Saturday, February 7, 2009

What Next Tuanku, Martial Law?

By now, you’re all probably quite familiar with the various expert opinions and analysis as to why the path taken by the sultan of Perak in allowing UMNO/Barisan Nasional to form a “new” state government was not the most prudent of decisions he’s made. We know the claims and counter-claims from both sides, and it seems no matter what one might be inclined to believe (or convince oneself of), the fact remains that the body politic is deeply divided. Don’t get me wrong; this divide is not necessarily a bad thing.

Indeed, if you’ve followed my columns, you know that I’m of the view that what we’ve witnessed since 3’08 is healthy. That is, the new competitive political climate is very much a welcome change from the one-party domination that has been going on for far too long.

Among other things, what this new competitive political climate illustrates is that whilst a substantial proportion of Malaysians are eager, ready and enthusiastic about embracing a new politics, many politicians – especially in the establishment – are not prepared, willing and/or capable of accepting such a new reality. It is a vivid illustration of how we – the so-called ordinary people – are well in front of these politicians who seemingly find this new reality disturbing and unsettling.

The fact that the mandate and voice of the majority of Perak voters who elected the government that has been ostensibly toppled means the voice of the people has once more been undercut; the people have again been silenced.

What seems to have been lost in the handling of this whole crisis involving apparent resignations, missing assemblymen, supposed defections, and other such sarong politics, is the fact that given how competitive the political climate in Perak had become – as reflected by the last general election – the sultan should have indeed exercised far more caution and prudence in the handling of this constitutional controversy. Hence, my point here is not a legal or political one. Rather, it is one about the quality of the judgement made in the decision to allow a new mentri besar to be sworn in.

Given the highly charged and competitive political climate, a more sober and prudent approach – and one certainly constitutional as well – would have been to call for a vote of confidence in the state assembly or for a new state election altogether. That it seems, would not only have been clearly within the legal parameters of the state constitution, it would also have shown, if I may say so, wiser judgment in handling a crisis at a time of heightened political rivalry.

In other words, such a decision would have been both constitutional and wise. Wise, to the extent that it would have shown an ability to understand, more than just the technicalities of the constitution, the pulse of the people.

It is precisely in times where political legitimacy is especially questionable, that the public’s trust becomes all the more essential. That is why, taking a more cautious and prudent approach toward resolving the crisis, which would have also re-assured the public about the fairness of the decision undertaken was imperative in this situation.

It is when the custodians of the public’s trust look like they are acting without the public’s interest that their credibility and legitimacy becomes undermined. It is in such times that the people express their disapproval in the only way they’re forced to. And the seemingly illegitimate powers have to resort to firing tear gas, brandishing batons, and brute force.

Imagine, it could all have been avoided only if the custodian of the people’s trust had shown an ability to better understand and sense the pulse of his people.

And it begs the question, what next? Will the backers of the coup be willing to go further to impose, in this highly competitive political climate, what a large segment of the Perak voters regard as an illegitimate regime? How then, when the public rejects this regime, will it respond to that overt and vocal rejection by the public? 

Just how, Tuanku, does all this enhance the tranquillity and well-being of your people?

G. Krishnan