The Asian Voice

Malaysia's King stays calm amid political storm: The Star columnist

In his commentary, the writer says that Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin displayed a sense of fairness and accountability right from the start.

Malaysia's King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (left) walks alongisde Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin at the National Palace on March 1, 2020. PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - He probably had the hardest job the past week. As the nation faced political turmoil, he was the man the country counted on to find closure for the upheaval.

Yesterday (Feb 29), Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah declared that Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin was the man most likely to command the majority of support.

It has been said that he garnered 114 votes - two more than a simple majority. That will probably be disputed: As of late Saturday, Pakatan Harapan also claimed that they had 114 MPs and said it will appeal.

There is speculation that the 18 votes which made the vital difference to Mr Muyhiddin came from Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), which has a longstanding difference with DAP.

One hint of this is that GPS's Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof was present at Mr Muhyiddin's house.

His Majesty's decision would probably not go down well with everyone but it cannot be denied that he has been a calming presence all along.

The King has done what he is entrusted to do, which is to look at the numbers. That's all. It is not his job to choose who he prefers.

He is probably fed up listening to the feuding politicians.

The past week, most Malaysians have felt helpless and hopeless, even angry, as the political drama unfolded and held the country in a vice-like grip. The situation was in such flux that no one knew what to believe or who to trust.

One day, the Members of Parliament were pledging their unwavering support for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and the next, their undying love evaporated into the ether. And this wasn't across days, but hours.

On Friday, the interim Prime Minister found out the hard way that his party no longer backed him. By then, they already had Mr Muhyiddin in mind as the next PM.

Just days earlier, his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia had requested he return to lead the party he had just quit.

Pakatan leaders rushed to his house to beg him to stay, urging him to continue leading the country. They had pressed for a date from him to quit as PM but when the tide went against them, they backtracked.

When their conditions weren't met, with things having not gone to plan, Dr Mahathir was berated.

Statutory declarations were treated like worthless scraps of toilet paper instead of legal documents.

But in a time of shifting political alliances, where MPs can't seem to decide which leader they truly support, Sultan Abdullah showed his maturity by handling the crisis in a composed manner.

When politicians were busy jostling for support from their peers, the conduct of the King certainly reassured his subjects. He continued to urge his people to be patient and to allow him time to carry out his duties.

With the calming presence of the king, the rakyat (people) feels assured that he has handled the situation well.

He displayed fairness, professionalism, patience and, as one journalist wrote, "conducted himself par excellence, demonstrating his late father's touch" and "played his role in the political crisis with a new spirit of transparency and professionalism".

He was patient and didn't rush into making a stand, demanding details and documented proof so he could evaluate everything before forming a conclusion.

His handling of the delicate situation was in stark contrast to the plotting, backstabbing and scheming of the politicians.

His Majesty called up the MPs, listened to every one of them patiently, and asked them to make their pledge.

Apparently, some MPs signed two statutory declarations to please their masters. No surprises if that's true.

Barely a year has passed since his installation as King last July, and suddenly, he's been handed this massive political puzzle to solve.

A couple of his senior brother Rulers spoke to this writer and jokingly remarked that they were spared from handling this mess, but all spoke highly of the King's professionalism.

Certainly, he has steered through the choppy waters well.

The current scenario is unprecedented because the nation has never had to face such a predicament where a Prime Minister toppled his own government, installed himself as an interim leader, with his ministers all sacked, while the nation waited for him to drag us out of this quagmire.

Some would say he's the architect of this downfall, though.

Against these uncertainties, His Majesty did the right thing.

First, he had the leaders of the major political parties - as the situation became clearer on Friday - provide the name list of MPs and their preferred leader.

By then, Mr Muhyiddin had emerged as a front runner for the top job, although Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim hasn't thrown in the towel yet.

The King also didn't rush into swearing in claimants of the majority, as he demanded clear evidence.

Neither was he bowled over by the idea of a "minority government" of 96 MPs, because he knew it would be too risky, unless there was the minimum 112 MPs for a simple majority.

A minority government could collapse anytime if MPs were to defect, and certainly, the King isn't in the mood to swear in another PM in a matter of months, or worse, weeks.

The King didn't only rely on the advice of the politicians (most have vested interests, after all) but also sought the wisdom of others, including his brother Rulers.

Dr Mahathir obviously jumped the gun and pre-empted the Rulers by announcing the special Parliament sitting, which didn't go down well with them.

His move to convene a sitting to elect a PM was criticised as he was questioned on the feasibility of an interim PM without an interim Cabinet.

In the end, the Rulers rejected the plan and announced the sitting's cancellation, and within a few hours, Bersatu announced their backing for Mr Muhyiddin as PM.

The wheels have come off for Dr Mahathir, and it has all unravelled explosively.

However, even against mounting pressure, with Malaysians expecting the King to swiftly end the impasse, His Majesty remained the calm in the chaos, even making time to step out of the palace to distribute burgers to the press.

Those who have covered him as reporters will know that this is no PR stunt. It's just the way he is.

In all this, Malaysians must be given credit for being a rational lot. Many other nations would have plunged into chaos by now.

The Malay Rulers have more than proven themselves because in a time of political crisis, they have managed the country, and states, well.

Regardless of whether they are lauded or criticised, they have served their roles as custodians of the country, which is a far cry from what many of our politicians have done for us.

None of us are sure if this is the end or the beginning but Malaysia needs closure, sooner rather than later.

The writer is a columnist with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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