By M Santhananaban
Malaysia is in a fragile, fraught and frightening situation with much foreboding. Alarm bells are ringing.
The Malay rulers, important pillars of the nation, continue to provide mature, measured mandatory leadership in several matters. They acted decisively in enabling the current unity government to be established. That is a done thing.
So it is the duty of the people to accept this government and support it where they can. If someone does not like the current prime minister or his policies, they should wait it out and contest the next election. In the meantime, they can grumble, gripe or go for this government with their complaints and criticisms.
Yet from the grumbling and gripes that are being viciously and vociferously voiced, it would seem that the exceptional state of equilibrium – which the nation attained as a result of the sagacity and wisdom of the Malay rulers – is not being widely acknowledged.
The rulers played a pivotal, precious and prudent role in enabling Anwar Ibrahim to establish his “unity government”. That discreet and recessed role by the rulers has created a bond between them and the people.
Undeniably, that bond and empathy that has been created has to be nurtured and not neutered by the political leadership on both sides of the parliamentary aisle.
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Islam is the rulers’ prerogative
In matters of the official religion, it is the rulers who have the final say, as prescribed in the Federal Constitution.
Unfortunately, a particular political party is not coy about flexing its mainly imported, rather unMalay, religious credentials to not only attack this government but also undermine it.
After the notorious phase of corruption and recklessness of the Najib Razak years, the country has gone through three below-par prime ministers.
The election losers and the most prominent defeated one from last November’s general election are now orchestrating an ugly and unsavoury opposition blitz against the current administration.
Led by two former prime ministers – Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who lost his election deposit, and Mahiaddin Yasin – and an aspiring ‘caliph’-cum-prime minister, Hadi Awang, they are haranguing and harping on ethnic Malay unity.
The Malays are not carbon copies of each other. Their diversity is not unnatural.
Unfortunately, these three leaders fail to recognise that there is no better symbol of Malay unity than the current government led by Anwar Ibrahim.
One can go further and even say that this government represents Malaysian unity more than most of its predecessors.
Anwar’s task is a gargantuan one – to bring some balance, order, direction and respectability to the country. His most important task is to realise, recognise and be appreciative of the foundational role of the Malay rulers.
Careful steps must be taken, without tampering with the Constitution to restore to the rulers their respected and responsible roles. Their position as the head of the state’s official religion must not only be recognised but be restored.
It was the pillar on which both the Federation of Malaya and Malaysia were founded. No politician or political party or prominent bureaucrat should attempt in any way to assume or usurp the role of the institution of the rulers in matters of state religion.
Making religious issues a political tool must also be stopped. The prime minister has to see to that.
Epicentres of excess
Tragically, we seem to have allowed, at another level, trends which have seen no end of egregious epicentres of excesses of the worst kind, unbridled power, extremism and extravagance.
Separately, and even more seriously, there seems to be an entrenched system of the continued exploitation of those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. As wages are really low and inflation is both a global and national issue, low-income workers are made to live just slightly above the poverty line.
The current government must not close its eyes and ears to the plight of these low-wage workers and the hardcore poor. The excesses that have afflicted especially some government-owned institutions in respect of their powers, perks and plush emoluments must also be addressed.
The prime minister has made an impressive start by foregoing his emoluments.
The other impressive feature of his administration seems to be the determination to achieve greater accountability, good governance and transparency. So too the goal to enhance national unity and pursue a policy of fairness for the betterment of every community in the nation.
These are laudable moves, and Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim must be commended for the clear enunciation of these goals.
Certainly, leaders of all political hues should not be allowed to abuse the state’s assets to remain in power or to perpetuate themselves in power.
M Santhananaban is a former Malaysian ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience