The Lesson From Perak

by M. Bakri Musa

The current political paralysis in Perak reflects the major failures of our key institutions. It is a total breakdown at the palace, the legislature, and the permanent establishment. It also exposes the glaring inadequacies of the judicial system which has yet to adjudicate this critical and urgent matter of state.

It is not however, the failure of the people, as some pundits have implied by quoting the old adage that we deserve the government we get. It is the voters’ prerogative whether to grant the incumbent party a stunning victory, humble it with an unstable slim majority, or even throw it into the ranks of the opposition. Canada and Italy have a long history of minority governments, and they have managed well.

A mark of a mature democracy, or any system for that matter, is the transfer of power from one entity to another smoothly and predictably. Perak is a spectacular failure; it is also a preview for Malaysia.

Perak is one of three state governments that changed hands as a consequence of the 2008 general elections. In the other two, Kedah and Penang, the transition went much smoother. There were hiccups of course, like the destruction of state documents and the dissolution of legislators’ wives’ club in Selangor, for example. That reflected more infantile behaviors than institutional failure. Why Perak should be the exception merits careful consideration.

We used to assume that if only we could get qualified and experienced people, then no matter how battered or inadequate our institutions, those people would rise up to the challenge. In Perak, we have a sultan who by any measure is the most qualified and experienced, having served as the nation’s top judge for many years. Yet his decision in this critical matter, which demanded the most judicious of judgment, proved to be unwise and precipitous. And that is putting it mildly.

This is not hindsight. Even at the time when he made that pivotal decision (which was the singular event that triggered developments which culminated in the spectacle of May 7), the voice of the people was loud and clear. Only that the sultan refused to hear or chose to ignore it. No amount of subsequent royal pontifications will ever rectify or justify this error. Only a reversal of that earlier erroneous decision would.

It was too bad that Sultan Azlan Shah deputized his Raja Muda to the May 7th opening of the legislature. While that may have spared the sultan the spectacle and embarrassment of being physically entrapped by the bedlam, he missed a splendid opportunity to witness firsthand what his modern-day version of hulubalangs was up to! Instead it was his Raja Muda who was left to cool his heels for a good six hours! Well, let us hope that at least it was an edifying experience for him.

It was nonetheless pathetic to see the Raja Muda reduced to pleading for respect for his speech! Few, not even the normally pliant mainstream media, bothered to carry his speech in full. So much for the respect that he desperately sought!

Amazingly in his speech, the Raja Muda did not deem it important or necessary to comment on the ugly spectacle he had just witnessed and been a part of. He remained aloof and strangely uncurious. He must have been in temporary suspended animation, oblivious of his immediate surroundings, during his six-hour wait. He was from another planet, earlier programmed to deliver his royal speech and then leave! Nothing more; for that you would have to reprogram him again!

The principal political protagonists here were Barisan Nasional’s Zamry Kadir, a Temple University PhD, and Pakatan’s Nizar Jamaluddin, a professional engineer fluent in multiple languages. Then there was the Speaker of the House, Sivakumar, a lawyer by profession. Their impressive diplomas and credentials meant nothing; they only looked impressive when framed and hanged on their office walls.

Instead of being the stabilizing force and buffering factor, the permanent establishment, from the State Secretary to the State Legal Advisor and the Chief of Police, was hopelessly ensnared in the mess through their highly partisan performances. They rapidly degenerated to being part of the problem (and a very significant one at that) instead of the solution.

As for the judiciary, it failed to appreciate the urgency and gravity of the crisis. Thus the case did not merit an expedited hearing and left to meander through the usual slow judicial pathway. By contrast, the 2000 American elections that saw the Florida ballot counts being litigated, the case ended up at the Supreme Court for a definitive decision in a matter of days, not months.

Lessons Learned

Thanks to modern technology, those who were not there in Ipoh could still follow the unfolding events in real time, trumping the severe censorship machinery of the government. Not that it was ever effective, just like the rest of the government.

Unfortunately there is not much that we could learn from the sorry spectacle. Even to declare that it reflected the sorry state of our institutions would be inadequate. Besides, we already have too many affirmations of that sad reality.

The next reflex reaction would be to declare, “Everyone is to be blamed!” While that is an understandable response, it does not solve anything, for the corollary to that statement would be that no one is to be blamed. That would be a cop out; we are all not equally culpable.

Everyone in the chain of events could have stopped if not reversed the destructive sequence right up to the day before the infamous debacle at the legislature. Failing that, the buck must and should stop somewhere. In our system, the buck stops at the highest level, the palace.

Consider the chain of events again. First there were those renegade legislators switching party affiliations. No law against that; it was their choice. Perhaps that would galvanize the leaders of the party they had deserted to do a better job of screening and scrutinizing their future candidates. Maybe primary elections among party members (as in America) instead of a decision from headquarters would produce better and more reliable candidates. That certainly would be a useful lesson.

However, this being Malaysia, things get more interesting. It turned out that those turncoats were earlier being investigated for corruption. Miraculously after their switchover, the charges were not pursued! So far no journalist has any thought of following that lead.

Even if those characters were pure, their switching over should never have triggered such a mess. Surely they could wait till the next sitting of the legislature to introduce whatever vote of no confidence they may have in mind of the leadership, and thus bring down the sitting government in the traditional and only legitimate way.

Even if leaders of the Barisan coalition were to petition the sultan to dismiss the sitting Chief Minister (which they did), the sultan ought to first also hear out the incumbent before making a decision. Common sense dictates that. One does not have to be a judge or have read the weighty tomes of legal luminaries to appreciate that elementary dictum. Hear both sides before rendering a decision! Even a new father knows that.

Sultan Azlan Shah cannot pretend to be able to read or predict the thinking of his legislators after only a few moments of “chat” under the most severe royal protocol at the palace. That would be the height of royal arrogance. In any other circumstance, decisions made under such surroundings could be considered as coerced. Besides, it is their collective judgment expressed openly in a properly convened legislative forum that matters. Not only could you not predict individual behaviors, you could never foretell the group dynamics and the final collective decision.

If our political leaders make a mistake, they are held accountable. Just ask Abdullah Badawi. The buck with the present imbroglio stops at the palace, with Sultan Azlan Shah. Unfortunately in our system at present, there is no effective system of checks and balances with respect to our monarchs, both at the state as well as federal levels. They are also immune to prosecution in the conduct of their official duties. There is no mechanism to fire or censure them. The Special Tribunal is only for prosecuting their personal misconduct. Well, at least that is a beginning, a measure of some accountability.

Regardless whether we have an effective system of checks and balances with respect to the sultans, our society has irreversibly changed. The old feudal order is now gone, for good, and never to return. Get used to it! In today’s world, the people is sovereign. Just ask the descendents of the late Shah Pahlavi and King Farouk, or closer to home, the Sultan of Sulu.

I tried to convey this in my poem, Makna Merdeka 50 (Meaning of Merdeka 50), I wrote to commemorate our 50th year of independence. I quote a couple of stanzas:

Rakyat negri bukan nya kuli
Untok di kerah ka sana sini
Zaman purba tak akan kembali
Mungkin menteri di buang negri!

Renungkan nasib si Idi Amin
Yang Shah Pahlavi pun tak terjamin
Pemimpin negri mesti meninggati
Rakyat – bukan Raja – yang di daulati!

(Blessed with freedom and reason are God’s children/To lords and kings we are not beholden/The feudal order has long been toppled/Let’s be clear, the sovereign is the people!

Ponder the fate of one Idi Amin/That of Shah Pahlavi was equally grim!/Those realities our leaders must heed/“Power to the people!” is the new creed.)

That in essence is the pertinent lesson from Perak.

  1. #1 by monsterball on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 7:35 am

    Those are elected by Perak people and all are subjects to the Royalties.
    Whether the Raja Muda likes it or not…they are people’s representatives and for 5 hours…ignored the Royalty…at loggerheads…shouting at each other. How can the Raja Muda say he cannot be involve in politics…when this the the reaction of his father’s decision……never seen before in any Parliament sittings.
    Will th Royaltioes be involve in Perak’s citizen’s unhappuies and complaints…reacted by the eleted representatives?
    Is that politics ? I do not think so.
    If the royalties ignore the commotions…it is exactly like ignoring Perak’s people unhappiness…feeling cheated by the government.
    It does not make sense…..unless dictatorial rule is still Perak!!
    What so hard to see and end it all by declaring a State election?
    Reasons given by UMNO buggers are bunkum and unless to argue.
    UMNO always have an art to twist and turn evrything to their favour.
    In actual fact…UMNO is showing so clearly..afraid of elections.
    Bakri Musa message is thoughtful and fair.

  2. #2 by mumzie on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 7:52 am

    BN had been history of twist and turn and not to mention to cover up for their mistake, scandle etc….. To clear the air if PKR sit and do nothing what are the Rakyat point of view? “PKR don’t stand it right, penakut etc….” People elected PKR to stand for the Rakyat and not being selfish like BN think making big bucks out of Rakyat hard earned monies.

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 9:08 am

    The Perak crisis cannot just drag on with no end otherwise the people of Perak will suffer – investors will shun Perak and go to other more politically stable states.

    I think the Sultan of Perak should intervene and call for a state-wide election. There is nothing shameful for one to admit a mistake had earlier been made and later make a correction.

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 9:12 am

    Lesson? He has got to be kidding? Time for classes is over. Its time for men to be men and boys to be eliminated from this game.

    Don’t you smell it? There is blood on the floor and it include’s Najib’s. Why do you think he is offering an olive branch to the opposition. By no means is the fight over. Its just a retreat for the opposition, to regroup and come out with force that will take no prisoners…

    The opposition is way ahead in terms of public sentiments, what they need is to keep it up. Hindraf has been released, get them on the streets again and Najib is backed into a corner. PKFZ mess is a gold mine for spin. Conversion issues, graduate unemployment, crime etc. there is so many to and so hard stuff to do that Najib cannot possibly recover from what has happened. THAT is what the opposition has been trying to tell them from the start. It was stupid of him and he just did not get it. He just is not good enough.

    Lesson is over. Playtime is also over. its measure up or pay…

  5. #5 by taiking on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 9:26 am

    Dear Raja Muda, are you dumb?
    If not then for Perak’s sake speak up!

  6. #6 by SpeakUp on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 9:34 am

    Why do people want to make so much out of the Perak issue. The lesson learnt it simple: DO NOT FIELD INCOMPETENT PEOPLE FOR ELECTIONS! PERIOD! If the 3 had not jumped ship then there would be no Perak debacle. NONE.

    Also, DO NOT go courting disaster when you are not able to handle one. Anwar went to court 31 MPs that gave an open goal to BN to do their nonsense. Why do people now not see Anwar started a fire? Everyone has amnesia now?

    Now PAS is courting one BN ADUN, so tell me, do we want this to happen in Kedah, Penang or Kelantan? Is this what we want? When does the Merry-Go-Round stop?

    Karpal Singh made it clear, courting cross overs is WRONG. Well, after the nonsense happened then he only said it. But he has made a stand, it is WRONG.

  7. #7 by boh-liao on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 10:10 am

    Oh what a circus, oh what a show.
    Ipoh/Perak has gone to town.
    Over the death of democrary called State Assembly.
    We’ve all gone crazy: mourning all day and mourning all night
    Falling over ourselves to get all of the misery right.

    (Adapted. With apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber.)

  8. #8 by wanderer on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 10:20 am

    It is about time, Malaysians should revisit the issue of being a Republic. What good of having royal leeches if their interests lie solely in their private companies…this political Perak State impasse was obviously, the reason of divided loyalties of the sultan’s private interests and to his royal subjects.
    Gone were the days when the monarchs were considered a safety net for the rakyat…today, it is just an elusive dream.
    Pity Tun M did not finish the job completely…he should not only have clipped the wings of the flying sultans, he should have completely clipped their marbles!
    Taxpayers are simply made to pay to much to keep these parasite monarchs… just to serve the evil UMNO regime.

  9. #9 by DAP man on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 11:20 am

    It’s ironical for Raja Nazrin to ask for respect when he deserves NONE.
    He should NOT have delivered his speech in an illegally constituted assembly under a fake Speaker who was not legally appointed nor been sworn in?
    How could he give legitimacy to an illegal assembly and yet have the cheek to ask for respect.
    If only he were to walk the streets to find out first hand what the people think of him and his father, then he will think twice before demanding respect.
    Musa is right. The Sultan is singly responsible for this mess yet till today, refuses to demand to the will of the people, ie fresh elections.
    Perhaps he knows UMNO would be soundly defeated.

  10. #10 by SpeakUp on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 11:38 am

    Let’s be fair here. Raja Nazrin is right. He was being put in a tight situation with the objection. He is there by convention for the speech only. As some experts have correctly stated, the speech is a mere speech and has no legal implications unlike what some DAP members have stated.

    Of course he does not want to be involved. He wants to deliver the speech and let the circus continue without him. That is fair. Make it look like they are truly above politics.

    Point is the same … Perak is probably lost, unless today’s High Court decision is most interesting. The it starts all over again!

  11. #11 by fairvoice on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 12:20 pm

    Mr LKS,
    I understand you want to talk to Najib or he wants to talk to you to solve the Perak crisis.
    There are 4 wishes and solution from the ppl of Perak which are the main focal points if you ever consider talking to Najib/UMNO/BN.

    No1 : State by election for Perak and let the ppl to decide the gov.

    No2 : State by election for Perak and let the ppl to decide the gov.

    No3 : State by election for Perak and let the ppl to decide the gov.

    No4 : State by election for Perak and let the ppl to decide the gov.

    Perak ppl only want this and nothing else. No other items to be discussed with Najib.

  12. #12 by Bobster on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 1:25 pm

    In the coming days when BN attack royalty like in the 80′, the rakyat will remember Perak Saga. Non will stand up and protect the royalty. The day will come when they reduced to just puppets and disappear.

    Who to be blamed? When you have the power in your hand, you pretend and ignore justice to the rakayt.

    Shut up and stop pretending as if holy smart.

  13. #13 by Loh on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 2:08 pm

    ///However, this being Malaysia, things get more interesting. It turned out that those turncoats were earlier being investigated for corruption. Miraculously after their switchover, the charges were not pursued! So far no journalist has any thought of following that lead.///– Musa

    The price on the turncoats must have been low. The corruption investigation could have been initiated after BN friendly parties actively termpted the turncoats and thus had a hold over them. Whether such corruption cases could stand up in court outside Malaysia is doubtful; the charge would definitely stick in Malaysia. The turncoats had been converted into frogs under duress. What was stupid of them was they were not able to take revenge at the appropriate time. It only shows that they must have been comfortably rewarded as the chosen one after their warmbody had been counted by the Sultan. But then how many of the non-BN MPs or ADUNs can stand up aginst frame-up charges, even if they were not in the mood to take? It seems the former Penang DCM Fairus were subject to the same dirty tricks, except that he did not jump.

    The person to whom lessons would be meaningful is the person who has the full authority like emperor, Najib. But he knew all about the consequence, and to him he who has the might has all the time. Only those who are suffering bother to look at the clock.

    Razak stole the PM position ahead of time through May 13. Najib just proved that he was his father’s son by stealing Perak without bloodshed. Of course Razak did not dismantle government institutions. Najib proved that all the government institutions are extension of UMNO.

  14. #14 by Loh on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 2:16 pm

    ///He should NOT have delivered his speech in an illegally constituted assembly under a fake Speaker who was not legally appointed nor been sworn in?///– DAP man

    Well, he just did his duty to deliver a speech, and it is not for him to decide whether the speech itself would make the assembly legal or otherwise. As ruler’s representative, he spoke to members of the ruling and opposing parties. It should not matter who presided over the ceremony of speech making.

  15. #15 by ktteokt on Monday, 11 May 2009 - 4:51 pm

    You do not lessons to know that BN is made up of bandits, thieves, robbers, pirates and the like!

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