Who’s afraid of the rakyat?
13 Feb 09 : 10.00AM
By Jacqueline Ann Surin
ONE of the most lucid things I've read above the din of the political fiasco in Perak is Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat's statement about respecting Sultan Azlan Shah's decision.
Mohd Osman Mohd Jailu (left), Hee Yit Foong (middle) and Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi (right)
Following the Perak Ruler's decision, the PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar, who is himself of royal lineage, said, "I don't question the decision of the Sultan of Perak in not consenting to the dissolution of the state assembly as it is the Sultan's right."
However, Nik Aziz said what needed to be reviewed and questioned was what led to the Sultan's decision. Nik Aziz was ostensibly referring to how it came about that Pakatan Rakyat assemblypersons deserted their parties, adding: "There must be something that's not right, and planned by certain quarters."
Perhaps Nik Aziz's statement calls on the DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) to be self-analytical on the fall of the Perak Pakatan Rakyat government. But I believe his statement calls us to ask one other thing: What led to the Sultan's decision? In other words, how did our respected former Supreme Court Lord President arrive at the decision he did?
Right yet wrong
I am no constitutional lawyer. But I understand from the experts that the Sultan was constitutionally right in not acceding to Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin's request to dissolve the state assembly.
In fact, the country's best legal minds think it will be hard to challenge the Ruler's decision in court. From what I hear, even lawyers within Pakatan Rakyat know that it will be a tough challenge although there are, of course, opposing views.
Still, while the Sultan may have been constitutionally right in the decision he made, he would also have been constitutionally right in testing Nizar's popularity through ordering a vote in the state assembly. Or he could test the popularity of either the Pakatan Rakyat or the Barisan Nasional (BN) by dissolving the state assembly so that snap polls can be held.
Indeed, the desertion of the three state assemblypersons — Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi (Behrang), Mohd Osman Mohd Jailu (Changkat Jering), and Hee Yit Foong (Jelapang) — were dubious at best, suspect at worst. And as independents "friendly" to the BN, rather than being clear-cut BN members, their allegiance is hardly tenacious. Surely this is critical in a situation where the BN and Pakatan Rakyat have an equal number of seats in the state assembly, and everything hangs on these three independents?
Additionally, the resignations of these three pivotal assemblypersons have yet to be determined in court. It would thus seem that while the Sultan was constitutionally right, he may still have been wrong.
So, why then did the Sultan make one decision over two others which would also have been constitutionally correct? And more importantly, which would have returned to the people their right to choose which government they wanted? After all, allowing for snap polls would also have been a constitutionally sound decision for the Sultan to make.
If Nik Aziz has done anything for me, he has really prodded me into asking this question, even if that wasn't his original intention. And I think it is a question worth asking. If this is a democracy, shouldn't people be ruled by their choices during an election rather than by the fickle-mindedness of elected representatives?
There are other lessons we can learn from other statements which have been made about the Perak political impasse and the ensuing confrontation between BN and Pakatan Rakyat.
For example, the statement by outgoing Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that Pakatan Rakyat should accept BN's Perak takeover just like the BN accepted 2008's election results.
Additionally, when S Veerasingam was appointed special advisor to BN-installed Menteri Besar Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, he said this solved the absence of Indian Malaysian elected representatives in the Perak BN government.
Both these statements really demonstrate that the BN remains clueless about the meaning of a government by the people.
Additionally, the BN, led primarily by Umno, has been calling for the institution of the monarchy to be respected. But surely, a far more fundamental principle that needs defending is the rakyat's right to choose who should govern them.
We are a democracy, not a feudal state even if some Umno leaders would prefer we were the latter. Hence, how can it be a threat to society or even treasonous to question decisions which do not uphold the people's right to choose their government?
What is really a threat to society is the kind of thuggery and intimidation involved in silencing questioning voices. I think it is critical for the rakyat to note where the calls for the use of the
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Critical voices, including from within the Pakatan Rakyat, are raising issues of principle, law, democracy and legitimacy. But the BN, and Umno in particular, continue to resort to obnoxious arrogance, hoping they can mask their empty rhetoric by sheer volume and force.
Sure, the Pakatan Rakyat is not blameless. After all, Pakatan Rakyat was not averse to party-hoppers themselves and was bent on taking over the federal government on 16 Sept 2008 through exactly the same methods.
Indeed, little do I trust politicians from either camp to stay true to the rakyat's interest unless we hold them to it. Nobody, after all, is above being corrupted by power and delusions of authority.
And if nothing else, the three deserting assemblypersons, and the Bota representative, Datuk Nasarudin Hashim, who couldn't decide which party to remain in, have proven that politicians can be severely lacking in principles. Indeed, none of the four assemblypersons seemed too concerned that they were really letting the people down by doing what they did.
And if institutions such as a constitutional monarchy cannot be expected to always make the best decision, what recourse do citizens have?
(Anne James in "In Between Things", © Five Arts Centre)
My friend Anne James happens to be the spouse of a PKR Member of Parliament. But, in the face of shameful behaviour and rhetoric from politicians and disappointing decisions from the monarchy, she has this to say: "The rakyat cannot just serahkan everything to politicians and institutions like we have over the past 20 years."
James adds that if nothing else, the crisis in Perak has reinforced the fact that in a democracy, the rakyat need to actively participate to protect their interests. "We have to be ever-vigilant."
And that means being ever-vigilant of the state, politicians and the monarchs who make decisions on our behalf.
Despite the royal seal of approval, Jacqueline Ann Surin notes that the new BN government in Perak is having a tough time defending itself. She wonders why politicians continue to be afraid of the people's right to choose.