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Kings and princes make dramatic comeback in Southeast Asia

 | October 19, 2017

With social media skills, younger royals are proving to be influential in Southeast Asia, while kings are beginning to show leadership where political leaderships have floundered, says report.

tmj-mateenKUALA LUMPUR: Southeast Asia’s royal families are making a dramatic comeback after years of being quiet and staying in the shadows, according to a report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

One of the main reasons is that a younger set of royals has found the power of social media and is using it to be relevant again.

And one of those putting social media to good use is the crown prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, who is described as an avid polo-player who heads Malaysia’s Football Association, and who often talks more sense than most of his country’s politicians.

Another is Brunei’s Prince Abdul Mateen who is described as having Hollywood movie star looks and an Instagram following (705,000 and counting) larger than his country’s population.

For instance, it says, the Facebook page of the Johor Southern Tigers football club (which Tunku Ismail headed before taking over the national association) has become an unofficial mouthpiece for the state’s royal family. With nearly two million likes, the page’s reach easily dwarfs that of establishment outlets.

The royals’ determination and skill in wielding Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have propelled their profiles, “making them immensely popular – so much so that in Malaysia, they are eclipsing the much-maligned political elite”.

And it is not just the younger members of royal families who are active, the kings are, too.

For instance, recently, in a rare moment of outspokenness, the Council of Rulers of Malaysia (comprising the country’s nine sultans) issued a statement warning against religious exclusivism.

The report also cited the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, demanding that a launderette owner in his state drop his Muslims-only policy for customers. His action was later reinforced by the pronouncement of his brother rulers.

When preacher Zamihan Mat Zin, on the payroll of Jakim, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department, criticised the sultan’s decision, he was severely rebuked by netizens backing the Johor royal family.

The Johor sultan instructed the state Islamic authorities to cut ties with Jakim.

Zamihan was detained for a few days for questioning by police, and Selangor revoked his credentials to preach in its mosques.

Such a bold move, the SCMP report noted, was unprecedented in the history of Muslim-majority Malaysia.

In “republican” Indonesia, the report said, Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, reappointed governor of the Special Region of Yogyakarta, called for an extension of a moratorium on new licences for hotels and rejected plans for a toll road there, citing concerns about overdevelopment and a flood of tourists that would overwhelm residents.

The resurgent confidence of the royals was amply illustrated, the report said, by last week’s extravagant celebrations for the Sultan of Brunei’s 50 years on the throne.

The report says: “In the often messy, always changing media landscape of the 21st Century, some royal families have clearly seized the opportunity to reach out to their subjects, bolster their image and reassert their political relevance.”

The SCMP report noted that as elected governments faced unprecedented attacks on their integrity and credibility, the mounting popularity, and permanence, of royals had “permitted the more astute among them to position themselves as the de facto consciences of their respective countries”.

According to the report, lacking the direct powers of the executive, the royals of Southeast Asia have consolidated their moral and social influence. And this has allowed many “ancient and storied families” a second stab at real political relevance and influence.

The report also stated that it was “worrying”, especially in the case of Malaysia, that mainstream leaders had failed to provide leadership.

The democratically elected elite, it added, had “become primordial, narrow-minded and deeply resentful of progressive causes”.



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