Writing in blissful ignorance

Raja Petra Kamarudin

If Prince Charles was Malay, he would have absolutely no problems with having more than one woman in his life. After all, his religion would allow him to have up to four wives, and if Wife No. 1 complained, so what? It was his inalienable right, and she had no voice in the matter (and if she divorced him, he could always find means of getting the children back – as Jacqueline Gillespie, who married and subsequently divorced a Royal found out years ago).

On 24 March 2005, Malaysiakini carried an article by Farah Fahmy in her RENTAKINI column called ‘Charles and Camilla are getting married’. I reproduce below part of this article:

Daulat Tuanku

All this, after decades of being branded as The Other Woman and The Home-Wrecker, as well as being snubbed in “polite” circles, is probably giving our heroine plenty to think about. Perhaps then, Camilla Parker-Bowles and her Prince should cast their eyes eastwards towards fair Malaysia where the Royal Families are treated exactly as they should be – Royal, and above all others.

If Prince Charles was Malay, he would have absolutely no problems with having more than one woman in his life. After all, his religion would allow him to have up to four wives, and if Wife No. 1 complained, so what? It was his inalienable right, and she had no voice in the matter (and if she divorced him, he could always find means of getting the children back – as Jacqueline Gillespie, who married and subsequently divorced a Royal found out years ago).

The question of winning public acceptance would not arise either. The Royal Families were above scrutiny. Their subjects did not know them (compare this situation to that in Britain where everyone claimed to know everything about the Royals thanks to all the press coverage), and the press was happy to keep it that way. In Malaysia, if a married Royal Male treated his wife terribly or unfairly, nobody would really know because Royal Lives were private, and remained so (there was much to be said for having a tame and malleable press).

Marrying for the second, third or fourth time was therefore easily done. True, some members of the public might crack distasteful jokes at the Royals’ expense – anecdotal evidence pointed to some bawdy jokes circulating in Kuala Lumpur when the late Sultan Selangor married his young bride in 1990 – but at least the Malaysian Royals would not find pictures of themselves and their paramours splashed about in the daily newspapers!

Still, a couple of things about the way the Malaysian Royals live their lives gave pause to the idea that all would go swimmingly well if Prince Charles was Malay.

I will not comment too much on what Farah has to say about the Malays or the Malaysian Royal Family. She is entitled to her views, and though I may not fully agree with them, I will respect them anyway. Of course, if I wanted to dispute what she says it could be done easily enough. I know of many Malays, personal friends of mine, royalty included, who never married second wives. I also have friends whose wives died of cancer when they were still in the 40s, and though they are at the peak of their sex drive they never remarried — and some of them are handsome enough to have women falling over each other.

Take Farah’s comment about the Sultan of Selangor and his young bride as an example. When the Tengku Ampuan died, a close and personal advisor to the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad — who I will not mention by name other than he was in charge of the Umno headquarters-PWTC complex — introduced this young woman to the Sultan. Dr Mahathir knew that the Sultan would soon become the next Agong or King of Malaysia and he wanted to make sure that this most unpredictable Sultan could be controlled. And the way to do this would be through his wife.

Dr Mahathir’s plan succeeded and he managed to plant ‘his man’, or in this case his woman, in the palace. Dr Mahathir’s hold over the Sultan paid dividends in 1999 during the Tenth General Elections when there was a danger that the opposition Barisan Alternatif might win the elections. The Sultan, who was by then the King, was whisked to Langkawi where he was kept practically under house arrest. He was not allowed to leave his room even to play golf and none of his children, the Acting Sultan of Selangor included, were allowed to see him. When they requested to see him they were told they could only have access to him after the elections.

Dr Mahathir was worried that the opposition might win majority seats in Parliament and he did not want the King to swear the opposition in as the new government. Barisan Alterantif, unlike Barisan Nasional, was not a legally registered party. Even if it had won 55% of the seats in Parliament, Barisan Nasional, as a legally registered party, would still be the largest minority in Parliament; though with only 45% of the seats. Barisan Alternatif, on the other hand, would not be viewed as controlling 55% of the seats as PAS would probably get 20%, Keadilan 20% and DAP 15% of the seats — or something like that. Therefore, against Barisan Nasional’s collective 45%, all the others would each and individually control a smaller minority. Their 55% would not be considered a bloc.

Anyhow, just for safe measure, the King had to ‘disappear’ and anything that he was thinking of, said, or did, had to be reported back to Dr Mahathir. And this would be done through his young wife that was arranged for him. Further to that, all communications with the King had to be done through the Prime Minister’s office. Any letter to the King sent to Istana Negara would be forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Department and you would get a reply from the Prime Minister’s Department, not from Istana Negara.

Neat move don’t you think so? I did say Dr Mahathir is a political animal; and ‘animal’ here is used in the positive context. The opposition Barisan Alternatif would have never formed the government even if it had won the 1999 general election. And the King would be the only person who could swear in the government and he was Dr Mahathir’s ‘prisoner’ all that while.

Now, the impression Farah gives is polygamy is the common and widespread practice of members of the Malaysian Royal Family. This is not true. More ‘commoners’ marry more than one wife compared to members of the royal family. Even on a per capita basis the commoners beat the royals by far. So, Farah should not have singled out the royals for this ‘crime’. Further to that, Farah’s criticism should have been targeted at Islam, which permits polygamy, rather than the Royal Family. Should Farah not also take Prophet Muhammad to task since the Prophet in fact married more than four wives while members of the Royal Family are only permitted four if they so desire to marry more than one wife?

Okay, on the part that Farah said, “It was his inalienable right, and she had no voice in the matter (and if she divorced him, he could always find means of getting the children back – as Jacqueline Gillespie, who married and subsequently divorced a Royal found out years ago).”

I don’t think Farah knows the whole story behind this episode. She is of course talking about Raja Bahrin, cousin to the present Sultan of Terengganu. What happened was, Raja Bahrin married a second wife and Jacqueline Gillespie ran off to Australia taking the children with her. At first Raja Bahrin would not allow her to take the children with her but she bluffed him that her mother was very sick and dying so, out of compassion, Raja Bahrin agreed.

I, in fact, met her at Subang Airport the day she left for Australia and she was sobbing as she told me the story. She also said she had no money so I gave her what little I had on me. Little did I realise she had cleaned out her bank account and was quite loaded.

Once she reached Australia she filed for a divorce and brought the children to church to be baptised. Jacqueline told the court that she badly treated, beaten every day, and was practically a slave back in Malaysia; so she dared not return to Malaysia to file for a divorce, as she should have done since she was married in Malaysia under Malaysian law and according to Islamic rites. This was definitely not true. Tengku Ampuan Bariah, the late Sultan’s consort, loved Jacqueline like her own daughter (because she had no children of her own) and Jacqueline went about the palace like she was born a princess.

Raja Bahrin then filed for custody of the children but lost. Raja Bahrin’s Australian lawyer did not think they were going to win as, what he said, “Two of the three judges are Jews so, as a Muslim, you have very little chance in this courtroom.” By the way, the lawyer who said this is not Muslim but Christian.

The court then gave Raja Bahrin visiting rights a couple of times a year. However, every time he wanted to visit the children, his passport and air ticket would be impounded. He would also be searched and all his cash plus watch and other valuable would be confiscated. Further to that, there would be two guards who would stand watch the entire hour or so he spent with the children and Raja Bahrin was not allowed to touch the children or have any physical contact with them whatsoever. He was also not allowed to talk about Islam to the children.

After a few years, the rules were relaxed as the authorities felt that Raja Bahrin had been behaving himself all those years. Nevertheless, the no cash or valuables and impounded passport and air ticket ruling remained. But he was allowed to spend some time alone with the children as long as they were sent back at the end of the day in exchange for his passport and air ticket.

Raja Bahrin could take it no longer. One day, leaving his passport and air ticket behind, he took the children for a long drive to the coast and jumped onto a boat that had been prior-arranged for the ‘great escape’. In the middle of the high seas, the boat developed engine trouble and it drifted for many days until it was rescued by the Indonesian Navy and towed to safety. It was sheer luck Raja Bahrin and the kids did not bump into any pirates or got swept under in a storm. The Indonesian Navy personnel told Raja Bahrin that, one day late, and they would have been history because his boat was drifting towards cannibal-infested territory (it is surprising that such things still exist in this day and age).

Raja Bahrin’s and Jacqueline Gillespie’s story is certainly a tragedy but the way Farah related it paints him as a villain. I know both husband and wife very well and it pains me to see this happen. After they divorced, I met Jacqueline in one of my trips to Australia and we do still communicate via e-mail from time to time. But to say it serves Raja Bahrin right for marrying two wives would be as fair as saying it serves Anwar Ibrahim right for getting beaten up and jailed on sodomy charges because he refused to bail out Dr Mahathir’s son’s shipping company with Petronas’ money.

Anyway, the point to all this, Farah’s piece on royals and polygamy plus references to Raja Bahrin has not been presented in the right perspective. In any story, there is always the other side of the coin and all may not be what it seems. And as much as you may want to think poorly of the late Sultan of Selangor for marrying a young wife after the Tengku Ampuan died, there were hidden hands paying the role of matchmaker with the objective of controlling the institution of the palace.