The hazard of appealing to interventionist monarchy has finally reared its head. With Malay nationalists rallying around a monarch, the idea of absolutism is gaining currency in the public sphere. Whether by accident or design, the monarchy institution in Perak and elsewhere in Malaysia are regaining influence that they had in times when divine rights of kings was held supreme. This jeopardizes liberty, or whatever left that we have now.

The episode began with the removal of the director of Perak religious department from office. The Sultan successfully argued that the monarchy alone has the absolute power over the director office, forcing the PAS administration to back off from its intention to exert control over the state religious department. The story does not end with the executive having a black eye however. It really exploded when Karpal Singh of DAP insisted that the Sultan has no power to overturn the decision of the state executive.[1]

Criticism in Malaysia works in a peculiar way. One has to have the same skin color in order to make inter-communal criticism and not possibly suffer the suffocating communal politics. Karpal Singh did not notice this but those in UMNO are aware of it and they wasted no time to shoot him down. With Malay nationalists under post-election siege mentality and lamenting about a so-called divided Malay community, remark by the chairman of DAP was the spark that they needed to rally the Malays around them.

The monarchy institution is closely associated with Malay politics, being the ultimate defender of Malay privileges in the country. Any attack against the institution, especially by non-Malays, is considered by the nationalists as an attack against the Malay itself.

For UMNO, the anger caused by the DAP chairman is an opportunity to rebuild their base by having Malay nationalists firmly behind their back. With a clear external source that is Karpal Singh, attention could be diverted from the trouble plaguing the leadership of UMNO. More importantly, by siding with the monarchy together with the Malay nationalists, the current leadership of UMNO creates a perception of Malay unity under them, seemingly solving the question of divided UMNO.

Regardless the ulterior motive of UMNO, all that dangerous increases the influence of the monarchy in national politics and all must take heed of that.

While the issue at the moment may forward UMNO’s interest, there will be a time for conflicts of interest between the two entities or between the monarchy and the government. Such conflict had occurred in the past under the Mahathir administration.[2][3]

What Mahathir did to the power of the monarchy is a victory to organic politics. He successfully brought the monarchy under the purview of the legal system, giving meaning to the idea that no one is above the law. The former Prime Minister however not only mowed the blades of unwanted tall grasses. The sunflowers and the poppies and the dandelions which took upon itself to decorate the air above the Malaysian field also fell. But this is not about the Mahathir administration. Rather, it is about the sincerity of UMNO. UMNO does this not because they is supporting the monarchy institution per se. Rather, they, particularly the leadership, are doing what it is doing in effort to reverse its bad political fortune.

Regardless, this particular issue and the reactions to its produce a powerful precedent that may grant the Malay monarchy institution immunity from criticism, much at the expense of liberty. With that, it possibly places the monarchy above the Constitution as mere questioning is met with coercion by the state in the name treason.

With monarchs’ powers and actions unquestioned regardless of the constitutionality of it, the route to absolutism is paved. The liberals need to act, and so too the timid Malaysian republicans.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 (Bernama) — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has asked Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor to lodge a police report against DAP chairman Karpal Singh over his statement on the powers of the Perak Sultan.

[…]

“It is seditious and seen by the people as ridiculing the Sultan as though the ruler did not know his duty,” he told reporters when asked about Karpal’s controversial statement. [Abdullah Asks Police Report Be Lodged Against Karpal. Bernama. May 8 2008]

[2] — See the 1993 Malaysian constitutional crisis at Wikipedia.

[3] — At a special session of Parliament beginning on Jan. 18, Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad plans to push through constitutional changes ending the sultans’ immunity from prosecution. But the sultans, who are due to meet Mr. Mahathir this Saturday, are resisting. [Royals in Trouble:Malaysia’s Sultans Have a Role. Philip Bowring. International Herald Tribune. January 7 1993]

4 Responses to “[1645] Of absolutists in the making”

  1. on 12 May 2008 at 02:56 mahagraha

    I suppose one has to ask this question – are the (majority) of Malays still trapped in the feudalistic mindset.

    This is a very sensitive question, especially with the calls for ‘Malay unity’ becoming louder and louder.

    Then again… historically, the concept of Malay unity is nothing but hypocrisy.Just look at the number of times UMNO was split, first during Onn Jaafar, the split in the 80s and up to Reformasi 1998 and even now.

    But then again quite a few Malays that I talk to still believe in the idea of “Malay unity” which is basically feudalistic in nature…

    I wonder…

  2. on 12 May 2008 at 03:35 Ruhayat

    “Criticism in Malaysia works in a peculiar way. One has to have the same skin color in order to make inter-communal criticism and not possibly suffer the suffocating communal politics.”

    Not true. You have never been to the US, I take it?

  3. on 12 May 2008 at 09:34 Hafiz Noor Shams

    Dear mahagraha,

    I don’t necessarily agree about communal unity as hypocrisy but I do believe it is overrated and flawed as I have written here. It is not limited to the the idea of Malay unity. It is overrated across all over the world.

    Dear Ruhayat,

    I wrote “in Malaysia”, not the US. Situation in Malaysia is not as liberal as in the US. Even then, the same idea is applicable in the US to some extent. Communal politics is not totally absent in the US.

    And I have lived in the US.

  4. […] Of Absolutist in the Making […]

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