Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Of Nazri vs TMJ
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.