KUALA LUMPUR - The mother of Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has leapt to his defence after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's fierce exchanges with the Johor royalty in recent weeks.
The Raja Permaisuri of Johor, Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, said in a Facebook post, that she could not bear to see Tunku Ismail being showered with criticism from all quarters after 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."
Her reference was to her 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," she said, the Malay Mail reported.
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.
The Crown Prince'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 chief minister, 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."
To this, Dr Mahathir retorted by mocking the idea of the state's sovereignty. "I believe Johor is a part of this country. Unless, of course, it is a foreign country; I don't interfere in the internal affairs of foreign countries," he said.
The back-and-forth exchanges over who had the final say over the choice of a new chief minister and members of the state Cabinet - known as "exco", short for executive councillors - even 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.
In a video clip that went viral, he was seen leaving the a sports stadium in Larkin, Johor, on April 24, after football club Johor Darul Ta'zim's 0-1 defeat to Shandong Luneng in the AFC Champions League. As some of the fans chanted "Hidup TMJ" (long live TMJ, in reference to Tunku Ismail's title), one shouted "change Mora", referring to the football team's coach Benjamin Mora.
At this, Tunku Ismail's vehicle suddenly stopped and the Crown Prince stuck his head out of the window and said: "Instead of changing Mora, it's better 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.
On Monday (April 29), Malaysia's Entrepreneur Development Minister Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof said if the Johor royalty wanted respect and acceptance from the people, they must know their role as state ruler and not interfere in the country's administration
In a comment that apparently aimed at Tunku Ismail, he said: "The one doing all the talking is a young person. He has to know what happened in the past and understand that people today want an administration based on the country's Constitution."
"My advice to those who don't agree with today's Constitution, they have to open the book and learn (it) properly all over again," he said when asked to comment on the disagreement between the Johor royalty and Putrajaya.