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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

No Guided Constitutional Monarchy

 No “Guided” Constitutional Monarchy

M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)



Alas the accolades heaped upon the Agung for not acceding to Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s earlier request for Emergency Rule had not yet ebbed when the Agung startled Malaysians with his unprecedented “advice” for Members of Parliament to pass Muhyiddin’s forthcoming 2021 budget.


            This royal “advice,” or “guided” constitutional monarchy from the palace if you will, has all the stink of an overripe durian. At least with that you could salvage it into tompoyak paste, a delicacy if you can get past the odor.


            The Agung issued that menasihat (advice) only a few hours after Muhyiddin had presented his proposed budget to him. The Agung had barely enough time to skim the headings and he already had his advice for the rakyat.


            Something about Malay language. You and I menasihat each other, but sultans decree. Therein lies the danger. Already those in UMNO and Muhyiddin’s camp are making this point of the menasihit being a titah(decree), and to be obeyed as such, to suit their political expediency. Indeed, a few paragraphs into the palace statement, it used the word titah to describe it, just in case you missed the message. There was no subtlety there.


            Those who think that this was merely an advice from a concerned King are ignorant of Malay language, culture, or norms. To go against a titah is derkaha. That would make those who would vote against the budget traitors.


            It is not coincidental that the palace issued the statement in Malay and with no accompanying English translation, as is the practice. I would like to see palace officials (or anyone else) translate the first few words of the fifth paragraph of the October 28 Palace Statement:   “Al Sultan Abdullah bertitah [my emphasis]demikian selepas menerima menghapad YAB Perdana Menteri. . . .” (The Agung decreed this following an audience with the Prime Minister . . . .)


            Back in 1957 the incompetent but egotistic President Sukarno, unable to perform the basic tasks of governance, introduced “guided democracy,” with him being the “guider” of course. With that as a beginning, a decade later he was replaced by a brutal dictator, Suharto. That reign of terror would not end till 1996.


            Malaysians be warned! Do not go down this well-trodden path of “guided” or “menasihat” of anything from anyone. The path to hell is paved with good intentions.


Members of Parliament should do their job they were sent to do. They are paid by the rakyat. MPs must listen to those who sent them there and paid their salary, not anyone else even if he were to heap upon you exalted titles of some ancient supposedly glorious Mashuri dynasty.


            An earlier Agung said it best. “Democracy as a political system does not become a democracy because it is given that appellation. The true meaning of democracy can be summed up by the phrase ‘government by the people.’”


Now that is sound nasihat (advice)! That earlier Agung, Raja Azlan Shah, had also served as the nation’s Chief Justice.


            He went further. “Any form of pressure or arbitrary limits imposed on the people in their free exercise of the right to choose their own government will be a clear abrogation of any parliamentary system of government. Similarly, major bills must not be rushed through Parliament. The people should have an opportunity to express their views.”


            An annual budget is a major if not the bill for the government. This Agung wants it diluluskan tanpa sebarang gangguan (passed without any interference).


            That is a very dangerous mindset, to equate robust parliamentary debates as gangguan (interference). Palace advisors must be disabused early and in no uncertain terms of this treacherous path that they have chosen to follow.


            If this Agung believes that the current Covid-19 pandemic presents such a clear and present danger to the nation such that parliamentary bills must be passed without gangguan, he should have approved that earlier request for Emergency Rule.


By giving this titah to support Muhyiddin, the Agung has implicitly endorsed him as the legitimate Prime Minister. As such, his earlier denial of the advice from the “Prime Minister” for an Emergency Rule set a very dangerous precedent. The King reigns but does not rule.


            The King’s titah to the rakyat was misplaced. He should have directed it instead to Muhyiddin. That advice is the same one Malaysians have bombarded on Muhyiddin during the last few months, that is, get Parliamentary endorsement of your leadership. If you do not or cannot, then get out! This manufactured political crisis is Muhyiddin’s, not Malaysia’s.


            Malaysia’s system of constitutional monarchy is unique in many ways but it is still in its infancy. Malays have just emerged from the old ugly days of feudalism. Many still yearn for those days. As such our system of constitutional monarchy should be strengthened and not breached under some misplaced pretext of loyalty or stability. It is still fragile.


            It was not so long ago following the 2008 elections when the Menteri Besar of Perak said this to his sultan:  “Patek memohon derhaka ….!” (I, your slave, beg to commit treason ...!) Imagine the people’s representative being a slave to the sultan!


            In a constitutional monarchy, sovereignty lies with the rakyat, not the raja.


            To switch my earlier metaphor of an overripe durian, this attempt at breaching the clear lines in a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy must be plugged before the entire edifice crumbles. Don’t let the nation be swamped. Malaysian MPs should be like the brave Dutch boy – stick your finger in the dyke, and do it now with the budget session next week.


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