Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rulers must not lord over us

Rulers must not lord over us

UNEASY LIES THE HEAD THAT WEARS A CROWN - William Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth.

“The role of the constitutional monarchy goes beyond what is stipulated in the constitution. The rulers have a far wider responsibility in ensuring that the spirit of the constitution, the philosophy behind the written law, and the interest of the country and the people are safeguarded at all times.” - Sultan Azlan Shah.

I am sad to note that there are among us those who have chosen to interpret Sultan Azlan Shah’s rendering of the role of the constitutional monarchy as an example of our rulers seeking to act outside the remit of their constitutional authority. A ruler naturally cannot act arbitrarily, for example, by ignoring any of the provisions of the constitution without inviting formal strictures.

The Sultan of Perak was making a distinction between the formal functions of a Malay ruler as set out in the constitution of his state and his traditional duties as a hereditary ruler. A ruler of a Malay state is, therefore, more than a constitutional creation; he is the embodiment of all that is noble, virtuous, fair and just. Many rulers naturally have not lived up to these ideals, but, on balance, it can be fairly argued that they are conscious of their duty to their people. They have a duty that goes beyond the constitutional framework which has neither spirit nor soul and which only a wise and caring ruler can give.

Sultan Azlan Shah is right to remind us and himself in particular that as a ruler he is above politics. We would not have it any other way. It is unfortunate that his handling of what I call the Perak Affair has given rise to suspicions that he was not above politics. The presence of Najib in the palace ostensibly as the UMNO state liaison chief was all grist to the rumour mill. To crown it all, he was the deputy prime minister, and not some common garden variety Perak politician.

No one underestimated his political clout. This in turn produced an unstoppable chain of unsavoury bush telegraph messages, all claiming irrefutable inside information that the Sultan had been bought by Najib.

All extremely unfortunate, but for me, what was unpardonable, in this day and age, is the total absence of any explanation by the palace why the menteri besar’s request for fresh elections had been so summarily and cavalierly rejected, with indecent haste.

Palaces the world over no longer behave as they used to in dealing with information of public interest. Buckingham Palace is a case in point. The Queen of England does not presume that what she does is entirely her own affair. The Perak palace should be prepared to put all of its decisions on political matters under the closest public scrutiny. It is said nowadays that father no longer has all the answers, and even a ruler as learned as Sultan Azlan Shah is not infallible.

I now turn to a consideration of what rulers have to do in order to earn the love and respect of their subjects. First, they must uphold the dignity of their position by behaving in ways that will set them apart from the rest of us, as models of decency, honour and rectitude. This means, in effect, that they must set high moral and ethical standards of behaviour for themselves in keeping with their anointed role in life.

A ruler must, for example, steer clear of any involvement in partisan politics. Equally unacceptable in the eyes of their subjects is for sultans and their royal children to reduce themselves to being supplicants - petitioning politicians for land and government projects.

There is no quicker way of losing their self-worth than by their being seen to be behaving in this way. There is no difference, then, between the rulers and the ruled. Rulers have to make up their minds whether they want to rule over us or to compete with us their humble subjects for business handouts from corrupt politicians.

I wish to assure all the Malay rulers that when I have occasion to disagree with them on issues of state, there is no wish on my part, to use the Sultan of Perak’s words as reported in the New Straits Times, “to provoke them (the people) into dismantling the system and institution as this could create chaos in the country.” Even though I may be a million miles from any throne, in a manner of speaking, I am one of you, and why would I want to destroy an institution that is still in working order?


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