Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Anwar, Israel and the King

By Shanon Shah

OPPOSITION Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim must have a lot on his mind: his ongoing sodomy trial, the upcoming Hulu Selangor by-election, and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)'s loss of four parliamentarians earlier in 2010. But one other thing is surely preoccupying his thoughts: Israel. In fact, he is clearly bothered by two things Israeli:

How Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's 1Malaysia campaign employed a public relations firm, Apco Worldwide, that is also connected to the One Israel campaign; and
The alleged existence of Israeli spies who have subverted the Malaysian police force.

Anwar says he is driven by a concern for national security, not anti-Semitism. At the same time, he says, "If we love our country, and we are supposedly Malay [Malaysians], then why should we sell our pride to the Israelis?" In fact, Anwar is so bugged by this assumed loss of pride that he has asked no less than the King to direct Najib's government to cease dealing with Apco Worldwide.

The Malaysian government hires an international public relations firm to bolster its credentials to the public.
That firm has also been consulted by another government, Israel. For this, Anwar wants the monarchy to interfere with the executive? Does he even know the implications of this demand? How will it implicate the Malaysian constitutional monarchy, democratic checks and balances, and government transparency and accountability?

Constitutional monarchy 101

Just to recap, here are some facts about Malaysia's constitutional monarchy:

Shad Faruqi

According to constitutional expert Prof Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, ours is largely fashioned after the British model, but with "local adaptations".

The current British constitutional monarchy evolved from a far less democratic absolute monarchy. The British monarch is now "bound by law and convention to remain above political parties and to refrain from intervening directly in government administration" (emphasis added).
Although containing many "local adaptations", including guarding the privileges of Malay Malaysians and East Malaysian natives, and heading Islam in eight regions, the Malaysian system still ensures that the monarch's powers are non-discretionary. The monarch is the de jure head of state, and it is the prime minister who is the de facto head of government.

Therefore, in calling for the King to intervene in the Apco matter, Anwar is not upholding democratic checks and balances. He is, in fact, subverting the principles of a constitutional monarchy, which is part of the basis for our democracy.

Historical facts

Perchance Anwar feels that the Malay rulers' historical track record will help uphold public interest and democracy. But if he feels this way, he would once again be wrong.

It was the Malay rulers who acquiesced to the formation of the Malayan Union in 1946. As a British colonial construct, the Malayan Union was vehemently opposed by diverse sectors of society, especially Malay groups that would eventually form Umno.

Datuk Onn Jaafar and Tunku
Abdul Rahman (Public domain)

The motives of the various rulers who agreed to the Malayan Union is up for debate. Were they threatened by the British, or protecting their own vested interests? What is clear is that even Umno's own founder, Datuk Onn Jaafar, was dead against the rulers' decision. That is the context in which Onn's "Hidup Melayu!" cry became meaningful to the public — he said "Hidup Melayu!", not "Hidup raja-raja Melayu!"

It was Onn's successor in Umno, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who took a slightly different stance and said, "[At] all costs I want to avoid having a split with the rulers." In fact, Tunku, of royal lineage himself, organised processions in July 1954 to display loyalty to the rulers to encourage them to support the Alliance's policies.
Not surprisingly, they in turn preferred Tunku to Onn.

So, if Anwar thinks he is appealing to a disinterested institution to overturn a perceived abuse by the executive, he is mistaken. Even before Merdeka, the monarchy demonstrated that it was only human, and had its own interests to consider. This is not to say that the monarchy has no constitutional role to play in contemporary Malaysian democracy; it's just that interfering in the executive should not be one of them.

Hence, one has to ask this question of our opposition leader, a self-professed democrat: By appealing to the monarch over the Apco issue, isn't Anwar actually saying he wants royalty to interfere in the running of this country? What kind of democrat would do that? One who is unclear on the concept of modern-day democracy? Or one who is merely pretending to be a democrat?

No matter, asking royalty to interfere in the running of the country smacks of feudalism. And feudalism, as we know, has no place in a vibrant democracy.

Burden of proof

What is especially frustrating is that Anwar is doing nothing to advance debate and deliberation on something that he claims undermines national security. Here are some things to consider:

Governments hire public relations firms all the time. Whether or not the Malaysian government hires a public relations firm that the Israeli government also hires is actually a red herring.
What is relevant to the public is whether the firm is living up to its brand promise, since tax money is being used to pay Apco. Apco says it wants to "meet and extend industry best practice in all areas of ethics, integrity and social responsibility". So, if Anwar has a problem with its involvement in the 1Malaysia campaign, he has to tell Malaysians exactly what is unethical and irresponsible about the firm.

Has Apco helped the Malaysian government to lie or cover up abuses? If so, which ones, specifically? How, when and where did these happen? Does Apco have a track record of improving the image of democratically suspect governments around the world? Which governments? Using Apco's relationship with Israel as the clincher in his argument is, sadly, Israel/Jew-baiting.

If Anwar insists on pointing out "similarities" between 1Malaysia and One Israel, he has to tell us also exactly how One Israel was a failure to the Zionist state, and how this failure is directly attributable to Apco. And then he is going to have to predict that 1Malaysia is going to fail us because of its connection with Apco, to make his claims hold water.

The only similarity between 1Malaysia and One Israel that should matter is if both campaigns have similar intentions and outcomes, not that they have similar ideas.

Holding accountable

It's not like governments have not been held accountable before for embarking on dubious public relations strategies. After the 11 Sept 2001 terrorist attacks, Saudi Arabia engaged in a massive campaign to bolster its image, especially in the US. This campaign has been analysed in depth, and has proven to be a failure.

The Star of David, the symbol of Jewish
identity, is also associated with Israel
and Zionism (Public domain)

But Anwar seems to be doing something else with the Apco issue. He's not trying to hold the 1Malaysia campaign under Najib's administration accountable. He's casting aspersions by using the emotive buttons of Israel and Zionism. Hence, this is likely Anwar's attempt to regain or bolster his credibility with the Malay Malaysian Muslim constituency.

Really, apart from telling us that a public relations campaign will not help an undemocratic government smell like roses, Anwar must provide substantiated proof about Apco's and Malaysia's "abuses" before crying wolf to the public and the King.

If he doesn't, then his "I'm not anti-Semitic" position should be little comfort to the rest of us. After all, intellectual dishonesty can't be a trait we want in our leaders, especially those who aspire to take over government.

courtesy of Nut Graph

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