Johor Sultan tells Malay leaders to unite

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar arriving at a royal banquet in Brunei last month. The Sultan made the statement in conjunction with his 59th birthday.
Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar arriving at a royal banquet in Brunei last month. The Sultan made the statement in conjunction with his 59th birthday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Community being pulled into credibility crisis damaging image and faith in institutions led by Malays, he says

The Sultan of Johor has called on Malay leaders to step back from power struggles that "will eventually cause Malays to be divided and weak".

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said in a "message for Johor Malays" that Malaysia's majority community is being dragged into a "crisis of credibility that is damaging the image and faith in institutions led by Malays".

"I wish to voice out my deep concern over the crisis that is haunting Malays at this very moment," he said in a statement in conjunction with his 59th birthday.

Although the ruler of the southern state did not name any specific person or organisation, Malaysian media and some analysts noted his recent war of words with former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who has formed a new party with former Johor chief minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

The two former Umno stalwarts are now part of an opposition locked in an increasingly heated battle with the dominant Malay party led by Prime Minister Najib Razak ahead of a national election that must be held by August.

Senior fellow Johan Saravanamuttu of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told The Straits Times: "The fragmentation of Malay political parties is probably at its severest today."

Today, there are five main Malay political parties in Peninsular Malaysia, including Datuk Seri Najib's United Malays National Organisation (Umno).

Its traditional enemy is Parti Islam SeMalaysia, or PAS.

In 1999, a Malay-led multiracial party led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was formed, called Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). And in the last two years, two more Malay parties have been formed. One is Parti Amanah Negara, which is a splinter of PAS. The other is Tun Dr Mahathir and Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).

PAS today remains an opposition party but is friendly to Umno.

The other three - PKR, Amanah and PPBM - are in an opposition alliance that includes Chinese-led Democratic Action Party.

Said the Sultan: "Come what may, the interest and influence of Malays must be guarded without compromise or indecision; what more in Johor, where the most organised and successful Malay struggle began, and is now the strongest fortress in the country."

He was likely referring to the state as Umno's birthplace and, therefore, where Malaysia's independence was won 60 years ago.

Although Malaysia's nine Malay sultans are largely ceremonial figures in a constitutional monarchy, they wield wide influence in their respective states, especially in issues concerning Malays and Islam.

They have begun wading into current and political issues, especially Sultan Ibrahim, who in recent months chided Muslim-only launderettes for shaming the religion, and called for a return of English-medium schools.

In 2015, the Malay rulers had also expressed their wish that the 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, scandal be resolved with a thorough investigation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2017, with the headline 'Johor Sultan tells Malay leaders to unite'. Print Edition | Subscribe