Written by Kim Quek, Centre for Policy Initiatives
Monday, 13 April 2009
Hidden Dramas Hours Before Najib's Swearing-In?
Unusual occurrences on the day before Najib Razak’s swearing-in as prime minister have raised questions on the royal consent to his appointment as the sixth PM of Malaysia.
From the time Najib left the palace grounds at 1215 hrs on April 2, after an audience with the King, the nation was kept in the dark for seven hours as to whether the King had given his consent to Najib’s premiership. It was not until 1938 hrs that the first newsbreak came from Bernama stating that Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Sidek Hassan announced that the Yang DiPertuan Agong had given his consent to Najib’s appointment and that Najib would be sworn-in at 1000 hrs the next day – which was the time previously circulated by the government. Was it not most extra-ordinary that the nation was kept in suspense for so many hours when the ceremony was only hours away? What was the reason for this long delay in announcement? Was there any problem with obtaining the royal consent?
That something was amiss was apparent in the morning of April 2 when then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi went alone to meet the King, contradicting Najib’s disclosure on the preceding day (April 1) that he was invited by Abdullah to accompany the latter to meet the King for the royal consent to Abdullah’s resignation and Najib’s appointment.
Abdullah arrived at the palace at 1000 hrs for an audience with the King to express his intention to relinquish his premiership. After an hour-long meeting with the King, he uttered only these words to the official media allowed into the palace: “It’s a matter for Tuanku to decide”. He drove through the main gate at 1100 hrs without talking to some 70 reporters gathered there.
Minutes later, Najib’s official car and police escort drove past the palace and arrived at Abdullah’s residence at Jalan Bellamy (located near the palace), where the two leaders met for 10 minutes.
Najib, who was called to the palace, arrived at 1130 hrs to have an audience with the King. He left through the main gate at 1215 hrs and waved to the anxiously waiting reporters through his open window and said “Thank you”, without stopping to talk to them.
Thereafter, complete silence – without a word from either the palace or the government on the outcome of the morning’s royal audience given to these two leaders, until Bernama’s statement in the evening.
Observing the above events, we can deduce that
* It must have been at the King’s request that Abdullah went to see the King alone – without Najib. Obviously, the King wanted to talk to Abdullah privately, and the hour-long audience indicated that much was discussed about the proposed transfer of power.
* When Abdullah left the palace at 1100 hrs, he gave the impression that the King had yet to decide on his proposed resignation and perhaps also his recommendation of Najib to take over the premiership.
* The lack of positive indications from both leaders after their royal audience and the long silence thereafter indicated that royal consent was unlikely to have been given during the audience. Otherwise, the government would have wasted no time to announce such consent, judging from its impatience to fix the swearing-in time and date, as reflected in several such premature announcements previously.
* Then, when was royal consent given, if at all it was given? What transpired between 1215 hrs (when Najib left the palace) and 1938 hrs (when Bernama reported the royal consent) on April 2?
For a better understanding of what actually transpired on April 2, we have to take note of two important events that took place on April 1.
One, Chief Secretary Sidek Hassan announced through Bernama that before the Cabinet meeting in the morning, Abdullah had an audience with the King, whereby the King consented to Najib's swearing-in as prime minister at 1000 hrs on April 3 and the King also agreed to grant an audience to both leaders at 1000 hrs the next day, April 2, for this proposed power transfer. However, at 1954 hrs, Bernama issued another statement saying the Chief Secretary had said his earlier announcement on the swearing-in was premature, and asked for the story to be ignored.
Two, Pakatan Rakyat handed to the King a letter by all its 81 members of Parliament, appealing to the King to delay the appointment of Najib as prime minister until many allegations against him were cleared. These included in particular the shocking scandals of the murder of the Mongolian woman and commissions paid in the purchase of Scorpene submarines, which of late had been well publicized in news media all over the world. The letter stated that premiership being the nation’s top job, it ought to be held by some one who was clean and of unquestionable integrity. It was therefore appropriate that His Majesty delay the appointment till all allegations were investigated by an independent commission and Najib’s name cleared.
ROYAL SECOND THOUGHTS?
Looking at these two events, it is entirely possible that the King could have nodded his head to Abdullah’s proposed transfer of power to Najib early in the morning of April 1, but after deliberation over the appeal by the 81 MPs, the King could have second thoughts about hurrying through the swearing-in the next morning. Hence the Chief Secretary’s late statement to retract his earlier announcement on April 1, and the separate audiences – instead of joint audience – granted to Abdullah and Najib the next morning.
As a conscientious constitutional monarch who takes his role as guardian of the Constitution and the country at heart, it is also possible that Tuanku Mizan could be seriously considering a delay to the power transfer to clear matters up to protect vital national interests. But his hands appeared to have been forced by the drummed-up publicity for the imminent swearing-in only hours away via premature issue of invitation cards and a questionable last-minute news release by Bernama, both of these are deemed inappropriate.
Since it is the King who accepts the Prime Minister’s resignation, and since it is also his prerogative to appoint the new Prime Minister, shouldn’t it be the palace that makes the announcement of the King’s decision? Shouldn’t it also be the palace that issues the invitations – instead of the prime minister’s department – for the ceremony at the palace for the handing over of the appointment letter to the new Prime Minister?
Is it not an act of the highest disrespect to the King for the government to issue invitations for the swearing-in of Najib when the King had not even granted an audience to the incumbent Prime Minister to discuss about his proposed resignation? Or is the government taking the institution of monarchy as a mere rubber stamp?
We can well understand Najib and UMNO’s desperation to ascend the premiership in great urgency, since he has already been hyped as the savior of a sinking ship, and any hindrance to such ascendancy could spell disaster, nevertheless, such usurping of the authority and status of the monarch is an affront on our Constitution and serves to further undermine constitutional rule in this country under Barisan Nasional rule. It also gives rise to questions about the legitimacy of the new premiership.
It is an ominous start for Najib as Prime Minister, having just added another baggage to the many uncleared baggages Najib is carrying over to his premiership.