Malaysia’s battle royale

Mariam Mokhtar | Oct 17, 2011

The cultural identity of modern Malaysia is like an artist’s palette, a colourful blend of people from different backgrounds, origins, traditions, culture and faiths. There is no denying that our rulers helped shaped the country’s social and historical development. They symbolise unity, pride and national identity.

But our royalty cannot escape living in a goldfish bowl.

If our public institutions are subject to modernisation, evaluation and reform, why can’t we discuss this particular institution – the royal institution?

Why are we perceived as enemies of the state just because we point out the obvious but unspoken facts? Why do intellectually challenged flunkies, who refuse to be dragged into the 21st century, prevent intelligent discourse about the Malay rulers?

Stopping healthy interaction will strain relationships between the rakyat and the monarchy. Hence, this discussion is long overdue.

The royalty cannot dispense with the scrutiny of a rakyat that exacts high standards from them. The royalty must learn to cope in a modern world where the feudal system, class distinctions and other forms of discrimination are outdated.

When the constitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari opined that Malay Rulers should be publicly scrutinised, the Malay daily, Utusan Malaysia, slammed him for being “disrespectful”.

Abdul Aziz had said the role played by the sultan in the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) dinner was “unconventional” and that taxpayers had every right to judge how their rulers executed their constitutional powers.

He said, “Under the Sedition Act 1948, it is fine to criticise the rulers so long as it does not advocate the abolition of the institution (of monarchy).”

Mindful of the political implications, the self-styled defender of the faith, Senator Ezam Mohd Noor joined Utusan in condemning Abdul Aziz Bari and also Malaysiakini, for publishing his remarks. He lodged a police report for both to be investigated under the Sedition Act because they threatened national security with their incitement to “hate royals”.

Ezam is a career politician who makes a living out of leap-frogging from one political party to another (1998, 2007 and 2008). His less than perfect credentials include waging jihad against Malaysiakini and Malaysian Insider, when he threatened to torch their offices for their “anti-Jais stance”.

His selective amnesia conveniently ignored former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s dressing-down of the sultans in 1993, when practically all in Umno were unanimous about curbing the powers of our royalty.

Mahathir poses as a Malay and in his typical divisive fashion, clipped the wings of the sultans then. But today, Mahathir himself castigated Abdul Aziz for his comments about the Jais raid.

Mahathir should recall the speech he made at the Dewan Rakyat in February 1993, when he publicly humiliated the nation’s nine rulers for their various infractions, before stripping them of their powers.

That didn’t stop Kinabatangan MP Bung Mokhtar Radin, the husband of Zizie Ezette, joining in the rebuke of Malaysiakini and Abdul Aziz.

Bung Mokhtar said, “Freedom of speech is allowed among academics but he (Abdul Aziz) made his criticism at the wrong time and place, he is not a constitutional expert, just an expert at twisting facts.”

Few will forget how this controversial MP issued several denials, that his new hair-cut, dyed hair and sporty look, was because he was courting a film starlet.

Bung didn’t mind twisting the definition of marriage when he broke the law by committing polygamy. He subsequently twisted the syariah ruling and escaped with a rap on the knuckles and a minimal fine.

Nevertheless, the DUMC decree was not the only “unconventional” royal incident.

The long-term repercussions of the Perak debacle of 2008 have left deep scars in the psyche of Malaysians. Other allegations of royal misdeeds, which are rarely reported in Malaysia, have been chronicled elsewhere and make disturbing reading.

Recently, within a fortnight of each other, two sultans were offended by the actions or remarks of third parties.

Last month, the sultan of Johor was offended when Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng alleged, during a private conversation at a private function, that “a Singaporean was likely to get kidnapped in Johor, and that in comparison, Penang was more attractive for travel and business”.

Stifling Malay freedom of thought and expression

The sultan said, “Yes, I was offended when I got to know about that statement, but I don’t want to react, because as a ruler, I shouldn’t be dragged into politics.”

Johor-born Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, milked the predicament facing Lim for all its worth and urged Lim to apologise for being “irresponsible”. Muhyiddin claimed that whenever he was overseas, he refrained from ridiculing opposition-led states.

Lim has since apologised for offending the sultan but said that he would neither deny nor confirm the allegations, to prevent further misquotes.

Last week, the sultan of Selangor issued a press statement about the Jais raid on the DUMC, which said that no one would be prosecuted because of lack of evidence. He also said that he was “….gravely concerned and extremely offended by the attempts of certain parties to weaken the faith and belief of Muslims…”

Many questions remain unanswered. Why should Muslims at the dinner be counselled if there was no evidence of proselytising? If there were attempts to proselytise, shouldn’t the offenders be punished? What about the legality of the Jais raid?

It appears that a ‘sticking plaster’ was used to patch up the deep wound that this farce exposed and Malaysians on both sides of the religious divide are offended. Who will deliver the apology?

On a wider scale, the rakyat is ‘offended’ when the authorities neglect corruption, crime, injustice, ill-treatment of women, nepotism, cronyism and the bumbling service given by the bloated bureaucracy.

At a forum called “Challenges for Penang to become the Intellectual Hub of the Region”, former Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin blamed “restrictions imposed by the authorities” for stifling Malay freedom of thought and expression.

He said “The Malays are influenced by feudal values of the past… these values include loyalty to the King. I am not saying monarchy is wrong. But the attitude of ampu (brown nosing/apple polishing) towards political leaders and royalty contribute to this restriction (on intellectual development)”.

Ariffin Omar, a history lecturer at the Malaysian Defence University, agreed that the Malays lacked cultural and political freedom, and their underdeveloped economic status stifled their intellectual development.

Ariffin said, “But what happens here is that when you speak your mind, you are persecuted, a traitor of the nation. Why is there no maturity in politics?

“When will people start to think critically and debate on important issues and find solutions to address the problems of the community?”

Ariffin has probably noticed that we are slowly opening up our minds and it is Umno/BN and the rulers, who need to be mature and stop calling us traitors.

Lesser royals, who wish to remain anonymous, have intimated that they are disturbed by the abuse of power by officials in the corridors of the palace.

So it appears everyone is at least united by one thing: Fear.

Fear silences the majority from speaking the obvious. Fear of losing a way of life stops the authorities from allowing the Malays to progress intellectually.

Ariffin correctly surmised, “It is not the government but the people who have the power to determine the future of the country.”


MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.

  1. #1 by monsterball on Saturday, 22 October 2011 - 12:24 pm

    This is a country with strange people and mentalities……not easy to understand.
    But if you take money as the root of all evils and money can do wonders…then it makes some sense out of their strange behaviors.
    Insulted and humiliated..all forgotten…all forgiven as long as they can enjoy life with peace and happiness.
    Some Rulers feel they can no more command the respect of all subjects…more than UMNO b.

  2. #2 by monsterball on Saturday, 22 October 2011 - 12:32 pm

    If you look into history…it is the Rulers inviting British to help and slowly…that help turned to colonizations…and rulers became puppets.
    It is again Freedom Fighters that chased the rouges and thieves away.
    They never learn or afraid??..for now the rouges and thieves are our own people…using money to buy up votes and loyalties.

  3. #3 by sheriff singh on Saturday, 22 October 2011 - 12:44 pm

    “It is not the government but the people who have the power to determine the future of the country.”

    “It is not the government but the people who have the power to determine the future of the country.”

    “It is not the government but the people who have the power to determine the future of the country.”

    “It is not the government but the people who have the power to determine the future of the country.”

    Undilah !! Undilah !! Undilah !! Undilah !! Undilah !! Undilah !! Undilah !!

  4. #4 by monsterball on Saturday, 22 October 2011 - 12:53 pm

    yea….People Power was born 5 years ago.
    Now…two groups of racists are frighten and have nightmares.
    Forget ikan bilis BN shoe shine boys.
    They are lucky to get votes from their members…which I doubt all will vote for them.
    Millions of no party men….women…young voters…vast vast majority want change.
    Another Middle East tyrant dead. Country is at at last free.
    Time for Malaysia to be a free country.
    The cycle of life favors FREEDOM.

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Saturday, 22 October 2011 - 1:08 pm

    ///Senator Ezam Mohd Noor joined Utusan in condemning Abdul Aziz Bari….///

    Those that condemned Abdul Aziz Bari are opportunists, trying to win favor with Umno and hope to be promoted.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 22 October 2011 - 1:38 pm

    ///The cultural identity of modern Malaysia is like an artist’s palette, a colourful blend of people from different backgrounds, origins, traditions, culture and faiths./// – Mariam Mokhtar. Multiculturalism is the case but though that is allowed/tolerated, UMNO however, has all along want, for political purposes, the national identity/culture, at governmental and official level at least, be subject to the nucleus and dominance of culture of the majority race, consistent with its platform of championing Malay nationalism along Ketuanan lines. Malay culture is closely intertwined with Islam and Royalty and hence these, as embodiment/symbol of Malay tradition and culture, are held sacrosanct. Two consequences then ensue. First within UMNO’ factional dispute and intra party rivalry for power, contenders try bolster their credentials of how they champion better than their rivals these institutions as well as race specific agenda/causes consistent with the so called Ketuanan platform. (Which is why TDM declared malaysia an Islamic nation, and the moment one faction champions 1 Malaysia or Multiculturalism, the other has ample support from rank and file to oppose it and champion the opposite).

  7. #7 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 22 October 2011 - 1:39 pm

    (Continuing) Second, at another level of political inter-coalition (BN vs PR) struggle, the opposition as well as NGO or conscientious dissidents in Malaysian discourse arena like Prof Abdul Aziz Bari will be threatened with sedition or treason if their remarks could be interpreted as even remotely insulting either of these important institutions (Religion & Royalty) constituting the nucleus of Malay tradition and culture which is also an essential part of the ruling party’s ethnocentric/cultural ideology upon which its claims and legitimacy to hold on to power are constructed. All needs to be done are several police reports by the complainants aggrieved by the insulting statement, and the ball is set rolling for law enforcement agencies to do the rest. Mariam Mokhtar is of course right that parallel to this BN/PR political struggle is side by side another battle royale going on regarding what is or ought to be the dominant national identity and culture – multiculturalism or ethnocentric- in respect of time to come. There is no short of people (eg those mentioned by Mariam) defending the existing order.

  8. #8 by alan newman on Saturday, 22 October 2011 - 2:30 pm

    In some countries Najib would be arrested & impeached for treason…

    Malaysian PM Najib’s shelter of wildly & uncontrollably corrupt Taib Mahmud is collusion, duplicity & deception of his people. A betrayal of trust placed in a PM. This is tantamount to Treason – violating one’s allegiance to one’s country. In some countries he would be arrested and impeached.

    Abolish MACC and start a new Commission chaired jointly by BN & Opposition PR/PKR – that’s democracy!

    UMNO & BN, time to do soul-searching, repent before it is too late. The same warning goes to all the Umno and Taib cronies; Mahathir, included. Look at Gaddafi this week, and those before him. Retribution always comes around.

    Alan Newman, NZ (world’s top democratic & non-corrupt Country).

  9. #9 by boh-liao on Saturday, 22 October 2011 - 7:29 pm

    Rakyat lament abt our jatuh standard under d corrupt, racist, wicked governance of UmnoB/BN, but most do nothing 2 CHANGE
    Dis is Y everyday we waste our energy n resources crying over negatif issues, rather than working as a united nation 4 d advancement of rakyat n negara

    Rakyat must wake up n b brave 2 change n 2 send corrupt racist UmnoB/BN kaki 2 d fate of Gaddafi, don’t let them continue bleeding our nation 2 bankruptcy; ABU

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