A few weeks ago, my eyes were glued to the television for two hours watching the History Channel special programme on 'Puyi: The Last Emperor of China'. Aisin-Gioro Puyi, who was forced to abdicate in 1912, was the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty which ruled China for more than 200 years. The Chinese emperor institution however had existed for much longer, since 221 BC with the unification of Chinese territories under the ancient Qin Dynasty.
In my younger more radical years, I used to imagine turning Malaysia into a republic. This is a country where we have not one, but nine kings ruling over the nine Malay royal states in the Federation of Malaysia. My disdain then was based on what I perceived to be a waste of economic resources to maintain the institution and what I observed to be neurotic submissiveness to rulers who have at best mythical claims to their inborn positions. These sentiments were so strong in me that for a number of years I adopted the pen name Megat Seri Rama when writing to various newspapers and magazines.
Now, having read more on Malaysia’s political history, and after internalising a more moderate and accommodating political philosophy, I believe it is important for us to maintain the monarchy as an institution that provides check-and-balance to the executive, especially, upon hearing the words of wisdom from some of the present day monarchs, some of whom have impeccable academic and professional qualifications; on their deep sense of realism on the need to earn the respect of the people.
The current crisis in Perak however has compelled me to reconsider that opinion and revisit my previous radicalism. As a Malay, I respect the role of the Malay Rulers and trust them to always act in the best interest of the people. But when an honourable state government leader is forced to resign due to the works of devious characters and political chameleons, I feel the seething anger of the people and understand why many have now turned against the Ruler. Anyone who reads the messages left on His Royal Highness Sultan of Perak’s official guestbook would realise the explosive magnitude of public anger (the guestbook has now been deactivated).
From the perspective of Malay tradition, these angry reactions are acts of betrayal and blatant shows of disrespect to the Ruler. After all, the Malay Rulers, as did Puyi, are perceived as Rulers with a divine mandate, who must be accorded with respect and reverence of the highest order. The Malay Rulers are descendants of Sang Si Perba; a descendant of Iskandar Zulkarnain, to whom on behalf of the Malay people, Demang Lebar Daun made a sacred oath of loyalty, an oath which bounded the Malays forever as loyal servants of the King. This is the story told in the 'Malay Annals' that justifies the divine mandate of the Malay Rulers.
Let us be honest. This is a myth! Just as the Ummayyah and Abbasid families never had any divine right to kingship, neither do any of our Malay Rulers. Nor do the Al-Saud family is Saudi Arabia, the Al-Sabah family in Kuwait, the Al-Maktoum family in Dubai, and all other monarchs in the world for that matter.
However, we respect and preserve the monarchy tradition to safeguard the interest of the people and to maintain social order. But when the interest of the people is not safeguarded, the role and existence of the Malay royal institution are bound to be questioned.
Millions of Chinese wept when Puyi was forced to abdicate and leave the Forbidden City. Millions of Russians did too when the last Tsar and members of his family were killed by the Bolsheviks. But all these tears for the lost of a historical-cultural institution were powerless to withstand the uprising of the masses.
Let there be no doubt that I do not want to see an uprising against the Malay Rulers. The institution must be preserved as a symbol of Malay-Muslim leadership accorded with the appropriate level of respect. But if the crisis in Perak is not resolved in a fair and just manner, the institution will continue to be ridiculed and questioned. And the consequent tragedy may well alter the social order of the Malaysian society forever.
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