Being neutral is hard

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The Regent of Pahang, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, at a function organised by MUBARAK (retired UMNO/BN elected representatives), said that the Malay Rulers was still relevant because they brought wisdom, neutrality and were a source of unity for the many different groups in Malaysia.

I cannot agree more with the statement but I wish it was said in the presence of a neutral and non-partisan group. Anyway, it is important to remember that, ultimately, the relevance of an institution depends on how the people view and accept its usefulness.

Under the government of Datuk Seri Najib Razak, it has become very difficult if not impossible for any institution in this country to be wise, neutral and acceptable as the final arbiter of fairness and fair play. Najib expects loyalty to him first and foremost, and he handpicks people to fill all the key positions in the Government. He dismisses those who do not meet his criteria.

This is a challenge not just for the Malay Rulers but for some Judges, the Governor of Bank Negara, the Attorney-General and the Speaker of Parliament. It is asking too much to expect them to maintain their neutrality and independence since not many are willing to incur the wrath of the Prime Minister. They know full well that by doing so, their personal interests, especially their financial interests, can be adversely affected

This is why being neutral, impartial and objective under Najib’s rule is hard. If you hold a high position, you need him to keep you there. If you are a wealthy businessman, you need his support and endorsement to get the big projects. If you want timber concessions you need Najib’s Mentri Besar to okay it. If you are looking forward to becoming a “Tan Sri”, you will need his support. Sustaining the high life in this country depends a lot on the Prime Minister.

Still, I hope that some people will continue to persevere with dignity and courage to uphold the principle that the interests of the public and the nation are different from the interests of the Prime Minister. To assure their relevance to the people, they must be firm and they must make certain that the institutions they represent are impartial and willing to be independent.

By the way, I hope that politically-linked organisations such MUBARAK, which is composed of former Barisan Nasional elected representatives, will stop inviting Malay Rulers to their events in the future. MUBARAK is part of an UMNO/ BN network and a great supporter of the Prime Minister. By involving the Regent of Pahang in such an event, they are implying that the Pahang Royal House is supportive of the Prime Minister, come what may. That’s not right because that’s playing politics. That’s not how Malay Rulers remain relevant, wise and neutral in the long-term.

Imagine if someone were to invite a Malay Ruler to a function organised by Che Det Admirers Club. The PM and UMNO will cry foul. They will say the non-partisan role of the Rulers in Malaysia public life must be preserved. I know there is always a different set of rules for the PM and for the rest of us, but If we are a real supporter of the monarchy, and want the Malay Rulers to be relevant for a long time to come, we need to shield them from partisan politics.

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