.

Now they compare themselves not to the Sultan of Sulu but the Queen of England and oil-rich Middle Eastern potentates. Actually, closer to the Arab potentates!

Our sultans lack the social finesse and regal restraint of Windsor Castle but have all the excesses and vulgarities of the House of Saud.

Constitutional Crisis of the 80s

Time has a way of eroding the wisdom acquired from earlier experiences. Royal excesses soon knew no bounds; it would only be a matter of time when the sultans would clash with the elected leaders. By mid-1980s the sultans would face an adversary in the person of Prime Minister Mahathir, a leader whose heritage and upbringing would put him not in the least in awe of things royal.

On taking on the sultans, Mahathir precipitated a severe constitutional crisis. He prevailed but the price was high.

Mahathir had to unleash his hound dogs in the mainstream media to uncover every royal transgression, venal and minor, real and imagined, in order to discredit the sultans. It was not pretty.

While Mahathir effectively clipped the wings of these highflying sultans, they could still fly high and far. Barred from meddling in political matters, they found a lucrative niche in commerce. With that they could acquire the latest luxury jets to fly to their favorite distant casinos.

Political Tsunami Impacted the Sultans

Things would have remained the same, with the royals indulging their newfound wealth, had it not been for the political tsunami that swept Malaysia in the March 2008 election.

Sensing a leadership vacuum with the Barisan coalition now crippled, the sultans began flexing their muscles.

Pakatan leaders, uncertain of their new role, did not quite know how to handle these newly assertive sultans. By default and fearful of appearing to challenge the Malay sultans, Pakatan state leaders readily gave way to the sultans in Perak, Kedah and Selangor.

Even in states where Barisan did not lose, as in Trengganu, the sultan there was not shy in asserting himself. In no uncertain terms and without any hint of subtlety the Sultan of Trengganu rebuffed the UMNO leadership and succeeded in having an individual more to his liking to be the new chief minister. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi was impotent; his candidate was summarily rejected by the sultan.

Not to be outdone, a few months later the Sultan of Perak intervened in the micro management of the state over the transfer of a junior functionary in the religious department, on the pretext that matters pertaining to Islam are the exclusive preserve of the sultan.

His claim was not challenged. Nature abhors a vacuum; a weakened Barisan and as yet uncertain Pakatan Rakyat created this opportunity for the sultans to reassert themselves.

What surprised me is that this power grab is being led by a sultan who is generally acknowledged as the most enlightened of the lot, having served as the nation’s chief justice and who has as his crown prince an intellect schooled in the finest universities of the West. That they chose to revert to their feudal past given the slightest chance was a great disappointment.

This power struggle between the sultans and the political elite, and among the political leaders, would not interest me except that it deeply polarizes Malaysians. That this polarization transcends race is no consolation.

After over half a century of dominant one-party rule, the country unsurprisingly has difficulty adjusting to the possibility of a minority or even change in government. This adjustment is most difficult on current leaders.

Things would have been difficult even if the sultans were to play their constitutionally assigned role of honest brokers, but with their trying to reassert themselves, it makes for a combustible combination.

Perak Crisis and the Institution of the Sultan

The other consequence to this power struggle is that the institution of sultan will never again be the same.

The oxymoronic expression of ousted Perak Mentri Besar Nizar Jamaluddin, “Patek menyembah memohon derhaka!” (roughly translated, “Pardon me for my peasant insurrection!”) will now be part of our lexicon.

More significantly, his Jebat-like stance has all the makings of a modern day Malay heroism. This powerful imagery is now indelibly etched in our Malay psyche.

It is not the sight of citizens giving the Perak crown prince the middle finger that stunned me rather that this was done so openly, spontaneously, and in-your-face style.

The sultan’s website (put up initially to demonstrate a royal family very much in tune with its Internet savvy citizens) had to be deactivated as it was quickly filled with shocking insults. Even former Prime Minister Mahathir felt compelled to condemn those attacks.

It matters not; the genie is now out of the bottle. The sultans are now no longer what they once were.

I do not lament this; I just hope that the sultans recognize this sea change in their subjects. Nor do I miss the days of a strong and dominant government. That would be good only if the leaders were fair, honest and competent. Saddam Hussein’s government was strong and dominant; look at the devastations it created.

Canada has a tradition for minority governments, and its citizens are not at all ill served by that. Indeed there is considerable merit in having a divided or minority government. That would be the most effective system of checks and balances.

With a deeply polarized citizenry, the days of a supra majority government are gone. It is for this reason we must have an institution like the sultan that can act as an honest broker so as to maintain political neutrality and stability. Now that too is gone. That is what disappoints me most with this latest political crisis in Perak. If a sultan as enlightened as Raja Azlan could not disentangle himself from this political morass, we have little hope that the other sultans would be any better.

There is a silver lining to all this. Thanks to Nizar’s Jebat-like stance of “Patek menyembah mohon derhaka!” Malaysia will never degenerate into an absolute monarchy.

In times like this, we have to savor such blessings!


RELATED ARTICLE

Kelantan-1977: Istana and the Politics of UMNO and PAS


Read here for more article by "Tulang Besi"

"...Masuk ni (krisis Perak) dah DUA kali PAS (dihalang) oleh Raja-Raja Melayu.

Yang pertama sewaktu jatuhnya kerajaan PAS di Kelantan, sewaktu PAS masih di dalam Barisan Nasional pada tahun 1977.

PAS telah dihalang melantik MB sendiri di Kelantan walaupun PAS mempunyai kerusi yang teramai di Kelantan. Ertinya, MB PAS pada masa itu ditentukan oleh UMNO dan bukannya oleh PAS.

Calon MB Kelantan pada masa itu telah berfungsi sebagai seorang MB BN lebih dari MB PAS. Kemuncak dari peristiwa itu, berlakulak undi tidak percaya kepada MB PAS itu dan jatuhlah calon MB tersebut.

Istana Kelantan telah tidak mengiktiraf undi tidak percaya tersebut. Lantaran dari itu, calon BN itu kekal MB Kelantan yang tidak mendapat kepercayaan dewan.

Akhirnya, PAS telah meminta supaya DUN dibubarkan bagi mengadakan PR semula. Juga ditolak oleh Istana Kelantan yang jelas hamba kepada UMNO.

Apabila Raja Kelantan pada masa itu tidak mengizinkan pembubaran DUN di Kelantan, maka alasan itu digunakan untuk menjustifikasikan berlakunya “krisis perlembagaan”.

Ibrahim Ali pula telah mengajurkan beberapa demonstrasi kecil-kecilan dengan membakar 2-3 tayar dan akhirnya pentadbiran kerajaan negeri Kelantan di letak di tangan Kerajaan Pusat di bawah Mageran.

Hasilnya undang2 darurat berkuatkuasa dan PAS telah tidak berupaya untuk berkempen manakala UMNO bebas bergerak. Apabila MAGERAN diangkat pada tahun 1978, terus diadakan PR negeri dan BN telah menang besar. PAS hanya tinggal 2 kerusi.

(Nota: Nampak tak sekarang kenapa Tok Guru Nik Aziz tidak setuju bermuzakarah dengan UMNO? Mereka yang menyokong muqabalah ni semuanya takda pengalaman kena tipu dengan UMNO. Sepanjang masa PAS ditipu di Kelantan dahulu, Ustaz Nik Aziz terlibat secara direct. Tok Guru Nik Aziz kenal siapa UMNO ni). .... "
-"Tulang Besi"


English translation of the above article in Bahasa. (Courtesy of Jed Yoong) Read here for more

Including this time, it’s twice that PAS has been cheated alive by the Malay Rajas. The first was when the PAS government fell in Kelantan, when PAS was still part of the Barisan Nasional in 1977.

PAS was obstructed from choosing its own MB (Chief Minister) in Kelantan although PAS held the most seats (in the state legislative assembly) in Kelantan. It means, the PAS MB was determined by UMNO and not PAS.

The candidate (from PAS) for Kelantan MB at that time functioned as a Barisan MB more than a PAS MB. At the peak of that incident, a no-confidence vote was passed on the PAS MB and the candidate for MB fell.

The Kelantan Palace did not assent the no-confidence vote. Following that, the Barisan candidate remained as Kelantan MB that does not command the confidence of the state assembly. In the end, PAS requested for the dissolution of the DUN (state legislative assembly) to pave the way for fresh elections. This was also rejected by the Kelantan Palace which is clearly a slave to UMNO.

When the then Kelantan Raja did not allow the dissolution of the DUN in Kelantan, this is used as an excuse to justify the occurence of a “constitutional crisis”. Ibrahim Ali even organised a few small demonstrations that burned 2-3 tyres and in the end, the adminstration of the Kelantan state government was placed in the hands of the Federal Government under MAGERAN.

As a result the Emergency Laws were enforced and PAS was already unable to campaign while UMNO was free to move. When MAGERAN was removed in 1978, state elections was immediately held and Barisan won big. PAS was only left with 2 seats.
-"Tulang Besi" (translated by Jed Yoong)

2 comments:

Mr. X said...

96% Wanted Fresh Poll In Perak

Anonymous said...

Actually, I applaud Azlan Shah and his cohorts for this whole Perak fiasco.

OK, let's look at it the alternative way…

By default, aren't Kings/ Sultans designed to protect and serve its people? To do justice to his people? Granted, fast-forward to 21st century, their role has significantly reduced to, mostly, being a symbolism of past glories, but it does not absolved their merits of still being a symbol of nobility rooted in righteousness, justice, fairness, moral, goodwill, good faith, and everything lofty and respectable (even though in an imperfect world) to what a nation was, is and ought to be. By any means, they are the evergreen haute couture in the world of nobility of that nation, as is legendary high fashion labels are to the fashion world. They are the symbol that sets the tone.
What if today this symbol no longer able to fittingly serve this role anymore?
{‘Says who?’ in case you asked, then my take is that – either you’re not a Malaysian or a slumbering one, at that.}
So, really, should one day ever, Malaysia end up as a republic, we should always remember who gave us this food for thought and get the ball rolling for a monarchy meltdown…..

Thank you ‘Sultan’ Azlan Shah & co.


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