Perak crisis spotlights royalty’s role

Commentary in The Malaysian Insider

Feb 5 — Make no mistake the political crisis in Perak is not only about who controls the state legislature, and who is left on the sidelines.

It is also a litmus test for Malaysia’s royalty – whether they can play the role of honest brokers in resolving disputes in a country increasingly fractured by politics and racial strife; whether they can be the balm for a more divisive and polarized nation; whether their pronouncements will have a calming effect.

The early signs emerging from Perak are not promising. The previously unsullied reputations of Sultan Azlan Shah and his erudite son, Raja Nazrin Shah have been the subject of scorn and ridicule.

From yesterday, members of the public have sent in emails to the royal household’s website, imploring the Sultan to dissolve the state assembly and call for fresh elections.

After 12 pm today, the emails sounded more threatening and damning. It coincided with the announcement that the Sultan had asked the Perak Mentri Besar to step down in view of the fact that Barisan Nasional had gained control of the state assembly.

Here is a sampling of the emails sent.

Zambri Hussin wrote: “I have lost all respect for the institution of the Malay Rulers in Perak.”

Dr Phillips John wrote: “People in Perak are not going to forget the decision you make today.'”

Chan Wai Phing wrote: “Tuanku, So sorry to see you have failed the test of your own words, before God and before your subjects. You have let three unprincipled scumbags decide the fate of the whole state.”

Arguably, because of the political temperature this was always going to be a no-win case for the royal family. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

For BN supporters, the decision was always crystal clear: once you have the numbers, you should own the House. For Pakatan Rakyat supporters, the central issue was this: voters of Perak put Pakatan Rakyat in power and only they should determine the next state government.

Great expectations were placed on the shoulders of Sultan Azlan Shah and his son because they have — through their speeches — positioned themselves as the conscience of Malaysia; the voices of reason and logic and guardians of the Federal Constitution.

They have earned the respect of Malaysians because they have not been afraid to tackle combustible issues of:

The Judiciary

Sultan Azlan Shah: “Nothing destroys more the confidence the general public, or the business community has in the judiciary than the belief that the judge was biased when he decided a case, or that the judge would not be independent where powerful individuals or corporations are the litigants before him.”

Raja Nazrin Shah: “In the last two decades, judicial independence and integrity have eroded. The result is a lack of confidence in the judicial system and the complete disregard for the law by some quarters. These are dark stains on our honour and reputations and they have the potential to weaken, if not destroy the nation.”

Good Governance

Raja Nazrin Shah: Only those who are capable, responsible and scrupulously honest should be allowed to serve in positions of leadership. Those who are inefficient, incompetent and, most importantly, corrupt, should be held in absolute contempt. It was very important, he added, to have leaders who were earnest in building unity and did not resort to religious or ethnic posturing to further their careers.

Sanctity of the Federal Constitution

Raja Nazrin Shah: “The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and guarantees the rights of every Malaysian. Get a copy of the Federal Constitution and read it…the integrity of that document must be protected at all cost.”

But it is a different ball game delivering a comforting speech to the converted at a Bar Council dinner and actually making a decision which affects the lives of people.

The Sultan said that after meeting all the 31 assemblymen today, he was convinced that Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin had ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the State Assembly members.

He said that he was guided by the Perak Darul Ridzuan State Constitution in reaching his decision to ask Nizar to step down and turn down his request to dissolve the state government. He may be right but legal experts are already challenging the soundness of this decision.

In the days ahead, the Sultan or the Regent would do well to come out and explain the rationale behind today’s outcome and tackle some of the issues raised by constitutional experts.

They have to convince the doubters that the Perak royal household acted in good faith and played the role of honest brokers. Otherwise, some of the mud being tossed their way today will certainly stick and the Perak royal household's esteemed position in the country could very well be compromised.

One only has to see the impact of political crisis on the stature of the monarchy in Thailand among some Thais to know that this is a real possibility.