June 7, 2018
Shake Off Feudalism: This is 21st Century Malaysia
COMMENT | “The people expect them to be the embodiment of all things good and holy. But the question is: Are they?”
– A Kadir Jasin, “Constitution: The King and the Pauper”
I never thought I would say this, but former Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin questioning UMNO information chief Annuar Musa if the latter was still living in the Hang Tuah era, was pretty interesting blowback for Annuar’s urging of the state security apparatus to investigate Bersatu Supreme Council member A Kadir Jasin for his article allegedly “questioning” the royal institution.
Furthermore Maidin’s caution of not threatening the rakyat with “reckless feudalism” is also a reminder that perhaps, we are living in a new dawn of Malaysians politics, something which I am skeptical of. This idea that political hegemons “threaten” the rakyat with “feudalism”, reckless or otherwise, has always been the preferred weapon of the “bangsa and agama” (race and religion) crowd.
Here is an example of this narrative whereby the rakyat have been threatened with “feudalism”.
When Anwar Ibrahim goes on his royal tour, apparently to convince the royalty that all is kosher with “Malay rights” and “Islam”, this is part of the narrative that Malay rights and Islam are under attack.
Anwar Ibrahim– A Reformist or a Fawning Royalist? Maybe a Political Chameleon. He should be grateful to Malaysians for his Pardon.
When Anwar Ibrahim and any Malay politician for that matter have to reassure the Malay community that for hithe appointment of Tommy Thomas will not adversely affect Malay rights and Islam, this feeds into the narrative that those ideas/institutions are under attack. The counter-narrative is, have they ever been under attack?
What did Kadir actually say in his pieces about the royalty? In his blog post, “Constitution: The King and the Pauper”, he:
- Questioned the journalistic integrity of the New Straits Times;
- Questioned if the Royalty was really insecure as some have claimed;
- Wondered why Anwar Ibrahim had to go on his royal tour; and
- Reminded the ordinary rakyat of how much is allegedly spent on the Agong and the difference of expectation between a pauper and a king.
To wit – “But unlike the pauper who evokes God’s name to earn sympathy of the passers-by, the Agong evokes God’s name in his oath of office.”
That’s powerful stuff coming from Kadir, and the reality is that this is what the average rakyat is wondering.
When kids carry out a car wash to contribute to the Hope Fund or whatever it’s called, people think it demonstrates how Malaysian we are.
When the salaries of politicians are cut and the trimmings used to contribute to the Hope Fund, people think it demonstrates how politicians are playing their part in saving this country.
However, when the expenses of the royalty are brought into question, people wonder, why is it so much when we are told that we are on an austerity drive.
We have a Finance Minister who apparently has sleepless nights because of his fear of the financial time bombs that he would discover in the red files.
The rakyat also notices how the royalty, during the lead-up to the elections and post-elections, by word or deed have made extremely political overtures.
Of course, when you bring up the expenses of the royalty, you better cite sources which are credible, which is where Kadir’s piece suffers.
However, what should be done is that the Finance Ministry should immediately issue a response and tell the rakyat exactly how much is spent on the royal institutions.
After all, this is supposed to be a ministry which values truth above all else. Truth, we are told, is needed for this country to move forward.
So when Kadir makes a statement about royal expenses, his claim does not have to be challenged by the royalty but should either be verified and challenged by the Finance Ministry. End of controversy. However, Kadir’s piece is more than just about royal expenses.
Kadir’s conclusion is this – “In conclusion, our CONSTITUTIONAL monarch (emphasis in original) has nothing to fear if they understand their special position and stick to their duties as spelt out by the constitution – and the rakyat wonder, does the royal institution understand their special position and stick to their duties as spelt out in the constitution?”
When UMNO was in charge, there was never an issue when UMNO set policy. Even when former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak introduced the National Security Council Act – by the way Harapan folks, is this act going to be ditched? – the “issues” with the objections of the royalty were simply brushed aside.
Nobody in UMNO seemed to care that the royal institutions were sidelined because the sitting UMNO Prime Minister wanted more power than the Agong. Even Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said as much on the campaign trail.
Did anyone from UMNO or PAS object when the constitutional provisions that guaranteed certain rights to the royalty were supplanted by this most odious of “acts” from UMNO? Were the rakyat threatened by reckless feudalism from the UMNO state?
Did the royalty make noise that the powers they were guaranteed under the constitution – the very same powers, that Kadir argues, makes them immune from insecurity – were under attack from the Najib regime?
Did the Malays need to be reassured that the Malay institution was not under attack?
This idea that the royal institution has not changed through constitutional means is a myth, much like the mythical/mystical era – depending on the source – of the Hang Tuah era.
The current Harapan grand poohbah in his time went against the “reckless feudalism” and instituted changes that were embraced by some of the very same UMNO potentates who are now scrambling for power in the political party – UMNO – which has staked the “bangsa and agama” ground as its sole province.
Look even in the Sinar Metro article, all Kadir did was raise three points – in my opinion – which are vital to the economic and social stability of this country. Reproduced here in the original Malay:
- “Mereka dibayar gaji oleh rakyat jelata dan segala keperluan rasmi mereka ditanggung oleh kerajaan. Dalam keadaan di mana hidup rakyat susah dan kewangan negara sempit, kerajaan tidak boleh sekali-kali membazirkan wang untuk sesiapa pun. Biarlah saya kata macam ini: Istana-istana yang ada itu sudah mewah.
- Dalam usaha kerajaan baharu mempertahankan hak rakyat jelata dan melindungi institusi negara daripada sebarang bentuk pencabulan maka adalah penting diambil tahu pembabitan raja atau istana dalam kegiatan-kegiatan tidak rasmi seperti perniagaan dan social.
- Kalau perlu kita kaji semula perlembagaan dan kontrak sosial bagi mengambil kira suasana dan realiti yang ada pada hari ini bagi mengharmonikan perjanjian antara raja dan rakyat jelata.”
My interpretation of Kadir’s words is as follows (you may of course disagree): In times of austerity, because the rakyat are in a crunch, the government of the day should scrutinise its expenses and the royal institutions should also play their part. That the royal institutions should not be involved in unofficial business and social enterprises, because it weakens the integrity of these institutions and encourages practices which are detrimental to a functional state. And as Malaysians we should understand that reforms of institutions – all institutions – are needed to save this country.
If anything, what Kadir is advocating is “responsible feudalism”, which I suppose is what a constitutional monarchy is all about.of
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy