Anwar's enabling by the monarchy and Negeri Sembilan democracy

Opinion  |  Phar Kim Beng
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Anwar Ibrahim has given his own reasons as to why he is keen on contesting in Port Dickson. He said the present candidate Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, a retired admiral, 67, had convinced the PKR president-elect to succeed him by talking about "working as a team". 

Given the small difference in age, whereby Anwar is barely five years older than Danyal, one cannot presuppose that the former was merely being facetious.

For all that we know, Anwar was indeed impressed by the actual willingness of Danyal to cede his parliamentary seat to him.

In turn, Danyal has voluntarily become the deputy sheriff of Port Dickson.

But over the last 24 hours there has also been a chorus of disapproval, ranging from "election fatigue" to it being a “sheer waste of public resources" to hold another by-election so soon after May 9, 2018. These criticisms challenged both the decision of Danyal and Anwar, with the brunt of the criticism falling mainly on the latter.

Mariam Mokhtar averred that "Malaysia Baru is more important" than Anwar. Tashny Sukumaran, writing in South China Morning Post, in turn chipped in that Anwar "may be impatient". 

Both views are odd, since neither Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and chair of the Council of Eminent Persons Daim Zainuddin have had anything adverse to say about Anwar's electoral thrust.

Given Anwar's delicate history with both of them, Anwar could not have failed to take their sentiments into consideration.

Since neither have opposed the forced by-election, it can only be obvious that both of them have agreed to the Port Dickson move too.

May 9’s ‘first mover’

However, all the naysayers do miss several key points. First of all, wasn't it Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V who granted Anwar a full royal pardon that goes back to 1998 under the label of "miscarriage of justice”? This is a huge constitutional decision bar none.

Such a full and complete pardon further implied the palace's ability to discern and read the will of the "rakyat" on May 9.

Nor was it difficult, as Anwar's PKR party did emerge as the majority party with 104 parliamentary seats.

Thus, if May 9 had a "first mover", it was Sultan Muhammad V who took the initiative right into his hand, through the personification of an unconditional pardon which all Malaysians immediately - perhaps permanently - benefitted from, as the transition of Mahathir and Anwar has since been "enfleshed" in form and substance.

Indeed, since the royal decree has been made, it is also implied by constitutional law, not least, that Anwar is not merely a free man (with no strings attached) but a free political agent who can contest in any seat if he now so wishes.

This is how Port Dickson should be understood. Anything less can only verge on total disrespect, if not a dumbing down, of the system of constitutional monarchy in Malaysia.

Thus, unless Malaysians are ready to treat the royal verdict of the monarch as callous and vain, the electoral bid of Anwar should not be openly chastised as vile, as if the "value" of the King was nil. It isn't, and wasn't, and will not be.

The royal pardon is not to be taken lightly. Nor the institution which the King and sultans represent.

Moreover, it should be reminded to all, including constitutional and legal experts, that Malaysia does not operate on full Whitehall parliamentary democracy. Malaysia is a federation with nine sultans and a constitution that protects the special privileges of the Malays too.

In fact, the latter is a point that is often highlighted by none other than Umno and BN themselves - that the government of the day must protect not merely Malysians but Islam, the official religion of the Federation, as well as the rights of the Malays. By extension, the importance of the King and sultans cannot be neglected too.

The Port Dickson option did not openly drag any members of the royalty into the equation. But Anwar's second sail of his political wind did indeed come from Sultan Muhammad V first.

In fact, both before and immediately after May 9, what preoccupied the mind of Mahathir was how to "spring" Anwar out of his remaining days in prison.

Why the hurry? After all, Mahathir had been made the seventh Malaysian prime minister on May 10.

But Mahathir, being a genteel statesperson, who ever so often prided himself on his ability to Look East, insisted on living up to his promise.

Thus, Anwar was released just a day prior to the start of the month of Ramadan to ensure some form of "transition" would go into motion immediately.

Negeri Sembilan’s democratic ethos

Besides, it is probably not a coincidence that Anwar has agreed to abide by the goodwill of Danyal because of what the state stands for too.

Negeri Sembilan is the most democratic monarchy in Malaysia. The one who becomes the Yamtuan or ruler of Negeri Sembilan is indeed the preferred candidate of all the nine "Orang Besar" (literally big men).

Lest one assume this is a process decided by the men alone, one must further remember that Negeri Sembilan is a state that prides itself on its matrilineal legacy from "Adat Perpatih," of Minangkabau lineage, where the rights of the women are given the privilege too.

Besides, given the democratic ethos of Negeri Sembilan, it does not stretch the imagination one bit that this is where Anwar wants to build his future base - a state where democracy is practised to the hilt even among the royalty and people.

Finally, if Negeri Sembilan is seen as the fount of future democratic practices (in PKR or Pakatan Harapan), it goes without saying that Anwar is sending a signal to all his party underlings that the best form of electoral competition is one where things are done with total savvy and, indeed, sheer finesse and class.

Coming from a Malay Studies major, in which Anwar is a notable specialist, one cannot ignore the delicate process he has intentionally put in place to instil a higher respect for a stronger, and more resilient, form of "Malay adab" that is consistent with Islam and democracy.

Port Dickson is also a tourist attraction that abuts the busy Malacca Strait, whose future importance great powers can ignore only at their peril. Therefore, the by-election is bound to attract a bevy of global media outlets to overcome any supposed electoral fatigue. At 73, Anwar, a media sensation, still seems to have the magic to turn things swiftly and quickly.


PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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