Malaysiakini : “I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man
who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of
hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who
work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched
existence.” ― Eugene Debs
| The agitation in the Malay power structures continues with the
democratically-elected Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad skirmishing
with the royalty of Johor on the question of the appointment of the
state's menteri besar. This is not only a political issue but rather –
nobody wants to admit this – a moral issue as well. Think back
when Tommy Thomas was the nominee of a democratically-elected government
for the post of attorney-general and the Council of Rulers held back
their consent for a couple of weeks because it was concerned that Thomas
- a non-Muslim and non-Malay - would not defend certain rights and the
sanctity of Islam.
Anwar Ibrahim said, “The Malay rulers had made it known they did not
want the special rights to be belittled, and I told them I agreed with
them and explained they would never be threatened,” he said. “We then
had to explain to the Agong our intentions and stance for reform, and
stated clearly that the special rights of the Malays would not be
Here was a Malaysian, with impeccable credentials, a
history of using the law as means to illustrate the corruption and
bigotry of the former regime and a successful lawyer in his own right,
vilified because of his race and religion and for his views which were
grounded in a rational interpretation of the Federal Constitution.
was good enough for the people who elected a government because they
wanted change but not for the royal institution which was considering
the views of political parties – PAS/Umno – and non-governmental
organisations which did not have a mandate from the people. Consider
that while one former attorney-general's career was mired in sycophancy,
corruption, collusion and legal legerdemain, this apparently this was
enough to stay his eviction from the post of AG.
of the dangers of an absolute power but so far Pakatan Harapan has not
demonstrated that it wants to empower democratic institutions and defang
fascist institutions of the state. While the prime minister is correct
when he claims that history demonstrates that the rulers had no problem
“selling off” their states to foreign powers, the reality is that this
kind of culture is pervasive in mainstream Malay power structures. Before
the election, the prime minister and his coterie of followers were
warning that Umno was selling off the country to China, for example.
This kind of polemic was meant to inflame the Malay polity in the same
way how the far-right uses such themes to galvanise their base.
Post-election, there have been all these overtures to China and
backpedalling and spinning on deals; deals which should not have been
used as racial fodder by the then opposition but were convenient tools
to rile up sentiment.
prime minister is correct when he questions the need to hold elections
if the royalty can, without restraint, meddle in the policies of a
democratically-elected government. When the government was forced –
this, of course, is a matter of opinion – to retreat from the Rome
Statute, the crown prince of Johor wrote, “Long Live the King. Demi Agama, Bangsa dan Negara. Daulat Tuanku.”
when was the Rome Statue an issue about religion and race? Think about
it this way. When a far-right politician or when a Harapan political
operative uses such a phrase, what would the response have been? They
would have been vilified as being racist or a bigot and the discourse –
and rightly so – would have centred on race politics. Instead,
The comment section was closed down for certain news
stories when it came to the crown prince. This, in itself, is a kind of
protection because Malaysiakini would be liable
for comments made as the Harapan regime is "considering creating
legislation that takes action against news portal operators who do not
take action against readers who leave comments that touch on racial,
religious and royal institution sensitivities”.
See? Absolute power in the hands of elected officials is also a threat to democratic freedoms.
Latheefa Koya is right when she points to the silly and immature argument put forward by the crown prince, but James Chin is also right when he observes
the average rakyat is fighting with both hands tied behind his back,
unlike Mahathir. You get away with a lot when you are free to use
social media as you see fit and your detractors are not afforded this
“You know where to find me” does not work
for the rest of us because the state security apparatus will definitely
find you and slap you with sedition charges even if your comments are
valid. See the state's case against Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (above).
sultan of Johor, when thanking the government from withdrawing from the
Rome Statute, said this, "I hope the government will always prioritise
the people's interest over political interest." But the interest of the
people was not prioritised. In fact, by pulling out of the statue, the
government was prioritising their political interests. Anwar said the
Rome Statute was good for democracy and transparency, hence any
inference that it was not “good” for the people is illogical.
of transparency, A Kadir Jasin is being investigated for sedition when
he posted something about the royal upkeep. And what did Anwar say?
“While I support democracy and freedom of expression, what was said was
inappropriate. We have worked very hard to get the Malay rulers to
appreciate this new administration” and that this (Kadir Jasin's view)
those Malaysians who want democracy and worry of the corrosion of our
democratic institutions, the people who are doing this are not only
unelected officials (which include the bureaucratic class) who make
statements which are contrary to their constitutionally-mandated roles
but also politicians who use race and religion as a means to constrain
democratic principles and rule of law.
Mahathir has positioned
himself as the people's champion even though he has a history of
undermining democracy. Indeed, when it comes to the role of race and
religion in mainstream Malaysian politics, democracy is always under
threat. And this is with a moderate government. Let me be very clear -
Harapan’s numerous laws against free speech and for “cultivating”
national harmony are all anti-democratic. This does not include the
religious component which also impedes democracy in this country.
It is no point blaming the Malays on their feudal
mentality when the reality is that all Malay power structures have used
the rhetoric and the apparatus of the state to carry out agendas which
go against the fundamentals of democracy. Meanwhile, on the other
side, there are the royalty who never bothered to flex their muscles
when the country was being looted and the Najib regime then thought up
something like the National Security Council Act which undermined the
power of the royalty.
with the backing of the far-right, we get a ludicrous situation where
Johor Umno names their preferred candidate for the menteri besar's post
and wants to “advise” the Johor sultan to dissolve the state legislative
Ultimately, we have to choose a side. Or
choose no side if the choice is meaningless. What the prime minister has
to do, what Harapan has to do, is to demonstrate that the support of
the people for their side is a meaningful choice. What they have to do
is demonstrate that elected representatives are empowering institutions
and dealing with anyone who thinks they are above the law regardless of
their station in life, the colour of their skin or their religious
Democracy could go down when elected officials do not
fulfil their constitutionally-mandated roles and instead give up power
to unelected officials or be drowned out in a vox populi. The
latter is cold comfort but at least we had a choice, which is also why
it is silly and immature to claim that the people stand with Mahathir.
The reality is that Mahathir, the arch-proponent of strongman politics,
finds himself standing with people who have a different vision for this
country, which history has shown he does not share.
Absolute power in anyone hands is dangerous especially if we, the people, give it to them.