Malaysia: Shortchanged, A Sloppy State Capture Bid & Lamentable Legal Lethargy.
Letter From Kuala Lumpur
The actual date of the United Nations’ 75th anniversary on October 24 passed largely unnoticed in Malaysia. Yet what happened in Malaysia that weekend was of immensely wider significance to the cause of democracy, public order, and human rights championed by the UN. An egregious case of suspected state capture by a few overzealous politicians was averted ably by an alert and astute (Yang dipertuan) Agong.
In a sharp break with tradition on Friday, October 23rd Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin embarked on a rather controversial road journey in a ceremonial motorcade with police outriders from Putrajaya to the Sultan Abdul Aziz Palace in Kuantan, capital of the state of Pahang. The openly declared purpose of the approximately 400km return journey was to obtain the immediate assent of the Malaysian King to the Cabinet’s debatable decision of that morning to declare a state of Emergency. It was a contentious mission as it was also an attempt to circumvent parliamentary scrutiny of the intended Emergency objective. The Royal Assent was sought for the express purpose of the proclamation of a state of emergency that very evening in order, it was claimed, that Muhyiddin’s government could handle the Covid-19 pandemic with greater efficacy and prowess. To reinforce and register the significance and urgency of his mission the prime minister of the fledgling and fitful seven-month-old government brought along with him four senior ministers and some other highest-level officials. This deliberate departure from the traditional tack of circumspection, courtesy, and reserve customarily observed in a cloistered and placid Royal palace seemed odd and outlandish.
The King’s Measured Response
The King, obviously enjoying a restful respite from his normal routine in the nation’s capital in Kuala Lumpur, graciously received the prime minister and his entourage at teatime on Friday with due protocol, courtesy, and a photo-op. It was reported that the audience involving the prime minister’s entourage lasted well over ninety minutes. In addition to the publicity provided for the prime minister’s meeting with the King, some news portals prophesied that the prime minister would be making an important announcement late that evening. The prime minister and his colleagues must have believed that the King would, at that audience, with alacrity provide the requested Royal Assent for the promulgation of the Emergency.
The King, on his part, was alert, astute, and acted discerningly and sought understanding for more time to deliberate on the request in consultation with other Malay Rulers. After being informed of this decision the prime minister and his entourage headed back to Kuala Lumpur. Needless to say, there was no major announcement on Friday, October 23rd.
It would seem then that the King, through appropriate channels sought the early participation of his brother Rulers in a meeting to discuss the proposal for an Emergency. That meeting was scheduled for the afternoon of Sunday, October 25.
At that Sunday meeting of the Rulers, the King obviously obtained a consensus that the prevailing peaceful situation in the country did not warrant the need for the declaration of a state of Emergency. An official statement on this consensual decision was issued that Sunday evening.
Shorn of all the protocol, polite language, and palace niceties it was an act of royal demurral. The prime minister had been politely declined a demarche that he had made to create an emergency. There seemed to be no legal, let alone any other compelling, basis for the declaration of the Emergency.
Analysts are bound to study this demurral for years to come. Every courageous and correct decision will often have a great story behind it. The principal legal advisor to the prime minister must assume full responsibility for this unprecedented rebuff and the fatuous recommendation.
The principal legal advisor of the nation must also be held accountable for another important instance of ineptitude that surfaced the weekend of October 24/25.
Dato M Santhananaban
The writer is a retired ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience
October 27, 2020
This article was carried by the Independent Singapore on October 28th