Sultans Should Not Interfere With Rakyat’s Electoral Decisions, says Bakri Musa

M. Bakri Musa

Imagine the head of a company picking the first officer of the flight crew that had just crashed its jet to be the new captain! Idiotic would not begin to describe such a stupid action. Yet that is what the Agung, in cahoots with his brother sultans, just did this Friday August 20th in naming Muhyiddin’s Deputy to be Malaysia’s new Prime Minister.

When the inept Muhyiddin failed, his whole team should have gone with him. In fact they all resigned. That is called collective responsibility. The Agung and his fellow Malay sultans should have grasped this elementary point. Yet they picked one of those losers to lead Malaysia.

At the very least the Agung and his brother rulers should have learned a thing or two from their earlier debacle in choosing the dud Muhyiddin to replace Mahathir only 18 months earlier.

Malay sultans’ inability to learn from their mistakes and not demonstrating much smarts in their judgements on important matters of state (as well as in their personal affairs) is not a novelty. Instead that is the unfortunate sorry and repeated reality.

As for personal matters, this Agung’s family is involved in some questionable durian land deals in his home state. Earlier his consort was “flamed” for her haughty infamous “Dengki Ke?” (You jealous?) Twitter posting. This was her jungle version of “Let them eat cake” response to citizens questioning why her palace cooks received top priority for Covid-19 vaccines which the palace had earlier secured privately through a foreign entity, bypassing the country’s laws and public health scrutiny.

The Agung’s immediate predecessor, Sultan Muhammad of Kelantan, was no better. During the night of 2018 general elections, this character managed to make himself unavailable, thus leaving the nation in a state of dangerous and unneeded uncertainty. As for his judgement on personal matters, there were his yet-to-be-released titillating details of his cavorting with a Russian beauty. His subsequent exorbitant alimony payments have yet to be revealed.

As for Sultan Muhammad’s actions on state matters, not too long ago there was the sorry pictures of his ailing wheelchair-bound father, the then-Sultan, being shoved out of the palace. Despite that unprecedented filial insult, he managed to somehow wow his Kelantan Malays with his put-on piety, as with his fondness for long, white Arabic robes when in public. I wonder if that was the attire that wowed the Russian beau?

In this latest Agung debacle, it was pathetic to see otherwise boisterous and obstreperous Members of Parliament, all spruced up in their Hari Raya best, lining up for a private audience with the Agung at the palace, their latest Statutory Declaration (haggled earlier like a deal with an Arab carpet dealer) in hand. They were like errant school kids summoned to the principal’s office.

I am appalled that this Agung had deemed it his duty to meet convicted criminals like Najib Razak, and others facing serious corruption charges, like Zahid Hamidi. He should not have let those renegades set foot in Istana Negara, let alone have a private audience with him. Again, the Agung’s poor judgement, quite apart from the permanent ugly stain on the people’s palace.

This Agung, like the Sultan of Perak Raja Azlan back in 2009, is ignorant or refuses to acknowledge that decisions made in a tete a tete session may not be the same as one following open robust debates, as in Parliament. The dynamics would be unpredictable but transparent. I blame this Agung and his fellow rulers in not learning from that earlier Perak fiasco.

What assurance does the rakyat have that the Agung did not coerce these feudal MPs?

This inability of Malay sultans to learn from their mistakes and thus continue making awful decisions is the norm. In my lifetime I have witnessed Malay sultans behaving badly both in their personal capacity as well as in important matters of state. In my state of Negri Sembilan, more than a few have been enmeshed in personal bankruptcies as well as struck by maladies caused by what we would euphemistically call “bad” lifestyle choices. Another sultan was convicted of murder. No problem with that either as he later became Agung.

On substantive matters of state, Tengku Abdul Rahman once rued that the biggest obstacle he faced when negotiating for Malaysia’s independence came not from the colonial office but Malay sultans. They were against independence.

The greatest blunder of Malay sultans remains their collective decision made in the immediate post-war period when they willingly gave away the nation’s sovereignty with their signing the Malayan Union Treaty. If Datuk Onn had not been successful in having that reversed by mobilizing the rakyat, Malay sultans would today be reduced to the status of the Sultan of Sulu.

Datuk Onn was hailed a hero for his singular feat. However, seeing how these sultans have degenerated today with their state-sanctioned excesses, I wonder if he would have any regrets for having saved those Malay sultans.

Malaysians too need to ponder this important question whether it is worth keeping these expensive sultans. Their costs may be tolerable but not their interference (twice now) to reverse the rakyat’s collective decision of the 2018 election.

M BAKRI MUSA is a Malaysian-born and Canadian-trained surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California, a staunch Anwar Ibrahim-Pakatan Harapan supporter, and a Malaysiakini columnist.