Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bersih: Another abuse of the Monarchy by the Umno elite

Written by Maclean Patrick, Malaysia Chronicle

Never trust UMNO when they start talking about the Monarchy in Malaysia.

In 1983, UMNO under the leadership of Mahathir Mohamad took on Malaysia’s royalty, the first of many maneuvers. He stepped forward to introduce amendments to the constitution to limit the Agong’s or King's authority over Parliament. The Agong would have to assent to a bill within 15 days of being passed by Parliament and most importantly the amendments would remove the royal power to declare a state of emergency - shifting it from the Agong and to the Prime Minister.

At first, the Agong refused to bend to Mahathir’s will and His Majesty was supported by the Sultans, conservative UMNO politicians, a large number in the Malay community and an even larger number from the Chinese community.

But Mahathir had the media on his side and took to the streets, organising mass rallies to show public support was behind him. Ironic that none of these street rallies were illegal nor were they deemed a threat to national security or damaging to the country’s economy.

After five months, the two sides reach a compromise with the power to declare Emergency still in the Agong’s hands but if a bill was not assented to by the Agong, the bill would be returned to Parliament to be endorsed, which meant that Parliament could over-ride the Agong’s veto.

Round Two - Mahathir and UMNO gains control

In his second decade in office, Mahathir again found himself battling Malaysia's royalty.

In 1992, the late Sultan Iskandar's son, a hockey player was suspended from competition for five years for assaulting an opponent. Sultan Iskandar retaliated by pulling all Johor hockey teams out of national competitions. When his decision was criticised by a local coach, Sultan Iskandar ordered him to his Palace and promptly had the coach beaten up.

The federal Parliament unanimously censured Sultan Iskandar, and Mahathir leapt at the opportunity to remove the constitutional protection of the Sultans from civil and criminal suits.

The mainstream media, as usual, backed Mahathir and in an unprecedented development started airing allegations of misconduct by members of Malaysia's royal families. As the press revealed 'examples' of the Rulers' extravagant wealth, Mahathir resolved to cut financial support to royal households.

Faced with a hostile press and federal government, the Sultans capitulated to the government's proposals. Their powers to deny assent to bills were further limited by other constitutional amendments passed in 1994.

So it was that after several fell swoops, Mahathir became the country's 'uncrowned King'. And along with that, UMNO effectively gained control over the royals - imposing its grip over the authority of the Agong.

Abusing and manipulating the Rulers

UMNO sees itself as Malay nationalist, moderate Islamist and conservative party representing the Malays of Malaysia. It is also open to any Bumiputra or indigenous Malaysian, a category which includes the non-Malay and usually non-Muslim Kadazan, Iban, Dayak, and so forth, from East Malaysia.

Yet, this facade or rationality has proven itself as mere rhetoric as reality clearly shows that the ruling elite in UMNO are only interested in their own pursuits and have even given their tacit stamp of approval to extreme actions by non-moderates or ultras such as Perkasa.

UMNO regards itself as the "protector and champion of ketuanan Melayu or Malay supremacy", which in turn postulates that the Malays are the rulers of Malaysia or "masters of this land", as stated by former UMNO Youth information chief Azimi Daim in 2003.

But in portraying itself as protector and champion, what they are really saying is that they - UMNO - rules Malaysia. Not the King or even voters. And the party is willing to remain in power even if it means disrespecting the Royalty and other members of the Barisan Nasional.

It is not beneath UMNO to abuse the Royalty to continue to further its need to rule Malaysia and to further oppress the people of Malaysia.

Bersih

And this is why the recent statement by the King over the Bersih rally must be read with care. It is already an object of huge argument in cyberspace with UMNO-BN claiming victory that it is was a royal order to Bersih to cease and desist.

Pakatan Rakyat leaders however believe it is a clear victory for the people. It shows the King is alarmed at the vicious string of arrests made by the police and wants Prime Minister Najib Razak to reopen negotiations with the Bersih organizers.

Whichever it is, let all Malaysians including BN and Pakatan supporters remember the history of the Royalty and how their power was cut by Mahathir to give the UMNO elite a hold over the Palace.

Reading through the statement, it is clear it favours UMNO but there were also concessions made. So, while Pakatan should appreciate the royal move to defuse rising and ugly tensions, it should not go overboard and over-praise a statement that actually does not favour it.

For UMNO to gloat is also most silly, and the answer why is very obvious - what have they gained?

-- Malaysia Chronicle

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