Rethink how you deal with royals, Zaid tells Putrajaya

Zaid Ibrahim.

PETALING JAYA: A former federal minister has urged Putrajaya to rethink the way it is dealing with the Johor royal family.

In an interview with FMT, Zaid Ibrahim said the spat between government figures and Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim was “very unfortunate and unnecessary”, especially when Putrajaya had more pressing challenges to handle, such as deteriorating race relations and concerns over the economy.

Instead of picking a fight with the royals, he said, the government should be seeking to work with them as they could prove to be its allies, particularly in dealing with matters pertaining to Islam and the Malays.

“Don’t be a Napoleon who wants to fight with everyone,” he said. “Even Napoleon met his Waterloo.”

Zaid dismissed the notion that the royals were interfering with the work of the executive, saying they did not have powers to control government agencies like the police or military.

“How can people with no power interfere?”

Citing the example of the Bukit Chagar land issue, he said someone in the federal or state government must have been responsible for transferring the land to the Sultan of Johor because the latter had no power to transfer it himself.

He urged the government to be transparent and tell the people what really happened.

It has been reported that a plot of land for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) project was transferred to the Johor ruler when Barisan Nasional was in power.

The sultan has said he would surrender the land free of charge if it is part of the RTS project on the condition that the project is resumed immediately.

Yesterday, Dr Mahathir Mohamad upped the ante in his feud with Tunku Ismail, calling him “stupid” and “a little boy”.

Zaid said he subscribed to the principle that everyone is accountable for his actions. Monarchs are not exempted from this rule, he added.

“I too have criticised the rulers in the past,” he said. “I was one of the first to defend Dr Mahathir in the 1990s, even when Umno dared not to defend him.” He was referring to Mahathir’s spat with the royals in his first stint as PM.

He said the government should not see Tunku Ismail’s comments on social media as an interference or a threat because those comments would not impede the government’s ability to function.

“Why are you so sensitive about an opinion? Why do government leaders need to respond, to be critical? What harm can he do? If you want to become a politician, you have to be thick skinned.”

He said Tunku Ismail, like everyone else, should be given the space to express his views and there was no need for ministers to get involved because the public would know right from wrong.

He suggested that the government seek an audience with Tunku Ismail if it believed he needed a better understanding of constitutional law.

There was no need to fight in public, he added.

He also said true leaders would worry more about solving problems than about getting the respect of their adversaries. If the government took this approach, he added, it would not be seen as weak.

“What I don’t like is using the public forum to embarrass rulers. I don’t think it’s fair. To reprimand or cast aspersions on rulers, what do you hope to achieve?”

If rulers had gone astray, he said, then the government should engage with them.

To Zaid, the government’s main problem in its handling of the palace is that it has an inflated ego. It appeared, he said, that Putrajaya was intent on winning debate points.

He said the government should be reminded that the Malays, in general, love the Malays rulers and the royal institution.

He cautioned that the issue needs to be handled with care and voiced hope that non-Malays would stay clear of criticising the rulers to the point of mocking them.

“If we do not handle this well, our country will be split,” he said.