Will Malay rulers meet to save Malaysia?

All eyes are now on the Malay rulers to see if they will meet after the total lockdown to discuss the state of affairs in Malaysia and the possibility of setting up a temporary government.

Certain quarters are “restless” over the recent turn of events – the spike in Covid-19 cases, political instability, indefinite suspension of Parliament and economic uncertainty – and were looking at the royal institution for “guidance”.

Cracks within the Cabinet have become more apparent in recent times, with the latest being the spat between two Senior Ministers from different political parties – Umno’s Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.

Last week, Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, an Umno leader herself, had once again called for Parliament to reconvene.

Such episodes have only fuelled the need for the Rulers to weigh in.

In upholding the spirit of syura (consultation), would Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah consult his fellow Rulers as they could, among others, discuss the possibility of a National Operations Council (NOC) running the government temporarily?

The Council’s task would be to ensure the pandemic is contained, that Parliament reconvenes and that the administration in Putrajaya be given back to the people – via a general election.

An NOC was seen in 1969, following the May 13 race riots. Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman set up the NOC with his deputy, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, as director of operations.

This time, it is unclear if those within the ruling government will agree to it.

Why the need for an “interim government”?

Perikatan Nasional (PN) was not elected by the people. It was formed following the collapse of Pakatan Harapan after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned as prime minister. It is widely known that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin enjoys a wafer-thin majority in Parliament. And the uncertainty within PN, especially between Umno and Bersatu, remains.

PN, in navigating in an unprecedented era and despite rolling out numerous financial packages, has yet to win the hearts of the people. Instead, the hashtag #KerajaanGagal continues to haunt the administration.

Why are the Malay rulers concerned?

Some Malays have been vocal against the royal institution in recent times. This has manifested itself in sarcasm, satire and outright, and sometimes pointed, criticism.

State governments and the respective government agencies have kept mum when this discontent bubbles to the surface – presumably afraid of offending the royals, or, simply because they do not know how to counter the narratives. What these agencies could do is state the facts and correct the misconceptions.

Instead, the Department of Islamic Development had, on Wednesday, issued a statement on social media, prohibiting the people from criticising sultans. The department received a royal bashing (no pun intended) on its Facebook page.

There are also messages being circulated that the Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah, should step down and allow another Ruler to take over.

Such wild narratives would only create uneasiness among the Malay rulers. Tradition dictates that the Agong is elected on a rotational basis, the Sultan of Johor being next in line. Attempts to ignore this tradition would set an unwanted precedent, allowing the same thing to happen in the future, and diminish the role and image of the monarchy.

In fact, no Ruler would want to be placed in such an uncomfortable situation, for they are above such political maneuvering.

A similar scenario was played out at the end of 2018. In January 2019, Sultan Muhammad V abdicated – cementing his name in the history books for being the first King to do so.

A meeting among the Rulers, showing the strength of the royal institution, will quash any wild speculations and remind Malaysians of the influence that the Malay rulers still wield.

But are Malay rulers really influential?

The Agong can, upon consulting with the other Rulers, legal and constitutional experts, call for an NOC to be formed. Traditionally, when an Agong makes a public request, the answer would be in the affirmative.

However, Al-Sultan Abdullah had, in February, said that Parliament can reconvene despite the country being in a state of emergency. Yet, Parliament remains suspended.

When Muhyiddin and his Cabinet requested for a state of emergency last year, Al-Sultan Abdullah, upon consultation with the other sultans, said no. However, the Agong agreed to a state of emergency this year after a request was once again made by Muhyiddin.

Malaysia has been under a state of emergency since Jan 11, although the announcement was only made a day later. Now, close to five months on, healthcare workers are still scrambling to save lives. Yesterday, 8,209 new Covid-19 cases were recorded. This brought the total number of cases to 595,374.

Calls have been made to end the state of emergency earlier, instead of Aug 1. It remains unclear if Putrajaya would do so. Certain quarters have urged the Special Independent Emergency Committee 2021 to keep the rakyat informed of its discussions. It is understood that the panel has met six times.

The role and influence of the Agong have been widely debated in the past.

Senior lawyer Datuk Seri Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunnos, in his article published in Twentytwo13 last October, said the Federal Constitution was clear that it was not in all circumstances mandatory for the Agong to accede to the prime minister’s request, and that several law academics and lawyers had erroneously pointed to Article 40(1) of the Federal Constitution to say that the Agong must act on the advice of the prime minister.

Perhaps now is the best time for the Rulers to voice out, collectively, and remind the politicians to unite and care for the people – not just by giving handouts, but by upholding integrity, accountability, transparency, good governance and democracy.

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