by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. First published in The Malay Mail 9 October 2015
The Rulers rarely make public collective statements. There was one in October 2008 which condemned those who disputed provisions in the Federal Constitution based on a cursory knowledge of history. Another was issued in October 2010, where the Rulers called upon every citizen regardless of race or religion to be united in loyalty to the country and respect for the Federal Constitution. News archives show that both of these statements were well reported and referred to by politicians of all parties.
These royal statements are not political: they are issued to remind citizens and leaders of the essence of the nation and to share concerns on current issues.
In similar vein, this week’s six-paragraph statement released by the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal on Tuesday (6 October) was unambiguous with its specific mention of 1MDB, the institutions tasked to investigate it like the Royal Malaysian Police, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Bank Negara, the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Judiciary, and its call for action to be taken against wrongdoers. It placed the controversy within the current economic context and reminded leaders to obey the Constitution and Rukun Negara and not exploit race and religion in pursuit of political objectives.
Anyone who has sat in a committee of several – let alone nine – members will appreciate that it is sometimes difficult to reach consensus: that this statement has been released implies a process of much thinking and deliberation, and the full text should be read in its entirety by all Malaysians.
Unfortunately even Bernama’s press release – containing excerpts of the statement – was scarcely covered by the mainstream media. As I went to bed late Tuesday night, it had been published by several websites including the Malay Mail Online. It was not on Utusan Online and the primetime news on TV1 made no mention of it, while TV3 spent 30 seconds on it. In the print editions the next day it was on page 2 of the Star, page 4 of Kosmo and Utusan Malaysia, page 6 of Sinar Harian and page 13 of the New Straits Times. However, several others including the Malay Mail front-paged it.
Reaction to the statement among online commentators was overwhelmingly positive, with most commending the moral leadership of the monarchs. Some said “too little, too late”, wanting the Rulers to go much further in their intervention by removing certain officeholders. Others hoped for the establishment of a new Royal Commission of Inquiry instituted directly by Their Royal Highnesses. On the other hand, a few expressed disappointment that the Rulers were now “dragged into politics” or “misled by opposition propaganda”.
As expected there were responses by politicians: DAP’s Lim Kit Siang called for a parliamentary debate on 1MDB, PAS’ Dato’ Seri Mahfuz Omar wants the Rulers to fire the Prime Minister, Amanah’s Salahuddin Ayub claims that the Rulers are in effect asking for his resignation, while PKR’s Youth Wing has asked for a vote of no confidence when Parliament reconvenes. As I write this, a joint press release from Pakatan Harapan has just been issued thanking the Rulers and asking all citizens to heed their statement.
Support for the Rulers’ statement has also come from former Deputy Prime Minister (but still UMNO Deputy President) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and former minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
Many activists, captains of industry and even civil servants have joined in the expressions of support (albeit not as publicly), and it has been suggested that other high-profile individuals, with the knowledge that Rulers share their concern about 1MDB, will now be emboldened: Tun Ling Liong Sik may be the first example. Other less sincere leaders will continue to hedge – if and when they calculate that the tide is turning, they will start to chant “Daulat Tuanku!”.
For some that is not even an option: they have already been irreversibly compromised by money, the enjoyment of office and the fear of prosecution and shame. To them, monarchs are only valuable when they can be used as tools to attack their own opponents. One of the more entertaining spins suggests that the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal conspired with others to release the statement without royal approval. We would definitely have known by now if such a crazy, treasonous act was committed.
Thankfully, however much the downplaying and spinning, true patriots will ensure that the Rulers’ message reaches every nook and cranny of the country.
For now, the golden question has been asked by former journalist Datuk Kadir Jasin: will the Attorney General, Inspector General of Police, Chairman of the MACC, Governor of Bank Negara and members of the Public Accounts Committee heed the Rulers’ call to serve the country’s interests?
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Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is Founding President of IDEAS