UMNO Breathes Its Own Exhaust

Members of the Youth Wing of the United Malay National Organisation, who have been long considered brash and rash and extreme in their views and actions, surpassed themselves on the afternoon of 26 February when a group of about 20 of them invaded the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur intending to prevent the wheelchair bound member of parliament, Karpal Singh, 69, from entering the House of Representatives to take part in the day's proceedings and to force a retraction of his earlier utterances.

When debating a motion on the king's speeches, Karpal brought up the issue of being sent two live bullets by post. He claimed the bullets were sent by the UMNO Youth and labeled them celaka. Celaka translates as 'accursed' or 'damned.' They also wanted to confront Karpal over his alleged insult of the Perak Sultan and the Malays by stating that the Sultan of Perak could be sued in the political controversy that is raging in Perak.

Karpal also rounded off his earlier speech in Parliament by declaring 'Singh is King' presumably influenced by the title of a Bollywood flick currently being screened in Malaysia. This statement further enraged the UMNO youths, as it was construed as a further insult on the sultans.

As the UMNO Youth blocked Karpal's path and created a fracas, it is alleged that the security guards and police personnel stood by and watched, not bothering to come to the aid of the veteran disabled MP.

Karpal Singh has said he has not done anything wrong. As a lawyer, he said, he was merely stating the law when he said the sultan could be sued in court. Many senior lawyers as well as the Malaysian Bar Council have concurred that the Malay rulers are subject to civil and criminal prosecution based on the Malaysian Constitution.

Prior to this confrontation, noisy demonstrations were held by the same group outside Karpal's law firm in Kuala Lumpur. Demonstrations were also planned in Penang outside his home under the leadership of Mohamad Khir Toyo, who is seeking to be elected head of the Youth Wing in the coming party elections. The planned demonstration was stopped by the police after Karpal complained they were not doing anything to protect him.

Mahathir Mohamad, when he was Prime Minister was instrumental in clipping the powers and removing the immunity of the Malay rulers between 1983 and 1993 and making them liable to prosecution. Mahathir, when putting forward his case to the people of Malaysia on the need for such a drastic course of action against the rulers, singled out the allegedly extravagant lifestyles of royalty. The rulers of the states of Perak and Johor were singled out for mention.

UMNO including the Youth Wing were staunchly behind Mahathir and there was no talk of insulting the rulers, sedition or treason.

When the withdrawal of immunity of the Sultans and curtailing their powers was discussed and passed by both the Houses of the Parliament, it is significant to note that the Democratic Action Party, of which Karpal Singh, is the national chairman, voted against the act. It was passed with the overwhelming support of UMNO and other components of the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national ethnic coalition

What did Karpal mean by his statement "Singh is king?" Most certainly not an obsession with Bollywood. A closer look at the culture and religion of the Sikhs will provide interesting answers. Most male Sikhs are called "singh," which means "lion," the king of the jungle. Quite often princes and maharajas in India use the title of Singh to denote their royal and warring abilities. In this context, the term "king" was not a reference to the rulers at all.

More than 100 police reports alleging treason and sedition have been made against Karpal. That these reports will not stand up in a court of law is obvious. Karpal should however bear in mind that he would have caused less controversy had he used more diplomatic language, particularly in parliament.

A good grasp of cultures of the various ethnic groups as well as Malaysian history should be made essential knowledge for ALL politicians and aspiring politicians. Most Malaysians, including the Malays, are aware that the ruling Malay party is not truly concerned about the rulers, and their complaints against Karpal and the opposition grate like a broken record being played too many times, especially when not a squeak was heard from these very Malay leaders in1983 and 1993. It only shows their lack of respect and understanding of the laws of the country, parliamentary procedures, and cultures of the various communities.

The fact that the prime minister and the deputy prime minister have not commented on the invasion of the sanctity of the parliament and the intimidation of a wheelchair-bound opposition leader speaks volumes on the conduct of politics and governance in Malaysia.