It was just last Saturday, I received an invitation from the UCSI University Scholars’ Circle to attend a lecture series called “Rise and Think” in which the Negri Sembilan prince, Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin Tuanku Muhriz was recognised with an award for being one of Malaysia’s Top 10 Most Impactful Young Leaders this year.
Most members of civil society know Tunku ‘Abidin better as the founding president of the progressive think tank, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas).
The award “honours young Malaysians who have made an impact to the community, region and nation through their profession or contributions”.
The winners were apparently voted by more than 10,500 Malaysian students, between the ages 16 and 25, and comprising those from government and private institutions of higher learning in the country.
Apart from receiving this award on that day, he also gave a speech entitled “An Empowered Youth in Uncertain Times”.
In his speech, he pointed out the correlation between power and empowerment, posing questions about the challenges and potential in the context of leadership in building a mature democratic society.
There is indeed no use in empowerment when it is granted to people as power without responsibility and limits of authority as governed by the rule of law.
Especially in the current phase in the country with so much uncertainty politically and economically, there is much to be sceptical about power and its vile abuses, as well as the empowerment to rise against them.
I am a great admirer of Tunku ‘Abidin’s writings (and his Instagram at tz.n9), as I find much of his thoughts to be articulated with finesse, focusing on observing the current political situation of the country and citing the oration of past leaders to draw inspiration that served as Malaysia’s ideological base during Merdeka but that has since long been departed from.
Particularly, I enjoyed reading the collection of essays, “Roaming Beyond the Fence”. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to even share my opinions on them with him at TEDxUKM earlier this year.
Tunku ‘Abidin is one of the most respectable persons I have ever met, not only for his contributions in public policymaking, but for standing by the significance of our royal institutions in the system of a constitutional monarchy that is uniquely Malaysian.
Yet, there are some who are concerned about the recent revivalism of the royal participation in politics. They are often reminded to be careful in their actions so that it does not overstep the boundaries and be regarded as “unconstitutional” – this is indeed true as we still strive to be a people’s democracy and not one that is rooted in absolutism or patronage politics.
Which is why in Malaysia in spite of constitutional amendments, the monarchy ought to be remembered as the vital check and balance to our political landscape, especially with the uncertainty borne out of the extreme and erratic governance we are subjected to today.
It cannot be denied that there are also the great merits that we get to observe today with the recent vocalism.
One of the most prominent of them being that it inspires empowerment for many people.
As if suddenly, the age-old saying of “Raja dan rakyat berpisah tiada” is being revisited as we see with the cultivation of Bangsa Johor by the royal household that has garnered a lot of support.
It is truly an echoing of our beloved prince of politics, Tunku Abdul Rahman’s sentiment, who once said, “For us, Malaysians, the throne has been looked upon as a guarantee of our freedom. Freedom to worship, freedom to socialise and freedom to practise our political rights”.
In the light of the situation today, we must acknowledge the detrimental effect of our trust deficit in the government is at an all-time high.
Just lately, the wise Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak lamented about the independence of public institutions and all these challenges being a “stress test” on the nation.
As the confidence in our public institutions have greatly eroded, some members of the royal family have become more outspoken on issues relating to civil society, indicating a sense of shared solidarity and awareness for our ailing nation.
Based on observation, it can be seen that there is a tremendous amount of public support which could be a display of monarchism still being an essential component in the Malaysian narrative of patriotism.
But how is monarchism a strong part of this collective, shared narrative of a liberal Malaysia?
It is because it serves as a reminder of the values and principles that our nation was once founded with.
The first Yang diPertuan Agong, Tuanku Abdul Rahman was a strong believer in parliamentary democracy that he even once declared, “The Constitution belongs to all of us”.
Perhaps if we looked back at the history of “Malaysia before Malaysia”, the more we begin to realise that this nation was born before it actually thought it was – in the spirit of cosmopolitanism, and leadership that is richly embedded in the history of our monarchy.
As the struggle to restore our fundamental liberties become a greater haul, more Malaysians are becoming increasingly suffocated by an oppressive regime.
In seeking empowerment for catalysing change, the voice of our Rulers might be the answer of confidence to rise from the collapse of our institutions – especially in these uncertain times. – October 1, 2015.