The trial of the novelty of nobility


ABOUT a quarter of a century ago, a lot of whispers went around about the excesses of the Malay Royalties, from unbecoming behaviour, scandalous abuses and criminal offences, to questionable financial gains.

The whispers gained several decibels and the volume was amplified by 1993/94 when the government with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the prime minister pushed for the removal of the Rulers’ immunity following the incident of the beating up of a hockey coach by the then Sultan of Johor.

It was almost like opening the flood gates and outbursts from pent-up emotions, as the nation shared and revealed the excesses and abuses that they had experienced and witnessed in the hands of some of the Royals and their kin. Some of the stories were quite horrific.

In effect, it provided the government the moral courage to pursue the removal of the immunity and, the Rulers then acquiesced as it was the will of the nation.

The removal of the immunity in major parts actually saved the institution. It allowed it to exist in the context of a modern-day society and democracy where the principle of no one being above the law is integral.

If the move to remove the immunity was not performed and the excesses were allowed to fester, the relevance of the institution may even be questioned if the next outburst erupts.

For years, the Malays took it upon themselves to uphold the Rulers’ institution, not because they believed that the Rulers would do anything for their well-being but because the institution is bound together with Malay rights, privileges and special position.

None would actually believe that the Rulers would be capable of changing anything as the Rulers themselves, being Constitutional Monarchs were provided state pensions and disallowed from doing business and participating in politics.

And the fact that the Rulers were Constitutional Monarchs, the Malays exercised their democratic rights and placed their fate in party politics and politicians to pursue their needs and aspirations.

That said, of course the Malays still took pride when their Rulers were regal, honourable and upright, representing the best of the community and the community at their best.

And that is what the Malays expect the Rulers and members of the Royalty to be — cultured, refined, dignified, noble, upright, majestic and kingly.

Such expectations are not misplaced as the common men are expected to bow and uphold the Rulers in a position of respect and awe.

Put it the other way — how do the Rulers expect the rakyat to hold them in high regards if their behaviour is as common if not worse than the common folk?

Of course, the Rulers too are subject to the ebb and flow of the nation’s political swing.

In 1993/94, while the then ruling Umno and its coalition partners were leading the charge to remove the Rulers immunity, the Rulers were defended by Umno’s splinter Semangat 46 (founded in 1989 and which by then had renamed and re-styled itself as Parti Melayu Semangat 46).

It was mocked by its detractors as a Royalist party — not only because it was led by a Royalty and several of its leaders were Royalties of certain standing in their respective states — but also for its determined opposition to the efforts to remove the immunity.

There were Malays taken up by their contentions on the ground that the removal of their immunity will eventually make them ineffective in protecting the Malay rights, the position of Islam and all linked to these Constitutional provisions.

All these do sound familiar even 25 years later.

But they obviously did not make much headway, and the Malay Rulers relinquished their immunity and Semangat 46 was eventually dissolved and their members and leaders re-joined Umno en bloc, declaring it was done in the name of Malay unity.

That too sounds familiar and some of the players were quite involved from the previous round.

The crux of the matter is that the position and the role of the Rulers are quite well defined, be it constitutionally and conventionally.

Today, yet again, there are attempts to sway the Rulers into the political diatribes of Malay position in the nation’s equation.

And the new Royalist is obviously the party that is not holding federal power. Thus far, the Rulers have not shown they are overly tempted yet, but such beckoning which promises an ego trip may yet hold sway.

A member of the Royal household in the South has, however, unabashedly showed his keenness to abandon all proprieties and behave like a politician though yet prepared to leave the safety net provided by the palace.

He should do what his Royal brethren did in the 1990s, joined a royalist party and take his chances. Those Royalties are still highly regarded though not necessarily commanding much support.

And the Southern prince has shown he has the tenacity and the money to boot (since politics can be costly) if he ever decides to join the political fray and contest.

A constituency with several hypermarkets would be ideal.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve.