Focus elsewhere, Tun — Shafiq Abdullah

APRIL 16 — Some of you might have heard that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has called a meeting at Yayasan Kepimpinan Perdana sometime last week, in an effort to ramp up Pakatan Harapan’s social media presence. These cybertroopers are not only being paid handsomely, they get laptops and smartphones to carry out their duties too. As of writing, no news has been broken out on this new unit’s direction, and the role they play in crafting the narrative of the Pakatan Harapan government.

Of course, we the Rakyat are paying for it.

Why the sudden need to bolster their online presence, you may ask. After all, it has been more than 11 months since PH came into power (which can be credited to their strong social media presence), surely the newfound need for momentum is to prepare themselves for something else?

We have seen tensions brewing between the Prime Minister and the Johor palace last week, after the statements made by Tunku Mahkota Johor on the right of the Sultan to appoint the next Menteri Besar, as laid out under the Johor State Constitution. Tun Dr Mahathir’s insistence on pushing the buttons of the Johor royal family has left many questions on whether another constitutional crisis is on its way.

In a congratulatory message to the newly-appointed Johor Menteri Besar Sahruddin Jamal, A. Kadir Jasin (Bersatu supreme council leader) decided to highlight the Johor’s palace position prior to GE14, no doubt to remind everyone that the family will not serve the interests of the people, despite being proven otherwise many times.

Why was the Prime Minister spending all of his energy antagonising the Crown Prince of Johor? On top of that, we have seen a barrage of negative online comments on the Crown Prince himself — most of which are likely from cybertroopers employed to push this narrative that the royal families are a threat to Malaysia.

Tun Dr Mahathir’s dislike for the monarchs is not entirely new to many of us — those who knew the extent he would go to spite them knows the situation today is much of a child’s play in comparison. But what many of us have to either acknowledge, or accept, is the monarchy functions as a proven check and balance to the government of Malaysia. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarchy’s presence is still imperative albeit with limited powers to ensure there will be no tyrannical leaders with absolute power.

The history of Malaysia however, points to only one person who has held almost-absolute power with tyrannical tendencies, and he was not from any of the royal families.

In a society where the levers of power are firm in one man’s hand, we can be sure that tyranny and totalitarianism is likely to rise. Tun Dr Mahathir’s insistence to attack the reputation of the royal family, with the help of cybertroopers and the likes of A. Kadir Jasin, will only increase the probability of a totalitarian Malaysia with an unequal power distribution. It is best to keep in mind that the 1993 crisis was a result of his heavy-handedness on the media to rile Malaysians up.

Tun Dr Mahathir, as a tried and experienced stateman, should re-align his focus elsewhere in times like these. The recent loss at Rantau serves as a barometer to gauge the popularity of the ruling coalition on the ground. The matter of fact is this: Pakatan Harapan is facing an erosion of popularity among voters across racial lines, especially the Malays. Launching a smear campaign on a Crown Prince will not help them on this front, as not only will the people see the government as arrogant, they will also see the government as being lackadaisical in protecting the Malay tradition and cultural heritage.

The economy, despite having the numbers to tell a good story, is not much different on the ground to many people. Pakatan Harapan came into power by promising they will help the ordinary man to weather through the rise in cost of living and the stagnant local economy. Prices have not gone down, and wages are still the same. Additionally, the lack of effort on the part of the Pakatan Harapan government to communicate their efforts (if any) to the public to improve the economy has also caused disillusionment among the many who voted them in, even the young voters.

Recently, Bank Negara Malaysia released a report outlining the current realities many young Malaysians are facing: that wages are not only stagnant, they have regressed. Upon the report’s release, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, announced that he will make an effort towards making our local graduates more employable through upskilling programmes, instead of lobbying for higher pay for fresh graduates. This, of course, invited the wrath of many young Malaysians who called for this video-gaming minister to be more aware of what is happening.

Indeed, like the coalition he is in, he has missed the forest for the trees. 

The Pakatan Harapan should focus on the core issues that moved the needle in their favour last year instead of smearing the royal families of Malaysia. Paying social media influencers, cybertroopers and journalists to mount a vain smear campaign against the royal family will not only waste money, but will further disenchant many Malaysians who view the monarchs as an important part of the collective Malaysian institution.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.