"It is said that there's a democracy... but clearly it's a lie.”
- Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, lawyer
COMMENT | When I first heard that this young lawyer was to be questioned by the cops over her allegedly seditious article about the monarchy, I was ambivalent. I had not read her article but the way how things are in Malaysia, the slightest “provocation” meant that people were called up for saying the most innocuous things. Then I read her piece.
Make no mistake, what Fadiah wrote is but one side of the argument. A side which has been forcibly silenced over the long Umno watch and now it would seem attempted to be silenced by the nascent power brokers in Putrajaya. It is a side that many Malaysians subscribe to but who fear speaking up for a variety of reasons. It is a side which is a game changer when it comes to how politics is perceived, practised and evolves in this country. This is the reason why some fear what she wrote.
Besides Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil, where are all the other political operatives who before the elections were shouting about how the Umno state was a failed state because freedom of speech was assaulted almost daily and the horrible Umnoputras were destroying democracy? I guess not spooking the Malays does not extend to someone like Fadiah because "these" types of Malays obviously do not count.
Let us not be precious. The ruling elite over the decades has curtailed the power of the monarchy. The last attempt was a brazen power grab by the former Umno regime through the National Security Council (NSC) gambit. The current Pakatan Harapan grand poobah has done his fair share of rabble-rousing when it comes to the power and the role of the monarchy. When it is convenient to defend the institution of the monarchy as a sacred cow of Malay/Muslim politics, political operatives jump up and down attempting to outdo one another in burnishing their ethnic and religious credentials.
All the while, the average rakyat, like what Fadiah describes, are left to the whims and fancy of political operatives who do not wish to change the paradigm because to do so would probably level the playing field and require them to actually engage in the political process to garner votes.
In my most recent article about Harapan waffling on abolishing the NSC Act, I alluded to this idea that curtailing (even further) the powers of the monarchy could be done legitimately without retaining the NSC - "Recent events and the shocking behaviour of royalty before and after the elections demonstrate that perhaps we are better off with formalising certain powers of the executive which further curtail the powers of the royalty. Those issues which Mahathir - and yes, people like me - claimed were being taken away from the royalty are perhaps better left in the hands of the executive without any need of consultation with the royalty."
What this young lawyer wrote was clearly articulated, well-thought through and needed to be said. It goes deeper than that though. It goes to the heart of the kind of feudalism sans monarchy that is this political system. When a certain group of Malays are exempt from the harsh glare of the religious police for behaviour which get the average not politically or socially connected Muslim in trouble, this is one example of the feudal system which is the reality for the majority community.
While this is the reality of the majority community, it is also our reality for obvious reasons. When Fadiah says this for instance – “Any attempt to break the fortress built around this existing system in order to democratise the space for people to assert their political existence is often met with harsh criticism and rebuke. As a result, the power to shape the future and direction of the country remains in the hands of the privileged few, thus further alienating the voices of the many, in particular the marginalised. Genuine democracy which seeks to place people at its heart therefore remains out of reach.”
This helplessness in the face of state power is felt by every Malaysians regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation.
Did I say political operatives do not want to change the paradigm? A little nuance is needed. What I mean is, they do not want to change the paradigm unless it suits their purposes. Now sometimes the agenda of political operatives aligns with the rakyat but most times, especially in Malaysia, we have been programmed to accept their agenda as something pragmatic because sacred cows are in reality beasts meant to frighten the rakyat from speaking truth to power...