Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Don't Fetishise the Royals

Written by johnleemk on 2:54:27 pm Aug 23, 2007.
Categories: ,

As of late, the clash between members of the royalty and the political establishment have riveted many, especially those inclined against the ruling regime.

It is always heartening to see people stand up for things such as the Federal Constitution, the rule of law, national unity, and treating Malaysians as one.

It is particularly heartening to see such actions coming from the part of people such as Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah of Perak, and Sultan Sharafuddin of my home state, Selangor.

After all, the royals have no constitutional obligation to do any of this. They have personally carved out this role of trying to unite the country and to keep us on an even keel when it comes to the fundamental principles unfortunately neglected by the Constitution (it is not our Constitution, but our Proclamation of Independence which attempts to lay down some philosophical framework for the nation).

This sort of role is what I have advocated for the monarchies of the country, for this is similar to the role played in civil society by the monarchs of other countries, such as the United Kingdom. Monarchs must be non-political symbols of loyalty to the country and its institutions. To this end, I have proposed making the Yang di-Pertuan Agong reign for life as an incentive, but I am glad to see that some royals have taken their own initiative.

Nevertheless at the same time, I am very wary of what the royals have been doing. It is not that I disagree with them, or fundamentally distrust them; in all likelihood, they are sincere, especially the well-educated and high-calibre royal house of Perak.

What I am cautious of is the possible and indeed plausible other motives behind this recent spate of royal statements. It should be transparent to most observers of what has been going on politically that there is a power struggle behind the scenes.

After all, as one person I know has commented, the royals may not have any obligation to do what they did, but they do not have anything to lose either. They can only gain from making fancy (if correct and heartwarming) statements about the country and its circumstances.

Some, such as Raja Petra Kamarudin, would claim that the royals are actively going against the regime in power. If this is true, it would be very worrying.

I have seen a tendency amongst many people to fetishise the royal families, believing that the salvation of this country may lie in action on the part of the royals. Already, armchair internet activists have loudly called for Raja Nazrin to be the next Prime Minister. (Someone even tied this in with the claim that the initials of our Prime Ministers ought to be RAHMAN — Rahman, Abdul Razak, Hussein Onn, Mahathir Mohamad, Abdullah Badawi...)

These are dangerous calls. The monarchies have a very clear role to play, with bounds which must not be overstepped. It is folly for non-political symbols of loyalty to the country to dabble in politics, and thereby jeopardise their impartial nature. Once Raja Nazrin has become Prime Minister, how much of a politically uniting figure can he be? It will only weaken the watertight separation of powers between the monarchs, relegated to a symbolic role as constitutional guardians of our country, and the politically elected.

Our rulers have a role to play in changing the country. But it is not their responsibility to initiate this change; they may execute the coup-de-grace by appointing a new Prime Minister, but it is not up to them to enter the political fray and effect change directly through the electoral political process.

Change must come from the people themselves. We cannot hope to effect change from the top down through hereditary rulers. If anything, that would likely be worse than attempting to effect change from the top down through unelected rulers who at least got there by being good at something (be it leading a military coup or manipulating elections).

Change must be effected by the people, who must vote in a government that will defend those institutions people like Raja Nazrin and Sultan Sharafuddin have sought to defend. We must vote in a government that recognises all Malaysians as equal stakeholders and contributors with equal loyalties to our equally shared homeland. We must vote in a government that will uphold our Federal Constitution and the laws derived from it.

It is not up to the rulers to decide what form our government must take. In a democracy, it is up to the people to make this decision, and for the rulers to give their symbolic stamp of approval. The rulers may persuade people concerning what form the government may take — that is only what Raja Nazrin has done, after all — but ultimately the decision rests with the people.

Let us not do all of us an injustice by attempting to inject the glamour of royalty into our politics. We do not need monarchs to issue orders as to what must be done; as a democratic people, the decisions are ours to make. The monarchy exists primarily to serve us by means of advice and encouragement, symbolically uniting the country behind its institutions. We do this role an incredible disservice if we dilute it by injecting partisan politics into the equation and fetishising the royalty as the ultimate solution to our problems.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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