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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Monday, January 07, 2019

The Agung Owes Malaysians More Than Just A Bland Statement

The Agung Owes Malaysians More Than Just A Bland Statement
M. Bakri Musa

Istana Negara’s bland statement late Sunday, January 6, 2019, announcing the sudden resignation of Sultan Muhammad V as Agung was an insult to all Malaysians. It left many difficult and important questions unanswered.

Foremost is this:  If he feels so undeserving of continuing on as Agung, should he also not feel the same way about being the Sultan of Kelantan? The people of that state too deserve the same standard and expectation of their sultan as Malaysians have of their Agung.

            Only two months earlier on November 2, 2018, the Agung had taken a two-month leave of absence for “medical reasons.” That ended on December 31, 2018, with Prime Minister Mahathir blandly asserting and assuming that Sultan Muhammad had resumed his duties as Agung.

Meanwhile during the Agung’s absence, pictures of his purported wedding to a former Russian beauty queen half his age appeared in social media. Again, no comments, official or otherwise, from the palace or the government.

Then pictures appeared in a British publication of his “bride” in her previous incarnation cavorting in a pool, champagne in hand, with an unidentified male who was definitely not the Agung. Sexual escapades of pageant contestants are not news. That a Malay royalty would in any way be linked to such characters too do not surprise me. Malay sultans have been known to be fond of foreign dancers and waitresses.

            What surprised me was the silence of the palace to these salacious-bordering-on-the-pornographic postings. Even Prime Minister Mahathir admitted to being kept in the dark. What a way to run the country!

Things quickly became murkier. On Wednesday, January 2, 2019, presumably the day after the Agung had resumed his duties and only a few days prior to the resignation announcement, there was an unprecedented and unscheduled meeting of the Council of Rulers without the Agung being invited. Again, there was a news blackout on that.

That the four governors, who constitutionally are on par with the sultans, were excluded did not escape notice. Ever wonder why East Malaysians are clamoring for withdrawal from the Federation?

Then on the first Friday of the New Year, pictures of the Agung attending a congregational prayer in Kelantan, his home state, appeared in the local media. He was in full display of his trademark pretentious piety, complete with his modest jubbah and lebaiwhite cap, shaking hands with his fellow congregants in exaggerated humility.

In his sermon, the Imam reportedly told the congregation not to believe in rumors, presumably referring to the now widespread speculation on the Agung’s extracurricular activities. I wonder how that Imam felt after the resignation announcement!

Sultans, and the Agung in particular, must realize that they are on government payroll, and a very generous one at that, as well as being provided with ample allowances and grandiose palaces. The Agung’s latest, billion-dollar and obscenely ostentatious one struts on a commanding hill, visible from all the high-rises of Kuala Lumpur.

These sultans thus owe some accountability to their paymaster, the citizens.

Palace officials too must realize that they are also being paid by taxpayers. Like the Agung, these officials are answerable to the people of Malaysia. Issuing bland, meaningless statements that do not clarify matters is an insult to their paymaster. The Keeper of the Royal Seal should not underestimate the intelligence of modern Malaysians. They are not the peasants of yore.

The erratic behavior of this particular Agung does not surprise me. A few years ago there was the embarrassing spectacle of his removing his father from the state throne, again purportedly over some medical issues. The medical report of his father was never released. The people of Kelantan were denied access to the truth.

More recent and most disturbing was the Agung’s behavior during the immediate post-election crisis of last May when he conveniently found himself AWOL abroad. He had to be summoned back to swear in the new Prime Minister.

Someone must have taught this Agung an old and well-rehearsed kampung trick. That is, cloak yourself in a religious garb, complete with a huge turban and overflowing white robe, and learn to recite some long incomprehensible ancient Arabic incantations, and you could get away literally with murder.

The history, recent and ancient, of Malay sultans is replete with such horrors. Nor have their performances as leaders been illustrious. Back in 1946 they were for the Malayan Union. A decade later they were against independence!

This reprehensible pattern must not be allowed to continue. Malaysians are owed a full explanation of the Agung’s resignation. Malaysians, and Malays in particular, must demand a higher standard from their leaders–hereditary as well as political and religious. Anything less would not do it.


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