Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Not since the Dr Mahathir-led attacks on the Royals culminating in a Constitutional amendment stripping the Royals off their legal immunity in 1993 have we seen a very public spat between a member of the government and a member of the Royal family.
Granted, the intensity of the current spat between Minister Nazri and His Royal Highness the Tengku Mahkota of Johor is nowhere near that of the one in 1993. However, public reactions to the current spat on the ground as well as on social media brings into sharp focus the mind sets of the general populace as well as the co-relation between the 1993 collision and the current one.
Not many realise that there is a clear common denominator of the 1993 Constitutional crisis and the current Nazri vs TMJ spat.
At the centre of the two seemingly unrelated event is the question of immunity – or at the very least the perception of immunity - of those who occupy the highest seat in the State’s hierarchy. The premise of the challenge to this so-called immunity is the issue of responsibility, accountability and of course, equality.
In 1993, Dr Mahathir, in his capacity as the Prime Minister, led a motion in the Parliament to remove the immunity of the Royals from prosecution as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. He argued that the prohibition against criticising the Royals would finally results in the dignity of the Monarch being tarnished. It would also render the concept of Constitutional Monarchy a mere formality when in practice the Monarchs are free to do anything they like.
In his speech in the Parliament on 18th January 1993, Dr Mahathir said:
“Di Britain dan di negara-negara lain, Ahli-ahli Parlimen bebas menegur atau mengkritik Raja. Adalah jelas bahawa menegur dan mengkritik Raja tidak menghapuskan kedaulatan Raja.
Sementara halangan ke atas teguran ini dikatakan akan memelihara kemuliaan Raja, tetapi apabila Raja tidak ditegur, maka ia tidak akan sedar akan kesalahan yang telah dilakukannya. Dengan itu, mungkin lebih banyak kesalahan akan dilakukan dan kesalahan ini mungkin akan menjadi lebih serius. Ini bukan sahaja akan mencemarkan kemuliaan Raja, bahkan juga boleh menimbulkan kebencian rakyat terhadap Raja. Tidaklah benar jika dikatakan larangan terhadap mengkritik Raja akan memelihara kemuliaan Raja. Sebenarnya kemuliaan Raja akan tercemar kerana larangan ini.
Dengan kemungkinan Raja menolak nasihat serta bebas daripada teguran dan sebarang tindakan keadilan, maka Raja sebenarnya bukan Raja Berperlembagaan lagi tetapi menjadi Raja mutlak. Sekali lagi Demokrasi Berparlimen tidak wujud kerana tidak ada tindakan undang-undang yang boleh diambil terhadap Raja yang tidak menerima nasihat kerajaan rakyat dan melakukan kesalahan.”
He later concluded in the same speech:
“Kekebalan Raja atau Sovereign Immunity adalah suatu prinsip feudal— satu konsep kononnya 'The King can do no wrong". Mengikut Dr. Hogg dalam bukunya "Liability of the Crown", dengan izin, konsep ini berasas kepada alasan bahawa seorang Raja tidak boleh didakwa dalam mahkamahnya sendiri…..
Jika Malaysia ingin menjadi sebuah negara yang mengamalkan Demokrasi Berparlimen dan Raja Berperlembagaan, kekebalan yang diberikan kepada Raja-Raja perlulah dihapuskan.”(Source: Parliamentary Hansard)
Dr Mahathir was very wise in reminding the Parliament – and thus, Malaysia as a whole – that an institution that cannot be criticised or taken to task for whatever it does is bound to be disliked. Such institution would soon commit wrongdoings after wrongdoings. That institution would soon cease from being answerable and Constitutional.
Immunity from criticism and due process of the law is thus an anathema to the concept of democracy and representative governance. It is feudal in nature and premise. It has no place in modern States, especially those that profess to be democratic, more so any that profess to base its administration on the Westminster model.
Dr Mahathir managed to bulldoze his idea in 1993 largely due to the support of the populace. Had the populace risen to object then, it would be doubtful if Dr Mahathir would have survived the political consequences of his action. The rural Malays’ – who formed the bulk of the Malaysian political voice during election – affinity for the Royals is well known.
However, Dr Mahathir angled his arguments well. He managed to turn the issue on its head. What would we be if certain quarters have immunity; if they are above the law? That struck a chord. And a right chord it was.
If in 1993, the immunity enjoyed by the Royals was the issue, the Nazri-TMJ spat centred on the reverse, namely, why can’t the current government be questioned or taken to task? What is wrong with the people asking questions and even criticising the government and its leaders?
It all started of course with the TMJ raising heckles after the Prime Minister’s absence at his Nothing2Hide town hall talk, a town hall talk which is now infamous for its cancellation due ostensibly to the threat of public disorder and disharmony. The TMJ rather sarcastically asked how is it possible to have nothing-to-hide talk with someone who would want to hide everything. His Highness then angled his message wisely:
“To those who are entrusted, don’t blame the people for losing confidence and trust in you; but think why the people have lost confidence and trust in you.” (Translated from Bahasa Malaysia).
Minister Nazri then famously told TMJ to keep quiet. He also said that Dr Mahathir has no standing to debate with the Prime Minister because he is just another layman.
TMJ replied that “you are a Minister and not God!” Essentially the gist of TMJ’s rebuttal is that a Minister, or anybody within the governing apparatus, is answerable to the people and the people have a right to question; to criticise and to demand answers. In other words, they are not immune from the law and from the inner workings of democracy.
This of course struck a chord. And like Dr Mahathir’s chord in 1993, TMJ’s chord is a populist one. Hence the support that he receives from the public.
If there was any lesson to be learned from these two episodes, it is without doubt that the people would somehow unite when it comes to demanding full or at least, substantial adherence to democratic process. The time of hoodwinking the people with empty rhetoric and threatening the people with anti-sedition laws as a reply to legitimate questions have passed.
It is 2015. Let’s face the reality.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
That PAS has long desired to bed UMNO is no secret.
It is no more a surreptitious act. The dates between the two are no more arranged in dark secret places. If they are a couple in Kelantan or Terengganu, they might have even been arrested for riding a motorbike together.
And the Prime Minister’s recent public statement that a UMNO-PAS “co-operation” is not impossible lends credence that PAS’ wet dream is shared by UMNO as well. It is of note that even UMNO is very happy and satisfied with the result of the recently concluded PAS general assembly – or in PAS parlance, the “Muktamar” - where all the moderates in PAS were defeated.
The signs have been there for the past two years. Even three. And when the Dewan Ulamaks in PAS managed to bulldoze a resolution to cut ties with DAP without even a debate or a vote from the floor during the recent Muktamar, the deal is sealed; the bed is bought, black PVC cat suits as well as whips and chains are all ordered. A sado-masochist merger will soon set Malaysia’s political grotesque stage ablaze.
The question is – will this be good or bad for Malaysia?
First of all, what will happen to Pakatan Rakyat now that one of its constituent has decided to cut ties with another one of its constituent? The after-effect of the Muktamar was immediately felt. Lim Guan Eng less than cryptically told the PAS excos in his government to resign.
His father Lim Kit Siang said the Pakatan is dead. Is Pakatan really dead? As much as Pakatan looks to be dead, it is doubtful that it is actually dead. Kit Siang’s statement is his normal mind-games, the type of which being frequently employed by wily foxes that are old-hands at the games they play, such as Tun DrM or Alex Ferguson.
If Pakatan could emerge amidst three very different parties with different ideals and background, fuelled by one common goal against a common opponent, what is there to prevent Pakatan from continuing even though PAS has opted to marry its long-time macho boyfriend and live as a jewellery-bedecked trophy wife of the moment?
To dismiss Pakatan Rakyat as a dead force would be to deny the collective goal that Malaysia’s political opposition has. Granted, Anwar Ibrahim is in jail. PAS is gone. So what? What has changed? Barisan Nasional is still in power. The political nemesis is still around. And that political nemesis is showing signs of breaking up themselves.
It must be remembered that Pakatan Rakyat is a creature that is more than used to handling crisis after crisis. It has so far survived all that have been thrown at it by the government, despite its meagre resources, especially finance wise. Pakatan Rakyat may be weakened by PAS’ unilateral decision, but Pakatan is a battle-hardened outfit that proves times and again its ability to emerge stronger and more united after every crisis.
By comparison, the current internal strives within the driving power of Barisan, namely UMNO, far outstrips the ripple of discontent caused by PAS within Pakatan. What is happening within Pakatan, in the form of PAS’ adulterous deception of its partners, has been going on for a long time. In fact Kit Siang himself predicted what would happen during the recent PAS Muktamar. What PAS did came as no surprise at all.
MCA and MIC are a dying force. MCA is aimlessly struggling for political leadership and support. The Chinese – the race that it once claimed to represent – has by far abandoned tgeir hopes with MCA. MIC is dead and buried. It has become as irrelevant as Samy Vellu, its erstwhile Chief.
Externally, Sarawak has become more and more vociferous of its rights and entitlement. It may declare its undivided loyalty to the Barisan but everybody knows that Sarawak is a State that is feared by Barisan Nasional nowadays. Adenan Satim has proven to be a leader with a mind of his own – a rare commodity among Barisan leaders nowadays. Sabah on the other hand continues to be the Barisan’s safety deposit. However it is a State with no less than three warlords eyeing for power. It is not all happy moments for Sabah internally.
Contrast that to the internal struggles within UMNO and Barisan Nasional now and by comparison Pakatan Rakyat is as serene as a morning in early spring.
The time has come for Malaysia and Malaysians to face the prospect of two ultra-conservatives-right-wingers merging or working together. On one hand we have UMNO, a party founded on quasi-libertarian principles but has in recent time found it necessary to retrogress into a cocoon of nationalistic and parochial idealism in order to maintain its patrimonial grip on Malaysia’s political landscape. On the other hand, we have PAS, a party which seemingly had opened its arm to non-Muslims with its “welfare State” posturing thereby adopting a “moderate Islamist outlook” – if that is even possible in reality – but had in recent time proven that all those posturing are just political deception born out of political necessity to gain power.
So now we have an ultra-right-wing Malay based party working together with ultra-conservative-Islamist Malay based party.
The Malaysian political divides has never been so clearly defined between ideologies until now. Until PAS and UMNO working together that is. The stark contrast between conservative Malaysians and educated and more liberal Malaysians has never been so clearly defined.
In GE 12 and 13 we saw the dividing line taking shapes along the rural and urban boundaries. PAS and UMNO marriage would further cement this divide with an added flavour, namely, between Islamisation and nationalistic patrimonialism against moderates and liberal Malaysians espousing Constitutionalism and fairer governance.
This divide was rearing its head in GE12 and 13. But with UMNO-PAS marriage, it would finally be well defined. The choice is now clear. Do you want an ultra-conservative-Islamist Malaysia? Or do you want a moderate and liberal Malaysia tied to the Constitution and good governance?
Of course this ideological fight would shed none of its economic class, social demography and race and religion elements. However, finally we can say that two large and general divisions have emerged in Malaysian political landscape. And these two divisions will largely decide the outcome of future general elections.
More pertinently and immediate though, is what will become of the Barisan Nasional as and when PAS joins in the party (pardon the pun). MCA has always shown allergic reactions to PAS’ hudud wet dream. Will it leave the Barisan? If so, will it join the Pakatan? If it did not leave the Barisan, what would it do? What about the Christian-based party from Sabah and Sarawak within the Barisan?
The possibilities, as is always the case in Malaysia, is endless.
But the prospect of a fight between two well-defined opposite ideologies representing the conservative-Islamists and moderate-liberals is probably the best thing that could happen to Malaysian politics.