Friday, June 19, 2015

Whacking a prince, 800 years after Magna Carta

I rarely share article written by others on my blog. But I think this article from Malaysiakini written by Lu Wei Hong offers clarity in this disturbed and distracted world of Malaysian politics. You may not agree with the writer but I believe it worth deep thoughts from us, especially those who wish to pursue a full parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. UMNO or Nazri supporter or not, the eventuality is to pick between upholding a system governed by votes or by bloodline. We cannot have the best of both worlds. 


The Malaysian political arena is now embroiled in a whacking match between Culture and Tourism Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz and Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim over Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s absence at the 'Nothing to Hide' forum.

In defence of “kurang ajar”, Nazri parried himself, as an elected representative for five consecutive terms, with the member of the Johor royalty, who hooked up a 2,000-strong “Daulat Tuanku” rally in front of the Bukit Serene Palace.

As the heated exchange continued, there was a significant, historical event taking place 10,500km away in Britain, the former coloniser of Malaya, on June 15.

A fleet of boats, led by the royal barge Gloriana, was carrying a replica of the Magna Carta on the Thames River and heading for Runnymede, where the charter was signed between King John and a group of rebel barons in 1215.

In an event held 800 years after the commemoration of the Magna Carta, Queen Elizabeth II declared that the charter’s principles were still "significant and enduring".

The historic Magna Carta forms the legal basis of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, under which the sovereign too is subject to the rule of law.

Following the British colonisation, the principle of “reign but not rule” formed the basis of Malaya after independence.

This spirit is indicated in Nazri’s warning that the royalty in the country is subjected to the same rule if it comments on politics.

The rule is that the monarchy holds a ceremonial and noble position, while the governance of the nation is the task of the elected government.

Should the royalty break the rule by meddling in politics, he or she will naturally earn criticism and spoil the unity symbol of the nation.

Effective check-and-balance destroyed

However, Tunku Ismail’s criticism of Najib for hiding from the ‘Nothing to Hide’ forum has drawn praise from many Malaysians. They feel that the royalty can play a real check-and-balance role against the BN government.

The absence of effective check-and-balance in Malaysia is the result of the authoritarian-style of the decades-long BN rule.

The main culprit, ironically, is Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has now become the fiercest critic of Najib.

During his 22 years as prime minister, Mahathir abolished the Parliamentary Services Act so as to take control of the the legislative arm, removed the independence of the judiciary during the 1988 Judicial Crisis and used repressive laws such as the (now repealed) Internal Security Act to suppress the opposition and civil society.

Such draconian actions rendered any check-and-balance mechanism that existed meaningless against a strong executive.

It was not a surprise, therefore, that the people felt refreshed by Tunku Ismail’s strike and subsequently proclaimed “Daulat Tuanku” readily.

Constitutional monarchy shaken

However, relying on the monarch’s power to solve a political dilemma is like pouring oil on fire, for there are many cases of the monarchy encroaching against democracy in our country.

The most recent examples are:

i) The Perak 'coup' in 2009, in which the sultan refused to dissolve the state assembly at the request of Pakatan Rakyat menteri besar Nizar Jamaluddin;

ii) The Selangor menteri besar fiasco of 2014, in which the sultan did not appoint Kajang assemblyperson and PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the head of government as requested; and

iii) The Johor sultan’s proposed control of the state Housing and Property Board in 2014, over which the ruler is given executive power.

Yes, the proverb goes, “The King can do no wrong”, but it does not mean that the king was born as a saint and is wise enough not to make mistakes.

Instead, the principle is built on the monarchy’s non-interference in politics, not allowing them to flex their muscles.

Should members of the royalty in Malaysia wish to comment on politics, they should first relinquish their titles and privileges and not enjoy both - the freedom to meddle in politics and royal immunity.

While the people cheer for the royalty to enforce the check-and-balance on the government, we should bear in mind that royal interference will do no good for democracy.