Friday, 13 February 2009

Royalty and Loyalty

There are a few things I would like to say in light of the recent so-called 'Constitutional Crisis' in Perak. I am not a politician nor a constitutional lawyer, these are just my views. Let us remind ourselves that the issue is legal, political, social, cultural: no one's dying here, so let's all try not to be reactionary but debate things as sane, civil adults. We must let the law take it's course, not call for heavy-handedness.

Which leads me on to my first point: I think we should stop with this "Use the ISA" rubbish. Some think it's some sort of a convenient fly swatter: utter idiociy. The use of detention without trial or due process violates fundamental human rights and international treaties and conventions against arbitrary imprisonment and the use of torture. People lose their liberty, dignity, health and sometimes lives when (man)handled under the ISA.

It is democratically, and more importantly, morally wrong to use this measure, and to even contemplate doing so betrays the baseness and immaturity of those who ask for such. If there is real treason against His Royal Highness the Sultan of Perak, it is a violation of the law, and whosoever who does this or is suspected of doing so can be arrested, detained, charged and tried in accordance to the law and due process.

The two main individuals whom the ISA has been called to be used against are, as you know, DAP Chairman YB Mr. Karpal Singh, for calling to instigate legal proceedings against His Royal Highness, and Datuk Seri Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin, for refusing to step down as MB of Perak upon the order of the Sultan. Both of these acts supposedly constituted treason against His Royal Highness.

Let us first remind ourselves what treason is: it is waging war against the Monarch by arms and violent means, or intending to kill, injure or dethrone him. Firstly, there is no such thing here. Both were merely challenging the correctness of the Sultan's decision by civil and legal means awarded by the law, not his authority, and obviously neither used violence or force. Furthermore, the Rulers of Malaysia are not immune to legal proceedings thanks to an amendment in the Federal Constitution that was made (ironically) by the BN government in 1993 to remove Ruler's personal (although not official) immunity.

We must also remind ourselves that while "Kesetian Kepada Raja dan Negara" is within our Rukun Negara, so is "Keluhuran Pelembagan" and "Kedaulatan Undang-Undang". Let us also remember that one of the objectives of the Rukun Negara is to "Memelihara satu cara hidup demokratik". We live in a country where the rule of the Monarchs are not absolute but subject to the limits imposed on them by the Federal Constitution and the Constitutions of the respective States of Malaysia. Their word is not law, nor are their actions free from moral judgment or public scrutiny.

If we argue that treason is mere disobedience or worse, mere disagreement, then we are going back to the feudal system of the Dark Ages (well, obviously Malaysia was non-existant at that time, but that is besides the point). Let's think hypothetically for a second. The Sultan of, say, Pahang declares: I need an armed army to wage war against the Sultan of Selangor and Johor. All men of fit health between the ages of 18 and 55 must join this army. Would it be treason to disobey? What if he said: every mother in Pahang is to kill her eldest son. Would it be treason to disobey? The fact is that the Sultan must still act within the law, democratic principles and within moral rules.

Furthermore, we must also remember that monarchies are hereditary, and thus, arbitrary. They are not elected officials, there is no democratic legitimacy inherent in their positions beyond that which is granted by the law shaped by the democratic process. Their existence and continuance (not to mention their lifestyles) are dependent upon the grace and generosity of the people in whose name they rule. It does not work the other way around.

Yes, we must understand the fact that they are symbols and Heads of the country and their respective states, and are thus to be granted due honour and respect. But their authority and power lies upon that symbolism which we the people accord them, not upon their own persons or achievements or contributions. They led no armies to win wars of independence nor did they make huge contributions to the development of national or state infrastructure. Symbols are only as powerful as what we make them to be, and if we were to revoke it, as republics have done, then they cease to be so.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is a symbol of Malaysia as is Head of the country, and thus respecting him is like respecting the idea and sovereignty of the country, but Malaysia is not a symbol or a product of His Royal Majesty. The country is not formed or operated by his political beliefs, nor his personal will. He is meant to be a formal and neutral Head. He is Head of the government not in the sense of the 'leader of the ruling party', but rather as Head of the government as the embodiment of the nation state. The same could be state of Malaysia's constituent states.

I am of course by no means calling for a republic of Malaysia. If we praise and adulate our Rulers when they say what we want when we want, and then say "Off with their heads!" when they don't, then we want nothing more than robots or puppets on thrones. We can't have our cake and eat it. Rulers are human too: they have their own views and minds and personalities, they may make errors as anyone else may.

Sometimes, like now, some of their decisions have ramifications on their subjects. And sometimes, again like now, it is not completely clear whether the decisions or orders made by them are made in-line with the law, whether they are right or wrong, and this is when we must be least reactionary, allowing the law to run it's due cause and allowing the civil democratic political process to resolve matters. The rule of law holds that no man is above the law.

But to even have to come to this stage is highly, highly regrettable. Because the Rulers are meant to be formal and apolitical, and because are not elected officials, the less they deal with politics the better. We should avoid situations where we need (or allow) our Rulers to make political decisions. Yes, of course they have the prerogative to do so, but the less they are given chance to exercise those rights and make value judgements, the more formal their roles will remain.

We must remind ourselves, both those who agree and disagree with His Royal Highness's decision, that he has put his personal reputation on the line, beyond his formal office, and allowed himself to come under fire for it. In the first place, he should not have been put in the position. Let us not forget that the objectionable and embarrassing events which led to him having to interfere in the first place; crap like this does not happen in mature democracies.

Unfortunately, before the dust has even fully settled on this crisis, it seems like another grand messy affair is coming our way: the Selangor state government may face a Perak-style debacle soon, according to the news today.


ash said...

I'll be damned if Selangor gets sucked into this mess.

See Nat Tan's (long) address to HRH:

To: DYMM Paduka Seri Sultan Azlan Shah, Sultan Perak Darul Ridzuan


Your Royal Highness,

Please forgive me if this letter is not written in the proper protocol or using the right terms; I apologise sincerely for any impropriety.

Your Royal Highness,

I am writing with regards to the current political situation. I cannot help but feel that the crisis faced affects every Malaysian at a deeply profound level, including myself in Kuala Lumpur.

I cannot claim to be purely non-partisan in this matter, but hope to engage Your Royal Highness from a perspective that is not politically partisan. I am willing to let my objectivity be judged via the words that follow.

At the very heart of the decision facing Your Royal Highness regarding the Menteri Besar's request for dissolution of the state assembly are questions of the health of democracy in Malaysia, an opportunity to better Malaysia's political culture, and a defining moment for the institution of the royalty.

Your Royal Highness,

Uncertainty appears to dominate politics today. In the last election, eighteen seats were decided with a majority of less than 1,000 votes.

The sudden change in allegiances – in one case in both directions within the space of a week – speaks of an unhealthy and confusing culture of expediency. The nature and circumstances under which these defections and redefections appear to be occurring speak not of ideological shifts, but leave space for the man on the street to suspect more sinister and foreboding motives, as well as prevailing suspicions of inducements.

One may be hard pressed to consider a government built amidst such suspicions and aspersions stable and possessed of a convincing mandate to rule.

The Constitution defended for generations by our forebears wisely does not ask Your Royal Highness to choose sides or to decide for the people. Rather, it entrusts rulers such as Your Royal Highness with the task of arbitrating fairly between contending parties, and to safeguard above all the people's sacrosanct right to choose their own government.

While elections are no small affair and involve considerable expenditure of resources, they also are the determinant of how the resources of the state will be spent for the next five years. Elections and politics, whatever our personal feelings, speak to and affect every aspect of our lives. Without a democratically elected government that convincingly commands the confidence of the rakyat, the sea of aspersions casts, doubts and second guessing can render a government inoperable and cripple its ability to serve the people responsibly.

Should a precedent be set wherein political confusion and murkiness of such unnerving degrees do not necessitate the dissolution of an elected assembly and consultation of the people via fresh elections, state governments throughout the Federation, as well as the Federation itself, will be under constant threat of being hijacked by parties that may attempt to rule without ever justly procuring a proper electoral mandate from the people.

Any party that intends to rule should in every conceivable circumstance demonstrate its ability to win the confidence of the electorate as a single political unit, not as a small collection of individuals who are able to persuade and engineer crossovers using absolutely non-transparent means. While it may be justifiable to demonstrate a loss of confidence in a government via crossovers, achieving the higher mandate to form a new government should always and in all circumstances require the approval, via votes, of the electorate.

If we do not defend this principle, I fear we will fail to defend the very meaning of democracy and its practice on our shores.

Your Royal Highness,

For fifty years, Malaysia has suffered as a non-mature democracy, where political choice was painfully limited and a spectrum of choice reflecting the large ideological variety that forms the Malaysian electorate painfully absent.

In the last few years, Malaysia has taken small but bold steps to maturing into a two-party system – the most rudimentary requirement for a competitive and non-monopolised political system.

The recent emergence of a viable political alternative that has demonstrated a clear ability to provide credible political choices may have been one of the most important milestones in our aspirations to become a developed nation.

As the law does not allow elected representatives to resign their seat and re-contest under a different banner, a complete dissolution is one of the few ways to determine whether a representative's realignment of political affiliation truly reflects the will of his or her constituents.

We owe at least that much to said constituents – an opportunity to let their voice be heard, no matter how small, poor or suppressed.

The results of a free, fair, transparent and properly conducted election should never be questioned or challenged. Refusing citizens to the ability to make or clarify their choices under such controversial circumstances may send any number of wrong signals.

Without casting any specific aspersions on the cases at hand yet, the precedent that a refusal to dissolve the assembly may amount to encouragement of parties on both sides of the divide to pursue defections at any fiscal or moral cost; it may even be taken by some as reason enough to threaten and otherwise compel in unsavoury manners elected representatives to switch allegiances.

Malaysia's political culture stands at a defining moment, and Your Royal Highness is in a unique position to determine its course.

Your Royal Highness,

The institution of the royalty has long been highly regarded and played a pivotal, positive role in our nation's development.

Your Royal Highness and the royal family have built particularly impressive reputations for being fair, just and enlightened.

We would want nothing more than to see the reputation of Your Royal Highness and Your Royal Highness' family be kept intact and further lauded for being as people-centric as can possibly be imagined.

While being of limited faculty, I have yet to imagine a scenario where giving citizens the ability to once again state exactly what their political preferences are could possibly reflect negatively on Your Royal Highness.

A change of government without such formal consultation with the people may on the other hand beg the question of why such a path was chosen when the other was available and requested for.

The institution of the royalty is entrusted to protect one of the most sacred rights bestowed upon free men and women – the ability to choose their leaders. The concept of a constitutional monarchy was centered on situations precisely akin to the one currently facing us: a situation wherein the ruler can be relied upon to safeguard the tenets of democracy by choosing the path most likely to ensure that the resulting government accurately reflects the choice of the majority.

The citizens of your great state will indubitably be looking to Your Royal Highness' reputation as a paragon of integrity and as a learned judge to make a decision that is not only legally consistent, but morally sound and compassionately considered. To act wisely at this juncture is to once again prove the worth of the constitutional monarch system and set an example that will be its honour for generations to come.

Your Royal Highness,

I love Malaysia deeply, and want nothing more than to see her prosper and mature into a democracy where the people's welfare and will continue to be unquestionably paramount; where the most important decisions of the land are made via open consultations and votes, rather than in closed backrooms and under extremely questionable circumstances.

Moving deeper into the 21st century, we can only hope that Malaysia's political development will grow to be free from money politics and shady deals, so that we do not find ourselves in the now proverbial 'wrong side of history.'

I thank Your Royal Highness profusely for the kind consideration you have shown, and the wisdom you will undoubtedly display in this crucial decision that lies in your hands. All of Malaysia is watching, and hoping that in the face of attempts to sabotage the democratic process and create power from a source other than that of the people, principle and integrity will prevail.

"Negara Kita, Tanggungjawab Kita" – From conviction to action.

Nathaniel Tan, Pahlawan Volunteers and The Undersigned.


The Undersigned

Algernon said...

Thanks for the comment Ash.
May I suggest that if you have such a long comment, it would be much easier for everyone if you just included the link and let everyone read it, rather than putting it in full here?

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