Our monarchs are our own creation

After my interview with FMT this week, I have had a harried time dealing with brickbats from those who think there is a sinister motive for my actions. They assume that as a known voice for defending accountability and democratic principles I would be the last person to defend the monarchy in the country. It’s perhaps necessary that I reply.

One of the main reasons why we are a seriously divided country – between Malays and non-Malays, Muslims and non-Muslims, East and West – is our inability to deal with those who are our “enemies” in a civilised way.

We humiliate and mock them, and use disproportionate measures in dealing with them. We perhaps unknowingly have assumed a culture of hatred against those on the other side.

Those who remember the way Anwar Ibrahim and his supporters were dealt with in the early days of Reformasi would understand what I am referring to. Special squads with balaclavas were used against Anwar like he was a war criminal, and not an ordinary person charged with a criminal offence.

You remember the “black eye” and soiled mattress being paraded to the courts, that we all know had nothing to do with the offence he was being charged with, but just to shame him.

You remember the affidavit read in court that he had RM3 billion stashed overseas when that was totally irrelevant to the charge even if true. We must never go through this again.

Recently, it was the mounting pressure from those at the top for a speedier court decision on Najib; as if this is the wild, wild west system of justice.

Many accused Najib and his legal team of using “delaying tactics” even after the Court of Appeal made a specific ruling that there was no such effort on the part of Najib and his team. People forget that the modern court system is a slow and complicated process.

It’s the same thing with the Johor palace, the subject of my interview and tweets. Public accusations were hurled at the sultan and his son about things that should be dealt with behind closed doors. There is no need to shame and ridicule them by calling them names.

Our constitutional monarchs are our own creation. They are what they are, because we have allowed them to be so. It’s the responsibility of the elected leaders to address the issue intelligently.

On their own they have no power or legal authority other than those stipulated in the constitution. If the monarchs have transgressed or meddled in the affairs of the state, they can do so only because the elected leaders have agreed to it or they have conspired with or are complicit in allowing such transgressions to take place.

Elected leaders must not wash their hands of the problems and use the palace as a political tool. Instead, it’s the government’s responsibility to protect the monarchy from ridicule and not allow the public to look down on our monarchs.

Key advisers have called the Malays “irrational” and idiots, as if they are not responsible for Malays having become more emotional and not rational, as alleged.

But the Malays are to a large extent the creation of the elected leaders with their short-sighted policies over the last 50 years. These leaders can’t just wash their hands of the problems.

Some Chinese leaders have described those Malays who decided to join forces as extremists when it’s not necessary to describe political alliances as warlike and threatening peace and stability in the country, just because the Malays are involved.

What we need is a softer approach in dealing with those who are different from us. We need to inculcate a more temperate language in our public discourse.

There is no need to play politics all year round or pander to the emotions to the extent of aggravating the split within the community and country. Unity is a critical component that we must strive for if we are to be a prosperous and successful nation. Unity is uppermost if we are to be better than Singapore, never mind other advanced countries

There is no harm in “empathising” and bringing a deeper understanding to the problems faced by the various groups. There is no need to mock the “fears of the Malays and the Muslims” because whilst fear may be irrational, we still have to deal with it.

Similarly with the conduct of the royals; if they do not measure up to the standards of Buckingham Palace then the elected leaders have to see it as their own failure and find ways to improve them.

Do not pander to the feelings of some segments of society who regard royalty as irrelevant and mock them because this behaviour is divisive, and is not the way to unity.

To achieve the desired symbol the monarch represents, and which the people can be proud of, is a work in progress involving everyone and this can only be made with understanding and temperate behaviour on the part of elected leaders

To my readers, that’s what I am up to – to continually speak on the failures of the government, whether PPBM-led or Anwar-led if I think it is for the good of the country. There is no other motive, and certainly not, as alleged, to resurrect my political career. I know it’s been dead for a long time now.

Zaid Ibrahim is a former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

The views of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.