Sultan upsets Perak despite silver jubilee joy

“There were very high expectations that the Sultan would uphold a decision for democracy and morality, rather than pure legality,” said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.


Yellow banners of Sultan Azlan Shah are still hanging on every lamp-post and adorning public buildings in the state capital as his silver jubilee was just celebrated on Feb 3.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin had declared that day a state holiday. But even before the celebrations ended, the whole thing had fallen apart. Now, just days later, Sultan Azlan Shah has ordered Nizar to resign after four defectors left his Pakatan Rakyat government.

He has rejected Nizar's request to dissolve the state assembly and call for fresh polls, and instead sworn in Barisan Nasional Menteri Besar Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir yesterday, a decision that sent shockwaves through the state. Public sentiment veers strongly towards fresh elections, rather than a new government it has not voted for.

The Internet community had harsh words for the Sultan, who had headed the judiciary before ascending the throne in 1984.

Most of the milder views expressed disappointment. One posting on The Malaysian Insider website said: “I always believed that when rakyat (citizens) was bullied and robbed, some conscience sultans will be there to product us. Well, it doesn't seem like that.” (sic)

The intense disappointment was not surprising.

The British-educated Ruler and his intellectual son Raja Dr Nazrin Shah had built up a reputation as the voices of the nation's conscience. They took the moral high ground in erudite speeches on issues of governance, judicial independence and race relations, among others.

Sultan Azlan Shah was also believed to be instrumental in persuading the country's hereditary Malay Rulers to reject certain judicial appointments seen as controversial. His son declined state funds for his wedding in 2007.

They had endeared themselves to Malaysians. But this week, the disappointment of the people poured forth as they perceived that the Ruler had not taken their side when it mattered.

“There were very high expectations that the Sultan would uphold a decision for democracy and morality, rather than pure legality,” said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.

The anger was evident yesterday when thousands of Malays tried to stop the swearing-in of Zambry by blocking the road to the palace in Kuala Kangsar. But the protest was foiled by tear gas.

This episode could deal a severe setback to the hard-won revitalisation of the monarchy that had been constrained by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The Rulers were regaining credibility to the extent that some Malaysians even yearned for a more powerful monarchy.

But the PR leadership took pains not to fan the flames. There was a sense of pragmatic restraint designed to focus on the decision rather than the Ruler. This was clear at a rally at the menteri besar's residence on Thursday, soon after Nizar declared that he would not step down as directed.

The banners put up were respectful in tone, appealing to the Sultan to dissolve the state assembly and return power to the people.

The fiery speeches from PR leaders, too, did not attack the Ruler, but focused on Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

“It is pointless to fight the Sultan, it means fighting the entire monarchy,” said an opposition MP.

The monarchy still holds significant powers in Malaysia, as this Perak episode has shown. And PR still governs four states, three of which have Malay Rulers — Kelantan, Selangor and Kedah.

Many Malays, too, will be uncomfortable with verbal attacks on the monarchy.

Even DAP chairman Karpal Singh's decision to sue the Sultan startled his opposition colleagues. This was later overturned by opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

PR's decision to focus its anger on the BN, in particular Najib, will do more to further its agenda. It won 54 per cent of the popular vote in the general election last March.

“I think the Pakatan Rakyat wants to isolate the dissatisfaction by focusing on the BN rather than be seen to implicate the palace. It understands the special position of the palace and does not want to complicate its case with the people,” said Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian.

PR has chosen its battles judiciously, but the people's sentiment over the Sultan's decision is clear. They are disappointed. — MI