Malaysians look to their king to put things right
More than 100,000 Malaysians, ranging from prominent writers and human rights lawyers to film producers, have signed online petitions in the last two months urging the king, whose duties are mostly ceremonial, to intervene in matters usually left to government.
Ironically, no one is sure how the king, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, should go about this.
Since 2005, when supporters of opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim first petitioned the king to grant him a pardon, groups including minority Indians, opposition political parties and pig farmers have sought the king's help against alleged government excesses.
The causes include requests to help combat crime, clean up the tainted judiciary, protect minority rights and promote press freedom.
The latest plea saw Wan Azizah Ismail, Mr Anwar's wife and the nominal president of his Keadilan party, stand outside the palace on Friday with a petition urging the king to form a Royal Commission of Inquiry into a video clip that many believe confirms rampant corruption in the judiciary.
One of nine hereditary rulers who take turns to be monarch for five years, the king does not, as with previous kings, formally respond to the requests.
But this year he won accolades for quietly rejecting a government appointee as top judge. An eight-month impasse followed that was resolved after the government offered another candidate, who was accepted.
'That intervention is a classic example of how the king can help promote human rights, democracy and judicial integrity,' said lawyer Harris Ibrahim, who last week launched another petition urging the king to intervene to save the judiciary. Within four days, 11,000 people signed the petition, he added.
'People have lost confidence in the media, judiciary, police and the universities ... so they are looking to the rulers,' Mr Harris said.
Malay rulers were tolerated until 1988, when one killed a caddy with a golf club sparking a constitutional crisis that saw them lose most of their powers and immunity from prosecution. But the king, who is supposed to act only on the advice of the government, can show his displeasure by delaying legislation for 30 days.
In recent months, rulers have also enhanced their standing by defending the secular constitution endorsing the separation of powers and encouraging judges to be independent.
'Public estimation of Malay rulers is rising,' said Raja Petra Kamarudin, a political commentator who launched a petition last month urging the king to intervene and 'save' the country from a government he accuses of stifling dissent, abusing public funds and failing to tackle corruption. He has 60,000 signatures.
'Going by the numbers, people want a king who is a real check and balance to government excesses.'
The palace declined to comment.
But some political scientists are squeamish about inviting royals into public affairs. 'Kings and monarchs do not make good democrats. They are the first who need to be taught the value of citizenship and civic responsibility,' said Farish Noor, a Malaysian guest professor at the Islamic University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.