Rumpus over the role of royals


The escalating feud between Johor’s Crown Prince and the Tourism and Culture Minister has raised questions on the scope of our royalty.

M. Veera Pandiyan, The Star

THESE are truly extraordinary times. Never have Malaysians seen such an open spat between a minister and a prince.

The wrangle between Johor’s Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim and Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz has raised new questions about the role of the country’s royalty.

It has become a riveting sideshow to the ongoing 1MDB saga, although both personalities are not directly involved in the issue.

The tiff started last week after Tunku Ismail posted a veiled criticism against Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on the Johor Southern Tigers Facebook page.

It implied that the Prime Minister had something to conceal for not turning up at a dialogue session with non-governmental organisations at the Putra World Trade Centre three days earlier.

The prince wrote that those who had the responsibility to answer questions on issues of national interest should not blame the public if they lost their support but should ponder the reasons behind it.

Nazri entered the fray by telling the Tunku Ismail to stay out of politics, warning the prince that he would be “whacked” like other politicians if he wanted to play the game.

This led to a slew of police reports lodged against the minister. Some of them took the word “whack” literally and accused him of threatening the prince.

In response, Tunku Ismail posted a silent video on Facebook, showing him making a gesture with his hand, as if saying: “Bring it on!”

Amid much support for the prince in the social media, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said Nazri would be investigated over the remarks he made.

But not for sedition, though.

According to the IGP, Nazri would be investigated under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, making him the first Cabinet minister to be investigated for public mischief.

The offence carries a maximum jail term of two years, a fine or both for “whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquillity”.

The gloves have been off since Monday after the prince said Nazri was “not a God from the heavens who lords above everybody”.

He said the minister should not think the people existed to provide him with position and wealth and reminded him that his post was to serve the people.

Tunku Ismail said he was attacked for speaking on behalf of Johoreans and other Malaysians and telling the leaders of the country that they had a duty to serve the people.

“I am willing to be cursed for standing up for what is right, rather than be loved for defending what is wrong.

“I am not a politician. I am only answerable to Allah, my Sultan and the people of Johor. I do not do the bidding of some puppet-master who pulls the strings,” he wrote.

The prince said he only reminded politicians of their responsibilities, adding that if they could not deal with it, it only showed their arrogance to the people.

Urging politicians not to use him to divert attention from 1MDB and other national issues, he said Malaysia needed politicians who were clean, transparent and performed their duties with sincerity and integrity.

It did not take long for Nazri to shoot back by saying that he had neither declared himself a god nor behaved as one to the public.

“I want to reply to him that I never said that I’m God. I’m a Muslim and my God is Allah,” he said.

“I am answerable to the rakyat and to the system. So I won’t back down. I believe that I am right,” he was quoted as saying by an online portal.

Pledging that he won’t back down, he reminded the prince that Malaysia was a constitutional monarchy and members of the royal family were above politics and should not be involved in it.

Nazri explained that he criticised Tunku Ismail because the prince had insinuated that Najib was guilty in the 1MDB issue.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has been demanding answers over 1MDB’s debts and deals, has defended the prince for making his statements.

“Well, that is free speech. As much as the Government has free speech, the Crown Prince also has free speech. Or do we have a law that says the prince has no free speech?” he asked.

By Malaysia’s Constitution, the royalty is indeed above politics but by convention, not quite so.

Since independence, some of the Sultans have exercised their powers in various ways, as in approving the choice of mentri besar, for example.

Sultan Nazrin Muizzudin Shah, who was enthroned as Perak’s 35th Ruler last month, provided some insights into the role of royalty.

In his inaugural address as the state’s Ruler, he said the monarchy did not merely play the role of a “decorative ornament” for the country.

“Royalty should rise above partisan political polemics and stand as a stabilising presence, a source of justice and an instrument of unity,” he said.

The Sultan noted that 19 of the 183 articles in the constitution were related to the institution of royalty which meant that Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy system of government had specific roles and responsibilities for Rulers.

According to him, a Ruler has to be energetic, dynamic and convincing while fulfilling his duty as a unifying presence.

Most of us would agree with Sultan Nazrin’s wise expectations of the monarchy but in reality, it is difficult to draw the line between making fair comments and interfering directly in political matters.

How would this minister against prince rumpus play out? Malaysians are watching with bated breath.

Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this advice from Dale Carnegie: Fear not those who argue but those who dodge.