KUALA LUMPUR • The mother of the Johor Crown Prince, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, has leapt to his defence after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's fierce exchanges with the state's royalty in recent weeks.
The Raja Permaisuri of Johor, Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that she could not bear to see Tunku Ismail being showered with criticism from all quarters following his comments that his father, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, has absolute authority to choose the state's menteri besar.
"As a mother who had excruciatingly witnessed one of her children drawing his last breath and subsequently laid to rest, then it is not wrong for me to feel distressed to see one of my children being insulted, ridiculed and become an item of entertainment for those who think they are smarter and have never committed any wrongdoing."
She was referring to another son, Tunku Abdul Jalil Sultan Ibrahim, who died after a year-long battle with liver cancer at age 25 in 2015.
"To these people, I pray that Allah bless them with his divine help and guidance," the Malay Mail reported her as saying.
In response to the post, the Crown Prince comforted his mother. "Don't worry, Mama. Everything is going to be all right. No matter how dark the storm may be, there will always be sunlight. I promise you. Allah Peliharakan Sultan," he said in a Facebook post.
The testy relations between Tun Dr Mahathir and Johor's royal family date back to the early 1990s, during the 93-year-old leader's first period in office, when the government removed immunities enjoyed by the Malay rulers following episodes of assault by Johorean royalty.
Tunku Ismail's call not to vote for Dr Mahathir in last year's election set the stage for a renewal of hostilities.
Amid reports last month that Datuk Osman Sapian had resigned as Johor menteri besar, Sultan Ibrahim voiced his unhappiness over "meddling" in the state's affairs. "As for Johor, don't be busybodies meddling in the affairs of the state, as it is a sovereign state and still has a Sultan."
Dr Mahathir retorted by mocking the idea of the state's sovereignty.
The back-and-forth exchanges on who had the final say over the choice of a new chief minister and members of the state Cabinet - known as the "exco", short for executive councillors - evolved into a debate over constitutional law.
Dr Mahathir wrote that under the federal Constitution, "the rulers would be constitutional heads without executive power", but Tunku Ismail argued that there were provisions guaranteeing the powers of the monarchs according to their respective state Constitutions.
Amid the spiralling tensions, Tunku Ismail said last week that the people need to change the Prime Minister.
Reacting to those comments, Dr Mahathir noted that ascension to the throne was not cast in stone for the heir-designate, even as he pointed out that prime ministers can be changed only by public vote in a democracy. "We need to remember the past, when a crown prince had to abdicate and the position was given to his younger brother. That's the crown prince, a crown prince can be changed. Only the people can change the prime minister, not just anybody or someone who thinks he is big," he said.