Instead of being seen as a unifying force, certain people are using them as a tool to create fear in the rakyat and also to score political points.
One monarch who is seen as a unifying force for the majority of the population of 62 million, has just celebrated 60 years on the throne amid scenes of jubilation. In four days of festivities, over a million people lined the banks of the River Thames, the streets of London, and braved the cold and rain, to honour Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in her Diamond Jubilee.
Back in Malaysia, our royals are seen in a different perspective. Instead of being seen as a unifying force, certain people are using them as a tool to create fear in the rakyat and also to score political points.
The main objective? To stifle criticism of the government and swing voters towards Barisan Nasional in the 13th general election. The means to achieve this? Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has said that he would review the Sedition Act and replace the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
Despite Najib’s proclamation that Malaysia has the “best democracy in the world”, it is our leaders who are guilty of fanning the flames of division using the 4 “Rs” – race, religion, royalty and rural people.
The latest case of sedition being used to stifle dissent involves former Perak mentri besar Nizar Jamaluddin and his remarks on Twitter on May 28 about the WWW1 car registration plate.
In his defence, Nizar said: “I never insulted the Tuanku in any way but the BN-controlled media fully played up the issue to tarnish my political image.”
Malaysians are used to double standard. Kosmo, an Utusan publication, published two cartoons on the controversial number-plate but is not being investigated nor has it suffered any public criticism.
The first cartoon was published on May 28, with the caption, “Plat berharga RM500,000”, the second one was on May 30 under “WWW1 paling mahal”.
Perak Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir joined in the Nizar-bashing and called him rude and thoughtless: “He doesn’t seem to care whether he will offend others. He always feels the need to make some accusations and assumptions because that’s his character.”
Zambry appears to have forgotten what transpired in 2009. The crisis in Perak was one event that made many Malaysians, especially Perakians, question the role and political neutrality of the Sultan.
Perhaps, it is true what former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said about the Malays, in that they “easily forget” (Melayu mudah lupa).
When Mahathir stripped the royals of their powers in 1993, bent them to his will, and removed their immunity in civil and criminal issues, Umno members were very much in agreement with Mahathir. Today, Malaysians cower from having an open debate on their monarchy.
The UK has regular transparent, public debates on their royal institutions. There has been no anarchy and the monarchy has not been abolished. The Queen may just be a symbolic figure but she contributes to the country as its cultural ambassador, and is patron of several sports and arts organisations, including several charities.
Her finances are open to public scrutiny, she pays income tax and the royal family cost each British taxpayer 62p (approximately RM3.10) in 2009.
The open debates have contributed towards a continuation of the British monarchy and perhaps, made it into a stronger institution. The British royals acknowledge the need to “modernise” and do not want to be seen as an archaic institution, distant and out of touch with people’s feelings.
Last October, Negeri Sembilan’s Tunku Zain al ‘Abidin Muhriz said: “As a supporter of freedom of speech and assembly, I have always maintained that Malaysians should have the freedom to discuss anything not genuinely seditious, libellous or inciting violence.
“I also support the right of individuals to express their opinions [through]… media portals.”
Last week, former Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said: “If royalty cannot be disputed, this means the rakyat has deified them; this is because only God cannot be disputed by the people. As long as a member of the rakyat uses proper language and arguments, it is unreasonable for him or her to be punished for the criticism.
“Even a prophet could be questioned,” he said. “Any party that prevents the people from criticising the nobility, even though it is done with appropriate language, is a feudalistic group that should not hold political power in today’s age.”
He is right. The Malays are trapped in their feudalistic past and fear speaking out in case they are considered traitors to their race, religion and culture. Without the emotional disentanglement, they cannot attain intellectual freedom.
In September last year, another opposition leader caused a right royal stink. Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar said that he was “offended” by Lim Guan Eng’s remarks that Johor was dangerous and the risk of being kidnapped was high.
HRH told a mainstream paper, “Yes, I was offended when I got to know about that statement, but I don’t want to react because as a ruler, I shouldn’t be dragged into politics. Don’t speak for me. I am capable of doing it… I have the interests of my rakyat and also foreigners living in Johor at heart.”
Lim apologised for his remarks last year, as did Nizar, last week.
A Malaysian who prefers to remain anonymous said: “There are two types of Malay royalty. The true blue-bloods and the wannabe royals – the Umnoputra. There is mutual back-scratching.”
Another cynic said: “Remember when the Ipoh city council warned businesses to fly the Malaysian flag outside their premises on Merdeka day or else it would withdraw their licences and permits? Shallow council members equate flag-flying with patriotism.
“Same thing with royalty. Shouting ‘Daulat Tuanku’ till we are hoarse doesn’t prove anything.”
The resurgence of sedition in our lives shows that GE-13 is fast approaching. Besides opposition politicians, human rights activists like Irene Fernandez are also targeted. Individuals like engineer Chan Hon Keong, was found guilty of insulting the Perak Sultan and faces a year in jail and a RM50,000 fine. He is the “warning” to us all.
If Nizar is found guilty of sedition and faces a fine or jail sentence, it may disqualify him from contesting in GE-13. He will be out of harm’s way. Wouldn’t that be convenient for Umno?
Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist