Saturday, July 16, 2011
Too soon, my liege
The King should not have intervened in the stand-off between the government and Bersih over the latter's rally last weekend.

Cue angry denouncements by Datuk Ibrahim Ali. Now that that's done with:

I'm not saying the King isn't allowed to intervene. Legal eagles more learned than I have made it clear that Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin has the right, within the framework of Malaysia's constitutional monarchy, to step in to ensure the Constitution is adhered to.

I'm just saying he shouldn't have, if only because it sets a low threshold for future royal interventions. Despite whatever good intentions Tuanku Mizan might have had, he effectively short-circuited the normal workings of a democracy with Sunday's nine-paragraph edict.

Not that his timely intervention wasn't welcome by most. Many in Bersih and the government breathed a sigh of relief when the King asked both sides to move back from the brink and parley.

His words gave all parties a face-saving way to back down without seeming spineless. Having painted themselves into a corner with much posturing and bravado, this was the best way out without appearing to give in.

Was it necessary, though? The King should really only take a hand when federal administration is unable to function properly, like in a constitutional crisis. Anything less is arguably interference in the day-to-day running of government.

Surely the Najib administration—which claims it can steer the country to a better and brighter future by 2020—could have handled something as simple as a rally? Even his predecessor didn't make a hash of the first Bersih rally, and by all accounts Tun Abdullah Badawi was snoozing on the job most of the time.

(Critics of Bersih 2.0 can talk until they're blue in the face about the alleged plot to revive communism and 'wage war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong' but I reserve judgement until and unless someone is convicted in a court of law.)

But what truly worries me is the language anti-Bersih (and even some pro-Bersih) supporters resorted to after Tuanku Mizan made his thoughts known. They practically fell over themselves praising the King's wisdom while urging Malaysians to heed his royal wishes—to do otherwise would be to commit derhaka (treason).

Suddenly, it seemed like we were no different from Thailand, where anything the almost god-King Bhumipol Adulyadej says is inviolate. Yet I don't remember anyone making so much as a peep when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad went out of his way to limit the power of monarchs during his tenure.

Since then, we've taken Sultans to court—for good reason—so I think we can dispense with the notion that they're always correct or beyond reproach.

Why the worry? Because we know little about the nine monarchs who take turns assuming the office of King. We can't choose our country's supreme ruler and we can't get rid of him, plus there's no guarantee the next one will be better.

So let's not open the door to interventions over a storm in a teacup. Let's keep the bar high. And can we please dispense with this language of fealty and disloyalty? Our King is not rex sacrorum and we don't live in the feudal era anymore.

TAGS: malaysia politics
posted by Hong at 3:34 pm | Permalink |