Sultans’ Daulat Is A Myth – Part Two

Book Review: Zaid Ibrahim’s Ampun Tuanku
M. Bakri Musa

Second of Three Parts: The Origin of the Daulat Myth

[In the first part I discussed the sultans’ rationale for seeking extra constitutional powers based on their claim of daulat. This claim of divine dispensation is a myth. In this section I discussed the current political dynamics that led to the sultans wanting to reassert their special status.]

Zaid begins his book by briefly tracing the history of Malay sultans. Unlike the Japanese Imperial family that stretches as far back as 600 BC, or the British to the 11th Century or even earlier, Malay sultans are of recent vintage. The Raja of Perlis was established only in 1834, while that of Johor only slightly older (1819).

In modeling the Malaysian constitutional monarchy along the British one, the Reid Commission assumed that Malay sultans were like English kings. That was the first major blunder. To Zaid, it also underscores the pitfall of trying to adopt wholesale foreign concepts or models, not just in law but also much of everything else.

Those English monarchs have had centuries of working with a democratically elected government. Earlier, a few of them have had to pay dearly for their errors. Consequently today their system works smoothly. Not so with Malay sultans. Up until British rule, Malay sultans were literally Gods; those sultans could actually take your life. Displease the sultan or prevent him from grabbing whatever you own including your daughter or priced kerbau (water buffalo), and you risked being beheaded, banished, or enslaved (kerah). Those sultans were not above the law as there were no laws then; they were the laws.

Malays like me have a lot to be thankful to those colonials for ending those odious royal traits of our culture. No, that is not an expression of my being mentally colonized, rather one of deep gratitude.

Malaysia has a disproportionate number of monarchs, 9 out of the nearly 40 worldwide, as Zaid and others have noted. The error in that frequently cited observation is the assumption that our sultans are comparable to those other kings and queens; they are not. There is little in common between Malay sultans and the British Queen or Japanese Emperor. Instead, Malay sultans have more in common with the tribal warlords of Africa and Papua New Guinea, from their insular worldview to their fanciful costumes. The Papuan tribal chiefs have their elaborate colorful headgear, as well as their prominent penile sheaths which they proudly display; ours have their equally ostentatious desta and tanjak.

Like those tribal chieftains, our sultans’ too are afflicted with their feudal habits. Modernity has not erased our sultan’s medieval mentality. When Malaysia became independent, those odious habits began creeping back. Those sultans are not to be blamed entirely, however.

“The Rulers’ unwillingness to remain within their constitutional roles has been further aggravated,” Zaid writes, “by a lack of conviction and courage by the institutions that are supposed to protect and preserve [our] … constitution.” Stated differently, our sultans have many enablers. We allow them to regress. We tolerate them when they flout the rules.

Members of the Malay royal family are perfectly capable of behaving themselves and keeping within the rules if they were to be told in no uncertain terms that their tantrums would not be tolerated. Consider their behaviors during colonial and Japanese times. It was the sultans who sembah (genuflected to) the colonial and Japanese officers. Today when these Malay princes and princesses are down in Singapore for example, they obey even the basic traffic rules. Those rajas would not dare pull their silly stunts down there; they would be immediately punished. Likewise, if one of our sultans were to skip on his Vegas casino gambling debts, our ambassador would have to quickly bail him out of the county jail.

Just as a child whose earlier tantrums had not been corrected would grow up to be an intolerable brat, likewise when our sultans strayed earlier on and there was no one to restrain them, that only encouraged them to go beyond. A few decades later their excesses would trigger the constitutional crises of the 1980s and 1990s that led to the amendments ending respectively the rulers’ power to veto legislations and stripping them of legal immunity in their personal conduct.

Both were possible because of the strong executive leadership of Prime Minister Mahathir. Today with a government with a less-than-robust mandate and a leader with a banana stem spine, the sultans are emboldened to re-exert themselves; hence the insistence of their daulat or special status.

With that, their old brute feudal traits began to re-surface. Consider the ugly spectacle a few years back in Singapore involving the Kelantan Royal family. They tried to essentially kidnap the estranged Indonesian wife of one of the princes. Had that incident happened in Malaysia, rest assured that a “helpful” minister or religious leader would have “counseled” the poor young girl to return to her obnoxious husband.

In Singapore where everyone is equal under the law, that prince would not dare claim his special status. More importantly, no one would grant him such. Consequently that poor Indonesian bride of the prince was able to escape from her palace prison.

On a much more grotesque scale, there was the case involving a Brunei prince and his British lawyers. As the dispute fell under American jurisdiction, we get to see in open court the peccadilloes of that prince. Not pretty, in fact hideous. You can assume that his counterparts in Malaysia are no different, only that their ugly acts are willfully concealed.

As a consequence of the constitutional amendment of the 1990s, the late Yang di Pertuan Negri Sembilan was successfully sued for his unpaid debts. In the past, his creditors would not have even dared challenge him. To the royal class, those peasants should be grateful that their “tributes” were accepted.

While the royal tribunal is an advancement, its learning or even deterrent value was minimal or non-existent as the proceedings are secret. Had they been open, the lavish lifestyles and obscene unpaid bills of our sultans would be exposed. They could not then readily claim their daulat under such ugly circumstances.

Zaid advocates that those royal tribunal proceedings be open to the public, as with any court hearing; I agree. Such exposures would also help humanize our sultans, showing to the public that they are susceptible to the usual human foibles and weaknesses. Deadbeats, even royal ones, do not have daulat!

Next: Last of Three Parts: Opportunities for Sultans as Head of Islam

12 Responses to “Sultans’ Daulat Is A Myth – Part Two”

  1. Pro-Republic says:

    Why not get rid of these troublesome pretenders and opportunists and go for a Republic.Think of the millions we will save for the people every year. Over to you, Malays – you can do it !!

  2. goBetong says:

    I recalled, up till the sixties, the Perak and Kedah sultans allowed casinos to operate within their palace ground on their birthday. The merriment would last for a month. Not very daulat wasn’t it!!

  3. leekh says:

    It would have been great if the Sultans had really stood up to be the last bastion to protect the people and the constitution. But unfortunately in every instance they have failed. The worst case that really turned a lot of people off was the case of Perak. It turned out that all the well concocted speeches were just a lot of bull. How much this has done to disillusioned people against the sultans we wonder…

  4. Well written and articulated. We know what is happening but are handicapped that here in bolehland, voicing your honest opinion may very well get you into trouble. We used to stand up and take notice whenever the Raja Muda of Perak said something. Now, since the Perak debacle, we just yawn and and get on with our lives. So sad.

  5. Jong says:

    #We used to stand up and take notice whenever the Raja Muda of Perak said something. Now, since the Perak debacle, we just yawn…..# – ordinary malaysian

    and say “..there he goes again, YAWNNN!”

    Great piece Doc, how timely! Thank you.

  6. Fazilis says:

    I need to briefly highlight the history of the Johor Sultanate to rebut your sweeping assertion that the Malay Sultans, Johore included, are of recent vintage.

    In 1511 under attack by the Portuguese armada led by Alfonso de Alburquerque, Sultan Mahmud Shah of Malacca – 2 years before that the Malacca Royal House had received a delegation from the King of Portugal led by Admiral Lopes de Sequeira – fled to Pahang initially and later settled in Johor before launching series of attacks to recapture Malacca from the Portuguese. If we go back another 50 years earlier, we learned that his grandfather Sultan Mansur Shah ruled a thriving Malacca which had a trade and diplomatic tie with the Emperor of China. Sultan Mansur Shah himself was the 6th ruler of Malacca being the direct descendant of Parameswara, a Srivijayan prince from the great Srivijayan empire that can be traced as far back as the 7th century.

    Sultan Mahmud Shah died in Kampar, Sumatera in 1528 and was succeeded as the Sultan of Johore by one of his sons Raja Ali who was later known as Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah after his famous grandfather Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah of Malacca. The death of Sultan Mahmud Shah II in 1699 (the 8th ruler of Johore after Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II) means the end of direct bloodline from the Malaccan Sultanate (and by extension the Srivijayan empire) since he was childless. Thus began the Bendahara Dynasty when Bendahara Abdul Jalil ascended the throne styled as Sultan Abdul Jalil II. It was to last for about 150 years because the Bendahara Dynasty in turn ended when English-educated Temenggong Abu Bakar ascended the throne in 1862 to mark the beginning of the Temenggong Dynasty.

    Styled as the Maharaja of Johore, Abu Bakar travelled to London in 1885 to be formally recognized as the Sultan of Johore by the Queen of England. His era coincided with the modernization of Johore which not long after that became one of the most prosperous states in the Malay world. He created the Johore Civil Service manned almost entirely by local natives just as efficiently as the other British Administration found in other states. His son, one of the richest individuals in the world at that time, Sir Sultan Ibrahim had the gumption to reject the British’s proposed Pan-Malayan War Tax in 1939. Instead he made a £250,000 gift to King George VI on the occasion of his 44th birthday in the same year. It was a tradition obviously under the instruction of the Sultan himself that nowhere in the state of Johore that the Union Jack could be flown higher than the flag of Johore. No, the Japanese troop did not touch the Johor Istana. It was said that when Sultan Ibrahim showed the medal received by Sultan Abu Bakar from the Emperor of Japan, General Yamashita did not utter a word and retreated with such deference. Not bad for a tribal warlord or penghulu.

  7. mentaloon says:

    Dear Sir,

    You are not alone and you have the support of many Malays, me included. I know you know this, but it is good to have assurance and hear words of support now and then. Please continue revealing the truth. as Gandhi would say ” the truth is still the truth even if you are a minority of one”. The submissive” Malay mindset is still overpowering. And those who are aware of this weakness uses it to their advantage quite successfully. Continue to educate and hopefully things will change. If push comes to shove and you find difficulty in your quest, look me up. Like I said, I’m sure you have plenty of backing, but a little more wouldn’t hurt. God Bless.

  8. mentaloon says:

    Dear Fazilis,

    If you give, then I hope that you can graciously receive too.
    I have been waiting for Mr Bakri’s respond, but I guess he has his reasons not to.

    It is natural to highlight points that would support one’s arguments, but kindly allow me to offer a different perspective(I hope you get to read it). Presenting facts gives the impression that the person is well versed in the topic, but it is also somewhat condescending and insulting to the readers, especially when the facts are incomplete or in this case out of context of the bigger picture to say the least.

    You have chosen the lineage route that traces back Sultanates of Malay to Parameswara and as such, had left yourself and the Sultanates open to more ridicule and mockery. There are just too many absurdity and senselessness that one can list about the Malay Sultanates which if one takes time to give it just a little thought, the negatives far outweigh the positives.

    We have been taught in school at fifteen, that Parameswara came from Palembang. This agrees with the facts that you (Fazilis) have provided us. No arguments there, only that you fail to mention he had lost the fight for the throne and was an outcast, he left driven out of his own land. his own people don’t want him. Can you see where I’m going with this?

    Not only was he driven out of Palembang, he was also chased out of Singapore (Temasek), People didn’t like him there either, and you think his misery was going to end but it did not stop there, The people at his third port of call which is Muar ALSO chased him out because he was disliked there too. Was I the only one who noticed this at school20 year ago? Do you see where I’m going with this now?

    He finally settled in Malacca, where before his arrival the place did not even have a name, every civilized world he landed upon didn’t want him. Even then, a mousedeer (the only creature that he encountered which inhibit the land at the time of arrival) kicked the crap out of his dog. He was impressed and then decided to rule over the land with whomever people at the time that didn’t know better. And the rest is History. You know that fact Fazilis right?

    So you see Fazilis,

    If you want to glorify losers and its lineage, go ahead, but I have a bit too much dignity to allow myself submitting to cowards.

    OK now, lets by-pass the other losers and go straight to Sultan Mansur Shah as you had did. bear in mind all of his predecessors have their own silly stories to tell.

    From arrogance, ignorance and mismanagement, he had single-handedly lost Malaya to the invading marauders, do you why? He relied on mercenaries to protect the land. even his own subjects didn’t want to fight for him. At the eleventh hour, the mercenaries felt that its a bit too much hard work to protect a cruel Sultan that doesnt serve them purpose. (even the people at the time know that the Sultan just doesn’t serve a purpose)

    You want to talk about trade with China?

    It was NOT without regular tribute and conditions, When the Chinese Emperror Dynasty was ridiculed and mocked by external forces (Mongols, Portuguese, English, etc)…The Malay Sultanate was paying homage to them. So here you are, glorifying and “Daulat-ing” a King that “kena pow” with a Emperor of China that gets harrased by other higher powers. What does that make you Fazilis? ada Maruah tak?

    You want to talk about the treatment of Japanese and Dutch and English?
    Please don’t just take my word for it, do some research of your own and Kindly don’t limit yourself to government standard issue material. That is what they want you to believe so that they can control you.

    Too much effort in typing all this for you Fazilis.

    I prefer the “Penghulu” or warlord kampong than your Sultan Fazilis, at least he does work, chosen by the people, lower maintenance and bigger heart.

  9. mentaloon says:

    Sorry the last bit was written in a haste,

    And since 1511, begins the 600 years of rape, oppression, colonization of mind and land of Tanah Melayu.

    The chinese did-away the Emperror earlier last century, they knew better. the French started it, but at the moment we have too many submissive people like you Fazilis, the time will come when people are more educated and empowered.

    over and out

  10. Rara says:

    The chinese did-away the Emperror earlier last century, they knew better. the French started it, but at the moment we have too many submissive people like you Fazilis

    it is good article

  11. Ian says:

    We used to stand up and take notice whenever the Raja Muda of Perak said something. Now, since the Perak debacle, we just yawn and and get on with our lives. So sad.

Leave a Reply