The story of a buffalo and the mud it wallows in

Raja Petra Kamarudin

The Malays have a proverb and it goes something like: if one buffalo is muddy then all the other buffaloes get splashed with mud as well. This is of course not a literal translation but the spirit of the proverb is still there; I think.

In 1983, the then newly-installed Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, took the country through a Constitutional Crisis. The objective of this staged ‘crisis’ was to remove the powers of the state rulers and bring them down to the level of the common man. Many an unkind word was said about Dr Mahathir in criticism of this effort: such as he has Indian blood so it is no surprise that he would want to remove the rulers like what they had done in India; and so on. Some even insulted him with names like Keling and Mamak Kutty and much more.

There were certainly a lot of emotions being demonstrated in support of the rulers.

In 1993, Dr Mahathir launched his second attack on the rulers and this time he succeeded.

He failed the first time around in 1983 because he went into direct confrontation with the rulers and the Malays felt that, by attacking the rulers, one was attacking the very foundation of Malay supremacy (Ketuanan Melayu). Bringing the rulers down to the level of the common man not only meant that the rulers would be at par with the rakyat (citizens) but that the Malays would also be at par with the non-Malays as well. This, the Malays were not ready to accept yet. For all intents and purposes, the rulers were the last bastion of Malay supremacy so they defended the rulers more in defence of Ketuanan Melayu where the rulers were an icon or symbol of this supremacy.

In 1993, Dr Mahathir was smarter. He knew it would not be easy to rally Malay support behind him so he changed his strategy. He used the mass media, basically the government-controlled or government-linked mainstream newspapers and television stations, to embark on a hate campaign.

This time it worked and the people were outraged at what they read in the newspapers and saw on TV with regards to the excesses and abuses perpetuated by the rulers.

Much of it was lies though but the people did not know this.

For example, they featured what the government claimed was the lavish seaside bungalow of the Sultan of Kedah along Northram Road in Penang. I personally visited ‘Rumah Kedah’ and found it to be an old, run-down pre-war house once owned by a Chinese tycoon who probably had since left this world. Rumah Kedah did not belong to the Kedah Sultan; it belonged to the state. And it was not for the exclusive use of the Sultan; though he could use it whenever his visited Penang if he wanted to; but anyone could in fact use it — the Menteri Besar, his family and friends, district officers, state government officers, and so on. In short, it was for the convenience of any Kedah civil servant who had business or was holidaying in Penang.

But the people believed that Rumah Kedah was the Sultan’s private, expensive, lavish home in Penang, for the exclusive use of the Sultan and built at great cost with the rakyat’s money. And this is because this is what the government-controlled newspapers and TV stations told them, so it must be true.

Then they featured what they claimed was the Sultan of Selangor’s equally lavish and expensive home along Batu Feringgi, also in Penang, and built, according to the newspapers and TV stations, at great cost with the rakyat’s money.

It was a blatant lie. The so-called Penang home of the Sultan of Selangor; which was still under construction; was actually a house owned by a Chinese businessman and did not belong to the Sultan at all. The Chinese businessman, of course, did not dare set the record straight for obvious reasons, while the Selangor Sultan was prohibited from speaking out as the Constitution does not allow him to call for a press conference or issue a press statement. Even the King (Agong) cannot make any public announcements and this must be done by the Keeper of the Royal Seal. And all statements and speeches must be prepared and approved by the Prime Minister’s Department, which Istana Negara (National Palace) comes under.

In fact, all the officers in Istana Negara are seconded from the Prime Minister’s Department and report to the Prime Minister’s Department. I once sent a letter to the Agong, then the late Sultan of Selangor, and the reply to my letter came from the Prime Minister’s office. The Agong never got to even see the letter. It bypassed him totally and landed on the Prime Minister’s table.

The Sultan of Kelantan’s Lambroghini episode was another issue that turned public opinion against the state rulers. The Sultan had flown in his Lambroghini according to his entitlement accorded to him by the state but the Ministry of Finance said he had illegally brought the car in. They then impounded the car at the Subang Airport on the allegation that he had evaded paying the RM3 million duties on it.

This was of course not true and the Sultan was outraged. He sent his palace officials to the Customs office at Subang Airport and they jumped into the car and drove off with the Customs officers just looking on, powerless to do anything about it.

Good for you Tuanku. A brave and most apt move indeed.

The government then played up the issue in the mass media and accused the Sultan of stealing the car, evading tax, not respecting the law, arrogance, and much more. The fact is the Sultan was within his rights while it was the government that was trying to punish him because of Semangat 46’s and PAS’ election success in Kelantan in 1990; which they blamed on the Sultan.

But the people believed what they read in the newspapers and saw on TV and the Sultan was powerless to set the record straight. Unfortunately, Anwar Ibrahim was the Finance Minister then so he therefore had to be the one to go into battle with the Sultan of Kelantan on the Lambroghini fiasco. In fact, he was leading the charge during the Constitutional Crisis while Dr Mahathir very cleverly hid in the background so that his devious hands would not be visible.

And Anwar had to pay the price in 1998 when Dr Mahathir turned on him. The rulers did not lift a finger to help him. And neither would I if I was one of the rulers after what they had to suffer at the hands of Umno with Anwar playing a lead role in the whole matter. Further to that, of course, the rulers were terrified of Dr Mahathir so they did not dare get involved.

The Raja Sir Tun Uda family of Selangor has always been very vocal and critical of the palace (See: THE RAJA SIR TUN UDA AL HAJ BIN RAJA MUHAMMAD FAMILY WEBSITE). Some of the Tun Uda family sit on the Selangor Royal Council where amongst others it decides the succession to the Selangor throne. My father, Raja Kamarudin bin Raja Sir Tun Uda, was a great critic of his cousin, the late Selangor Sultan who recently died in office as the Agong. Because of that he was dropped from the palace protocol list in the 1960s and was never again invited to any palace function.

When my father died on 4 August 1971, the late Sultan refused to attend his funeral — though my father was elder (the Sultan called him ‘Abang Din’) — and instead sent his younger son, Tengku Sulaiman. When my mother asked Tengku Sulaiman where the Sultan was and why he did not attend the funeral, he replied that the Sultan was busy shooting crows. Many a crow died that day they buried my father in the Royal Mausoleum in Kelang. (And the shots we heard that day was not a 21-gun salute in memory of my father but crows being sent back to their Maker).

To digress a bit, my late uncle and younger brother to my father, Raja Datuk Redzwa, told me that my father once beat the Sultan with his belt when they were teenagers — they were playing football then. Raja Datuk Redzwa gave a hearty laugh when he related how my father took off his belt and thrashed the Sultan (then the Raja Muda) while shouting, “Raja bodoh!”

“Since then the Sultan has always been scared of your father,” said Raja Datuk Redzwa.

When I criticised the late Selangor Sultan and asked him to step down from the throne for allowing the Federal government to annex Putrajaya he was very upset. “Why don’t you summon Petra to the palace?” Raja Datuk Redzwa suggested to the Sultan.

“But beware,” cautioned Raja Datuk Redzwa. “Remember his late father’s temper? Well, Petra has his father’s temper and he might just give you a tongue lashing.”

The Sultan aborted the idea of summoning me to the palace much to the amusement of Raja Datuk Redzwa.

During the height of the Constitutional Crisis our family had many meetings with not only the Selangor Sultan but with some of the other rulers as well. We told the rulers in no uncertain terms that they were all perceived as corrupt, lavish, leeches, greedy, murderers, womanisers, bad Muslims, etc. The sad thing is Malaysia has ten rulers; one King, seven Sultans, one Raja (Perlis) and one Chieftain (Negeri Sembilan); and not all are murderers, womanisers and greedy leeches. But because of the conduct of one or two ‘buffaloes that are muddy’, all the rulers suffer a bad image.

We advised the rulers to change. They need to improve their image. They need to show they are the rakyat’s rulers and not rulers who leech on the rakyat. They also need to become better Muslims and stop all this boozing. What is wrong if the rulers go pray in village mosques every Friday to get close to the rakyat instead of praying in the National Mosque or State Mosque surrounded by Ministers where the rakyat cannot even approach them?

The future of the Sultanate is at stake. The people are beginning to question the relevancy of the rulers. Many now think that Malaysia is better off as a republic like India, Indonesia or the Philippines. The future of the rulers lies in the hands of the rulers themselves. Unless the rulers change and improve their behaviour, Malaysia may not have any more state rulers come 2020.

For 20 years since the 1980s we have been ‘advising’ the rulers from behind closed doors. But instead of improving they become worse. And it is a handful of the ten who act this way but all ten are being branded as pirates and robbers. This is the sad thing about all this.

Well, 20 years is long enough. I am 55 years old this year. My mother died at the age of 47 and my father at age 46. I have outlived them by 8 and 9 years respectively. Can I outlive them by 10 years? Only God knows. But if I do then I may have only 1 or 2 years to go.

I am going to use the balance of the probably few years I have left by no longer ‘advising’ the rulers behind closed doors. 20 years has shown it does not work. I am going to criticize them openly so that the rulers start to realise their days may be numbered if they don’t change.

Today I am criticising the Negeri Sembilan Royal Family and they want to put me in jail for sedition because of this. So be it. I will continue to criticise all and sundry from behind the prison walls. Maybe Tuanku Jaafar has forgotten that when, as the Agong, he signed the amendments to the Constitution, against the wishes of the state rulers, he justified it by saying that the rakyat are above the rulers. Does this not therefore mean the rakyat can criticise the rulers?

So far the Selangor Sultan has been behaving himself. I hope he continues to do so or else he too will come under attack. It is for his own good because if he starts misbehaving then his son may never ascend the throne when it is time to do so. The people will ensure this. The continuance of the Selangor Sultanate depends on the conduct and behaviour of the present Sultan.

Anyway, just for the record, the Sultan of Selangor does not sell titles and awards as some say. Remember the time the late Sultan quarrelled with the then Menteri Besar, Muhammad Mohd Taib, and he rejected Umno’s list of awards and wanted to draw up his own list? The Deputy Prime Minister said that the Sultan has no power to decide on who receives awards and titles. Umno decides. The Sultan retaliated by cancelling his birthday celebration that year so that he need not give out any ‘Umno’ awards.

This was reported on the front pages of all the newspapers.

When asked whether Umno wants to remove the Sultans, Dr Mahathir quipped that we need the Sultans. If not, Dr Mahathir added, who is going to give out awards and titles every year?

Yes, at least as far as Selangor is concerned, it is Umno and not the Sultan who decides on awards and titles. I do not know about the other states though so I will let the Royal Families of these other states set the record straight on this.