Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said it again: From the Rulers to the Prime Minister and Ministers, to civil servants and ordinary citizens – the rule of law applies to everyone.
But this week, he added that Malaysian citizens should not be harmed or arrested for sedition if they made public comments or made reports against abuses of power by top officials and in particular against the Royals.
This is a departure from the previous Barisan Nasional government’s stance. Under the BN, kings and sultans, as well as members of the royal families and most of those in the high echelons in politics, were immune.
They could not be brought to court, nor could anyone make any reports of abuse of the law and abuse of power against them.
But politicians were more vulnerable. When the government of the day wanted to kill someone’s political career, reports were made and the process of the law was followed.
Dr Mahathir himself became the subject of a public farce with the Royal Inquiry on Identity cards ordered by the Najib Razak regime. The farce was to portray Dr M as an abusive PM but the inquiry backfired on the Najib regime.
Well, it appears the days of the high and mighty royals in the country could come to an end sooner than they expected.
“Citizens can make reports on these matters or openly speak about them. “From the Rulers to the Prime Minister and Ministers, to civil servants and ordinary citizens – the rule of law applies to everyone,” Mahathir said in a blog post.
In the renewed statement Dr Mahathir said any such claims by the public (citizens) will be deemed as free speech.
In his monthly address to civil servants in the Putrajaya administrative capital in October last year the PM said the rule of law was an essential element of democracy and said the latter was not only about casting ballots in elections
While many observers are getting irritated with the slow pace of change, Dr Mahathir (with his team from the Pakatan Haparan) is laying down the foundations for a New Malaysia.
Since May 9, some has called for the resignation of Dr Mahathir claiming he has nothing to offer to the new Malaysia after the failed bid by some Pakatan Harapan members to get Malaysia to sign the controversial ICERD.
Nevertheless, Dr Mahathir seems immune to the criticism and calls for a swift retirement. This week, he laid down a new rule.
Public complaints against those who abuse the rule of law are legitimate, he said. He added that such complaints do not breach any law, and neither should they be construed as sedition.
This is indeed a step forward in New Malaysia. Perhaps Dr Mahathir has understood that punishing the small people will not make Malaysia new and that the powerful and untouchable lot in the country should also be held accountable for crimes and abuse of the rule of law and abuse of power.
“(These complaints) will not be considered as sedition in any way. They will be regarded as free speech.
“Citizens can make reports on these matters or openly speak about them. “From the Rulers to the Prime Minister and Ministers, to civil servants and ordinary citizens – the rule of law applies to everyone,” he said.
In October last year, he explained that observing the rule of law is especially critical now.
“No one in the country has absolute power. Not even kings, the prime minister, the police, the army, civil servants — all must act according to the law,” he emphasised.
Dr Mahathir has a long history of stand-offs and controversies when it comes to the Kings and Sultans.
Prior to the 2018 elections, the Kelantan palace revoked the Darjah Kerabat Al-Yunusi (DK) title awarded to Dr Mahathir. The local social media went ballistic against the Royals. Netizens openly poured their support for Dr Mahathir in what was already seen as a preview to the May 9 polls.
In December 2017, Dr Mahathir grabbed the headlines when he became the first Malaysian to return royal awards.
The then former prime minister and his wife Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali returned their titles to the Selangor palace – a first for a politician and spouse.
This never happened before in Malaysia, a country where many a politician seeks such royal awards.
Dr Mahathir is also the first ever Malaysian PM to strip the Sultans of their overpowerful rights to declare a state of emergency in the country.
This happened in 1983 When Dr Mahathir pushed through several amendments to the Federal Constitution. These included the setting of a 30-day limit for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to veto a law and limiting his right to declare a state of emergency.
Back then, the opposition was against the changes, this created a controversy that forced Dr M to start a public campaign to pressure the rulers to assent to the amendments.
These changes reduced the powers of the Malay rulers and Royal consent was no longer needed in the enactment of laws.
Writing on his blog Chedet on Tuesday (Jan 2), Dr Mahathir said the basic law of Malaysia is the Federal Constitution, adding that it is a comprehensive body of laws which determines the legal structure of Malaysia from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to the Rulers of the states, to the federal and state governments and the bodies empowered to rule and enforce.
“There is no provision which exempts anyone from the rule of law. For the Rulers, there is a special court, but (these) laws are the same as the laws applicable to ordinary citizens. The Rulers too must respect the laws.
“It is disturbing to see blatant breaches of the law being perpetrated in the mistaken belief that immunity has somehow been accorded,” he said while pointing out that Malaysia is a democracy – that is, “rule of the people by the people, and for the people”.
“This, by common consent, takes the form of a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy at the state and federal levels. Towards this end, the Constitution and law at different levels have been promulgated.
“Unfortunately certain breaches of the laws have been committed without action being taken by law enforcement agencies. In other words, the rule of law has been ignored.
“The result is predictable. Citizens suffer from injustices. Businesses cannot be done properly. Property has been seized. Unusual and illegal actions have been perpetrated,” he said.