Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sultans flex their power

Malaysian Insider
By Leslie Lau, Consultant Editor
Tuesday, 25 November 2008 11:56

NOV 25 — As disputes between the various communities in Malaysia grow, and amid the constant tug-of-war between conservatives, moderates and liberals over social and religious values, the stature and position of Malaysia's royal households have shifted upwards.

Yesterday, the Sultan of Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah made it clear that his authority as head of Islam in the state would not be usurped by the National Fatwa Council.

Referring to the council's fatwa declaring yoga haram, the Sultan said he hoped future edicts which affected the general public would be referred to the Rulers Conference prior to being announced.

He also said the state fatwa committee would meet on the yoga issue and make recommendations to him.

In Perak, a state government official also retracted yesterday an earlier statement that the state would adopt the fatwa, saying royal consent was first needed.

The move taken by the two Sultans is seen by some quarters as taking a stand against the kind of creeping conservatism that could affect race relations in the country.

But it is also a reflection of a lack of political leadership.

Since the March 8 general election when the Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament, the Sultans have begun playing a more significant role.

In states like Perak, Selangor and Terengganu, the Sultans played a key role in determining the leadership of the state governments.

The Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah, has grown in stature, especially among the more moderate and liberal groups in the country.

Last week, he made the kind of speech which is usually expected from political leaders in an attempt to calm the roiling debates over race relations.

He called on Malaysians to embrace multiculturalism and pointed out that society must reject radicalism and extremism.

Members of the royalty appear to have come forward to fill a vacuum created since March 8 in which Umno, MCA, MIC, Gerakan and other BN parties have found it rough going dealing with a much more significant opposition in Pakatan Rakyat.

The power struggles within Umno and MCA have also released a wave of strident, aggressive and more racial approaches as the two major parties try to retreat to their core support and race ideologies.

While there may still be some apprehension over a more active royalty, and their actual constitutional role, it is clear now that public support for them is growing.

The credibility of political leaders in the country has taken a severe battering recently, and their standing among the public remains low.

Ultimately they have their work cut out for them if they are to reclaim the leadership role from some of Malaysia's more socially-conscious Sultans.

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