An Open Letter to the Sultan: A plea to defend the voice of the people

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.

I’m not sure I’m allowed to write letters to a Sultan. *If* I were, this is what I would write:

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 a 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 – speak 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.

Yours sincerely,

Nathaniel Tan