Power perceived, power wielded

Raja Petra Kamarudin

I remember reading — it was many years ago, I think in The Star — about a foreign dignitary wanting to meet the First Prime Minister and Bapa Merdeka (Father of Independence), Tunku Abdul Rahman. The Tunku, however, would not meet him. Later, when this foreign dignitary met the Agong (King), he commented that His Highness should sack this most insolent Prime Minister. The Agong replied that Malaysia is a Constitutional Monarchy and in this country it is the Prime Minister who removes the Rulers, and not the other way around. Where else but in Malaysia would you find a King who rules for only five years and a Prime Minister who rules for as long as he wants.

At the height of Malaysia’s Constitution Crisis, a foreign publication — not sure whether it was Asiaweek, Time or Newsweek — ran a story which said there are about 20 monarchies left in the world, and half of them are in Malaysia. This may not be quite accurate — there may be more than 20 — but Malaysia certainly has ten of them. However, just like in Britain, and unlike Brunei or Saudi Arabia, Malaysia’s Rulers have no executive powers as such. They are, at best, ceremonial heads of state. This was summed up by Dr Mahathir Mohamad twenty years ago when he was asked whether he intends to abolish the institution of the monarchy and turn Malaysia into a republic. Mahathir cheekily replied, if the monarchy is abolished, who is going to dish out awards and titles on birthdays? That, in a nutshell, is the role of the Rulers as aptly put by Mahathir, though tongue-in-cheek of course.

Mahathir was the architect of the Constitutional Crisis of the mid-1980s, part one as well as part two. But the then Prime Minister was smart. He stayed in the background and allowed Anwar — and Ghafar Baba, his Deputy from 1986 to 1993 — to lead the charge. And Anwar did lead the charge, like Custer ahead of the Seventh Calvary. And we all know what happened to Custer. And that’s what’s happening to Anwar today.

The Rulers and members of their immediate family were quite pissed. And that is putting it mildly. They viewed Anwar and Ghafar as anti-Royalist Republicans. “What do you expect?” they quipped. “Penang and Melaka (Anwar’s and Ghafar’s home states) do not have Sultans. So definitely they are anti-Sultan.”

Anwar, in fact, did not hide his contempt for the Rulers, not that sometimes they do not deserve this contempt. He would openly express despair at the conduct of the Rulers and I honestly don’t blame him for that. They were after all misbehaving and beginning to become an embarrassment to the Malays. Some were even implicated in serious crimes that would have attracted capital punishment had they been committed by lesser mortals. More than once Anwar was heard saying that Malaysia would be better off without any Sultans. And you can bet there would be a Good Samaritan somewhere who would carry this to the ears of the Rulers — so I was told by one of those who have the ears of the Rulers.

The Rulers of course were fully aware of Anwar’s sentiments and they were most suspicious of him. They dreaded the day Anwar would finally take over from Mahathir and the first task at hand would be to abolish the monarchy and turn Malaysia into a republic. It was not without reason the Rulers celebrated when Mahathir removed Anwar and sent him into retirement so close to becoming Malaysia’s Fifth Prime Minister. Gone, at last, was the danger hanging over the heads of the Rulers.

I suppose Anwar thought there was nothing that could stop him from becoming the next Prime Minister, after he removes a small obstacle called Ghafar, which he skilfully did. If only he knew that one day he would need the goodwill of the Rulers, he would probably have been kinder to them. Anyway, that is all water under the bridge now.

When I became active in the Reformasi Movement soon after Anwar was thrown into Sungai Buloh Prison, I was summoned by the elders of the Selangor Royal Family and given a dressing down. How can I support Anwar when he is an enemy of royalty? Don’t I know Anwar is behind the move to get rid of the Rulers? Why get involved? We should in fact encourage this power struggle within Umno. With Mahathir and Anwar at each other’s throats, they would be too busy to worry about the Rulers. This Mahathir-Anwar conflict is a blessing in disguise. It means Umno would be too weak to make a move on the Rulers. And the man most likely to head the Abolish the Monarchy Campaign is now out of power and in prison. What better scenario for the royal family?

Some senior members of my family were informed that I was about to be detained under the Internal Security Act in April 2001. But they were not to tell me about it as they were told in the strictest of confidence. Anyway, it would be better that I was ‘taken out of circulation’. I was after all fighting for a misguided cause, the freedom of Anwar Ibrahim, an enemy of the royal family. Maybe my stint under the Internal Security Act would cool me down and help me see the error of my ways. Hopefully I could be ‘persuaded’ to abandon my cause. They were quite disappointed when on my release I became worse than before my detention. Instead of cooling down, I became hotter. And, again, I was summoned before the elders for my second dressing down.

As much as they may outrank me, I argued my case and explained why I cannot abandon my ‘struggle’. But why, why suffer and sacrifice for a man who has no mercy for the royal family. Would it not be better that Anwar be allowed to languish in the Sungai Buloh Prison where he would pose no danger to the royal family? I was prepared to face excommunication and even ‘exile’ if that is what it would have to come to. I refused to back down and told them that it is because we are aloof from the rakyat (citizens) that one day the monarchy may be abolished. If we refuse to fight alongside the rakyat, why should the rakyat have any love for the monarchy? Reformasi is a peoples’ movement. The royal family should demonstrate that is it with the rakyat if it wants the rakyat to be with the monarchy.

But you have been arrested twice so far. And you will be arrested again if you continue this way. Is it worth it? Yes, it is, I retorted to the stunned elders of my family. And before they could regain their composure, I gave them my upper cut. One day, when your sons or grandsons sit on the throne, someone should remind them that the throne is still there for them to sit on because some members of the royal family stood alongside the rakyat in the struggle for reformation. I will never get to sit on the throne. It is your heirs that will. And I want to ensure it will still be there for them, not for me.

There was a moment of silence while what I just said sank in. The debate ended. They had nothing more to say. “Just be careful. Try to stay out of jail.” What more could they say other than that?

Well, that is just one royal family. There are still eight more; nine if we include the King. And how do the others feel? According to palace ‘pillow talk’, five out of ten Rulers are in favour of granting Anwar a pardon. I am of course not at liberty to mention which ones as they may make police reports and, again, I will find myself facing sedition charges plus my computer confiscated. Two are sitting on the fence. If the government wants to give Anwar a pardon they will agree, but they will not enthusiastically push for it. So of course the last three are opposed to it. Even amongst those who are in favour of it, not all are because of their love for Anwar but more to spite Mahathir whom they view as the enemy. And even those who are genuinely in favour of it face resistance from their second-in-line who are not. So, in a sense, the various Royal Families are divided on the matter.

Very complicating isn’t it?

Anyway, these are the people Anwar is depending on for his pardon. And if Anwar does not get his pardon, and if the next general election is called before 14 April 2008, which most likely it would, then he would not be eligible to contest.

One crucial point to note here though, whether the Rulers think Anwar is a great guy or not is not important. The Rulers do not really have the power to decide whether Anwar should be granted a pardon. This power lies in the hands of the Pardons Board. And I was told Umno, MCA and MIC have representatives sitting in the Board. And the man heading the Board is the Attorney-General, the man who was behind the move to send Anwar to jail. Would this same man who Anwar accuses of rigging the trial want to see him pardoned?

But even the Pardons Board does not have the power to grant Anwar a pardon. Many times has the Pardons Board, or in the case of the Kamunting Detention Centre the Advisory Board, recommended the release of Internal Security Act detainees, but the Home Affairs Minister turned down the recommendation. That’s right. It is the Home Affairs Minister who has the final say on whether one can be granted a pardon. And, if he feels Anwar should be granted a pardon, the recommendation would then be sent to the Rulers. Then, and only then, will the Rulers endorse the recommendation.

In short, the Rulers have no power to grant Anwar a pardon if the Prime Minister does not send the papers to them, and they also have no power to reject the pardon if one has been recommended. The Rulers, for all intents and purposes, is a rubber stamp Monarchy.

So that settles the matter of Anwar’s pardon. Does Abdullah Ahmad Badawi want to give him one? If yes, he will get one, and if no, he will not get one. Okay, let me rephrase that question, would Abdullah be brave enough, or stupid enough, to rub Mahathir the wrong way by granting Anwar a pardon, knowing full well what Mahathir feels about Anwar?

I think not. So perish the thought of Anwar contesting the next general election, which I am betting would be held before 14 April 2008 — unless Abdullah is suicidal and calls for the election after 14 April 2008 instead.

So, what will Anwar do come May this year? Yes, what? And this is what we shall talk about in the next episode of THE CORRIDORS OF POWER, so stay tuned.