The Only Reliable Voice of the Nation is the Voice of the Rakyat
The recent conflict between royalty in a few states with the elected state leaders has brought to the fore once more the uneasy tension between the interests of the royals, the interests of politicians, and the interests of the people. Many tend to favour either the royals or the politicians as speaking for the Malaysian people. Regardless of who is right, we must reiterate that the interests of the rakyat are distinct, and do not march lockstep with those of either the royalty or our political leaders.
Whenever royal and politician have clashed throughout our checkered history, one has attempted to portray the other as the bad guy and himself (it has rarely been herself) as the good guy. This was particularly acute when Mahathir Mohamad was Prime Minister, with Mahathir demonising the royalty as corrupt and unjustly protected from legal sanction by the laws of the land. Recently alternative media have sought to rehabilitate the image of the royals by criticising Mahathir. Both sides eagerly sought and seek to be known as the one defending the "people", deriving legitimacy either from the ballot box, or the traditions of our country.
Precisely the same issues have come up in recent days. The Sultan of Terengganu and current Yang di-Pertuan Agong Mizan Zainal Abidin has, in the guise of the regency council of Terengganu, rejected the Menteri Besar candidate supported by most assemblymen, picking his own instead. The Sultan's supporters claim he is upset with the incumbent, Idris Jusoh, because of Idris's violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in the state. His opponents claim he is actively thwarting the will of the electorate, and that he is more upset with Idris's crackdown on corrupt logging operations in the state, some of which Idris has active interest in.
Who will win on the legal grounds of the case is an easy issue to settle. It is clear to anyone with a passing familiarity of the Westminster system that the Sultan is acting counter to the spirit, but not necessarily letter of the state constitution, and that it will not matter who he appoints; if the state assembly does not like his appointee, Ahmad Said, it can simply pass a motion of no-confidence, forcing another appointment (hopefully of their preferred candidate) or a new election to resolve the issue. The real question that calls out for an answer is, who is in the right?
If you ask me the answer, I don't know, but I suspect both sides might well be in the wrong — Idris for ordering the police to fire on unarmed, peaceful protesters, and the Sultan for his involvement in shady business practices. Note that I am not implicating either man in this, only suggesting that this is one possibility. The important thing is for all of us to take note that it is quite possible, sometimes even probable, that neither side in a political conflict truly has our interests in mind — that they may both be using us as pawns in their struggle for power.
A friend brought this up with me in a discussion of the recent elections. Citing a failure to distinguish between the opposition and the people, both of whom the alternative media often seemed to construe as having the same interests at heart, he wondered when we would perceive BN and PKR/DAP/PAS as two sets of politicians competing to represent us, rather than instinctively labeling one side as the good guy and the other as the bad.
I share this concern. As much as I sympathise with the opposition, and as much as I think the ruling coalition is harming the country, I hesitate at any attempt to paint the situation as a black-and-white dichotomy, good facing off against bad. I recoil at any suggestion that "every BN MP has our interests at heart", as much as I do a double take when someone claims that "every DAP ADUN has our interests at heart". I don't think any one party reserves the right to say they speak for the country as long as they do not have 100% of the popular vote in a fair election. I don't believe one set of politicians can be described homogeneously as all rotten, any more than it can be described as entirely good and well-meaning. Politics will always be politics, and it pains me to hear suggestions that we can always rely on one political party to voice our concerns.
Unfortunately, we are often all too hasty to paint one side as good and the other as bad; it seems to be in our nature. But no one party can ever say it truly is the voice of the rakyat; in some cases, one party is in the right and the other is in the wrong. Our instinct may push us to support our elected leaders as the true voice of the people, or it may tell us that the royals are speaking out for us. It may tend to support Barisan Nasional or Barisan Rakyat. But ultimately, the only good guy is whoever supports what is in the interest of the nation and the rakyat — and the only true voice of the nation is that of the rakyat themselves.