Hornbill Unleashed

November 23, 2013

Malay rulers: Regress or reform?

Filed under: Human rights,Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
Tags: , , ,

Muhammad Nazreen

Since the passing of a constitutional amendment in 1993 which revoked the immunity status of the Malay rulers, it has become a subject of contention in the contemporary Malaysian politics.

Dr Syed Husin Ali made a brief attempt to revise the evolution of Malay monarchies that transgressed from its early inception until today. It is timely for us to discuss about the historical development of the Malay rulers, despite widespread controversial surroundings the Malay monarchies went through all these days.

Dr Syed Husin have managed to rewrite the history of Malay rulers, and lend its weight from authoritative sources with a much needed assessment. He began his book by tracing the genealogy of Malay sultanates that was believed to be originated from a myth of Seri Teri Buana.

He was believed to be appeared from a vomit of a cow, as the propagation of Hindu’s belief that cow is a sacred animal from heaven. Seri Teri Buana, who was also claimed to be a rightful heir of Alexander The Great, later reiterated his claim as the sole authority of the Malay world.

Through his assessment on Sejarah Melayu, Dr Syed Husin demonstrates an excerpt of dialogue between Seri Teri Buana, who was asking hand for the daughter of Demang Lebar Daun, a leader of his people at that time.

So, Demang Lebar Daun requested Seri Teri Buana to make a pledge to him and the result was both of them have reached a mutual agreement. It is important to note the dialogue between Demang Lebar Daun and Seri Teri Buana reflects a social contract of the people during the time, where the people would only obliged to the rulers if the rulers are just with their leadership as an old Malay saying, “Raja adil raja disembah, raja zalim raja disanggah”.

The practice of loyalty imbibes a strong resonance on the history of the Malay people. However, the alternative form of history had shown the voices of defiance against the practice of feudalism and its captive mentality.

As Kassim Ahmad argues in his edition of Hikayat Hang Tuah by applying a class analysis on the literary subject, Hang Jebat is the symbol of defiance against the feudal culture of the Malay rulers.

Hang Jebat revolted against Sultan Mahmud after Hang Tuah was denied a fair and justice trial. He made erudite points to show evidence on how there is a consistent struggle against the enslaving mentality of the Malay feudal lords.

Dr Syed Husin prompts the fact on how language of the palace was instrumental to sustain the ideological roots of feudal culture.

The language of communication used in the palace reminds me of a notion popularised by Albert Memmi in his classic, “The Colonizer and the Colonized” which demarcates the position of distinct class of the society.

He goes further by criticising few condescending words that were still used until now. Several words were outlined such as “patik” which literally means slave, “menjunjung duli” (carry the ruler’s feet on the head).

He contends that some of the Malay royalties have pronounced themselves as “saya” instead of “beta”. He calls for a revision on some of the words that formally used in official occasions that are not suitable with the current times.

It resembles an Orwellian dictum: ” Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind” which closely refers to the manufacturing consent of the political language to solicit the interest of status quo.

One of the key components of Dr Syed Husin’s analysis that attracts us is the psychological servitude of the Malay people.

He comments on the enslaving mentality that still haunts us. As exemplified, the concept of “derhaka” (treason) has a definite effect to the Malay people. The blind loyalty towards the authority, as in the case of Malay rulers constituted a serious problem and later contributed to the regressiveness of the people.

Some might consider the Malay rulers as their sole vanguard.

The complex interplay between the rulers and the people is fundamental to the formation of Malay culture. The fledgling relationship between the both; the rulers and its people, however, was being contested by Chandra Muzaffar’s canonical work of “The Protector” (1979).

Chandra argues that the enslaving mentality of the Malay was a part of political project of colonialism, so the people’s mutiny is easily averted.

The real problem of the Malay is the psychological of fear. This attitude has been exacerbated by all kinds of ranks and titles. Malay inferiority is manifold in layers, be it economy, political and social, it motivates an utmost fear and over-reliance to the rulers.

Dr Syed Husin writes: “The psychology of fear towards the common people, especially the poor and marginalised. The people must be freed from beliefs and attitudes that stifle or cripple them. To that extent, a mental revolution is still relevant.”

Notwithstanding, the development of Malay rulers have encountered competitions and conflicts. Again, Dr Syed Husin made comparisons in each state due to disputes occurred between traditional rulers and the new political elites.

He brought several conflicts to the fore by putting examples of disputes throughout its historical narratives. In Perak, there was a tussle between Sultan Idris Shah and the first Perak Menteri Besar (MB) Datuk Ghazali Jawi.

Apparently, the Ruler did not like his MB since the beginning. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the prime minister at that time, was forced to step in and resolved the matter. Ghazali was asked to step down from his position.

One of most highlighted scenes was the incident that took place in Johor Bahru in 1992. Douglas Gomez, who was the coach of the college team, was beaten up by the Sultan of Johor due to his criticism on the pulling out of SABC from the semi-final of the inter-hockey competition.

On a different occasion, Tengku Bendahara Tengku Abdul Majid was alleged of injuring Mohamed Jaafar Vello, after a match between Johor and Perak in which the Johor team was defeated.

There were few cases involving assault from Johor sultanates. In 1972, Tengku Mahmud Iskandar slapped Syed Hamid Ali, who was then Secretary of the Johor Bahru Branch of Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM), because he opposed to the members of PSRM singing together in their office.

These incidents finally captured the interest of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was acting as the Prime Minister, to issue a controversial amendment regarding to the status of Malay rulers.

The constitutional provision that required amendment was Article 181(2), which reads: “There shall no trial before any court against a Ruler of any State in his own personal capacity.”

The conspicuous debate due to the controversial amendment led into a constitutional crisis. The amendment that revoked the privileged status of the Malay rulers, who were exempted from any trial, drew different reaction from each segment of the society.

The opposition members were strongly opposed this amendment. They alleged that the revocation of Malay rulers’ status will reduce the efficiency of the check-and-balance mechanism.

It took a precedence where there is a direct political intervention from the authority to make a hasty decision on regards with the amendment. The amendment was passed in view of Barisan Nasional majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

It could be more refining when Dr Syed Husin attempts in this book to give the historical outlook, and its direct consequences in the Malaysian political configuration.

In conclusion, Dr Syed Hussin offers a thought-provoking analysis which is vital for everyone to re-examine the conflation between Malay monarchies and political elites in the wake of current political settings, its development and regression throughout the historical narrative.

From the outset, we can clearly see the importance role of the elites in tuning the political culture. Dr Syed Husin gives a review on the comparison between each monarchs across the world.

Indeed, there is no need to call for a total revamp of the entire royalty institution, but reforms to the political mindset is the key feature to alleviate political backwardness of the society.


  1. Quite easy for a royal to become a commoner. In fact its a very regal act.

    The opposite is not so true:

    ““… according to his Register of Birth number 100502, Tengku Adnan was born in the Melaka General Hospital at 6.10am on 20 December 1950 as Adnan bin Mansor. On 20 December 1962, at the age of 12, Adnan bin Mansor was issued an identity card number 4079409 in the name of Adnan bin Mansor. This identity card was reissued on 3 March 1969 when Adnan bin Mansor reached the age of 18, as required by law.
    On 3 October 1972, Adnan bin Mansor changed his name to Tengku Adnan bin Tengku Mansor while he also changed the name of his father from Mansor bin Hj Baba to Tengku Mansor bin Tengku Hj Baba. With one swoop, three generations became members of the Melaka Royal Family; that is if Melaka does have a royal family.

    On the same day, 3 October 1972, Adnan bin Mansor was issued a new identity card in the name of Tengku Adnan bin Tengku Mansor. Less than two years later, on 2 April 1974, his father too was issued a new identity card, number 3983336, in the name of Tengku Mohammed Mansor bin Tengku Haji Baba.” – http://goo.gl/jyDO1A

    Comment by Rajagopal — November 23, 2013 @ 3:45 PM | Reply

    • these are the quality of Najib’s cabinet. Minister of Human Resource, Richard Riot has no degree, a college trained teacher but he manage to curry flavour his resume. Dr Ewon , the current minister of Science and Innovation also window dressed himself like Richard Riot. Please do not expect too much from them.

      Comment by i knowit all — November 25, 2013 @ 10:34 AM | Reply

  2. Regress!

    Comment by Sharpshooter — November 23, 2013 @ 10:20 AM | Reply

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