Spotlight on the King’s “fact-finding mission”
RUMOURS about a change of government went into overdrive the moment news broke that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong had asked to meet with leaders of political parties.
It only died down after Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim confirmed that his meeting with Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatullah Al-Mustafa Billah Shah did not touch on the formation of a new government.
The reason for the King stepping beyond his royal duties to seek meetings with the key political players remains a matter of speculation.
However, comments from the leaders who have had their turn in the Palace suggest that the sovereign is interested in their stand on issues ranging from the Covid-19 pandemic and economy to the state of Emergency and Parliament.
It is quite unprecedented for the King to seek the opinion of those outside the Palace walls on pressing issues of the day and to do it such a public fashion.
Some have described it as the Palace taking a “temperature check” of the situation or a form of “stakeholders engagement”.
“I see it as a fact-finding mission on the part of the monarch about the health and economic crisis. It may also have to do with the fact that the Emergency will end in around 50 days time.
“He is seeing all the main political players, including Dr Mahathir, and that says a lot, ” said lawyer and columnist Ivanpal S. Grewal.
There is normally no time limit to an Emergency order but Ivanpal said the “sunset clause” to the current emergency is nearing an end and a decision will have to made soon about whether to end or extend it.
It is no secret the ruling coalition is considering the possibility of extending the Emergency until the pandemic is under control.
But Pakatan Harapan leaders are dead against it and they have made it known during their meetings with the King.
Any attempt to extend the Emergency beyond Aug 1 will ultimately need the consent of the King. It is a dilemma for the monarch who is probably aware of the rumblings out there, especially on social media.
The monarch, said Ivanpal, is going into all these meetings with an open mind to listen and gather views before making an informed decision.
“His Majesty has every right to find out what is happening but the perception is that the throne may be getting into politics. I would not want the throne to become politicised, ” said former MP Tawfik Ismail.
Besides, said Tawfik, it would make more sense to seek the views of experts instead of politicians on the pandemic and economy.
The King will likely bring the feedback gathered to the special meeting of Malay Rulers scheduled for June 16.
The opposition parties were very critical when the Emergency was proclaimed back in January.
But ordinary people were quite willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. If the emergency was needed to rein back politics so that the government could focus on managing the pandemic, then why not?
However, the situation has worsened, the common people are suffering and public anger is rising in tandem with Covid-19 cases.
“The consensus is that the Emergency has not worked. The only way to control the virus is through vaccination and strict standard operating procedures, ” said Ivanpal.
The royal houses can feel the rising temperature given the way so many people have gotten into trouble with the law for their outbursts on the Emergency and the Malay Rulers.
The Emergency order brought down the level of politicking but not the Covid-19 outbreak.
“The trouble is that the Emergency is seen as move to stop Parliament from convening. You can see it in all those jokes and parodies on social media, ” said Perak PKR chairman Farhash Wafa Salvador.
The main takeaways from the meetings between the King and Pakatan leaders to date is that Pakatan will oppose an extension of the Emergency. They also want Parliament to be convened after Aug 1.
But what kind of feedback will the other big boys of politics bring to the Palace?
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who goes in on Thursday (June 10) will no doubt say it like it is. Moreover, he is a medial doctor and he will have sensible opinions on Covid-19.
PAS which is also scheduled for Thursday is in a awkward position. Will the party go along with Perikatan Nasional’s agenda or convey views from its Malay base?
With the PAS president still unwell and in hospital, the party will be represented by its deputy president Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, who enjoys a warm relationship with the Pahang Palace.
Umno took a pro-royalist stand by not criticising the emergency order but it is understood that the party is not in favour of prolonging it.
Umno MPs also want Parliament to be convened. Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is expected to convey his party’s stand when he meets the King on Friday.
The final meeting on Monday via video conferencing is reportedly reserved for Gabungan Parti Sarawak which has been a reliable partner of the ruling coalition.
The last five months gave Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin some breathing space from the heat of politics. He has been fighting so many fires but the political temperature will rise again if the Emergency ends after Aug 1.
The consultation with the political stakeholders has shown that the monarch cares about the health and economic crisis.
It could also be the monarch’s ways of telling the people that his decisions are made after listening to the people’s representatives.
Much will depend on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s “fact-finding mission” and the outcome of the meeting of the Malay Rulers.