KUALA LUMPUR - In a shock move that is bound to roil Prime Minister Najib Razak's already embattled administration, the younger brother of Johor’s crown prince has warned Johor may secede from Malaysia.
In a post on Instagram, Tunku Idris Sultan Ibrahim issued a reminder that the Johor government had joined the Malay federation in 1946 on several conditions.
“If any of these conditions are violated, then Johor will secede from Malaysia,” Tunku Idris posted on his Instagram account @tunku_idris.
Among the conditions listed included making Islam the religion of the state, the state’s absolute right over water and land issues, and the state royal house to have its own armed forces.
According to the Malay Mail and Malaysiakini, the posting was made on Sunday and removed today without explanation.
The Johor royal family has always been known for its proud and independent stance among Malaysia's royal families. The country is a constitutional monarchy where the position of King or Agong is rotated among its Sultans. While the role of the Sultans have been largely ceremonial since the formation of Malaya and their powers further crimped by ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad in 1993, they enjoy the respect of the people, especially the Malays.
Tunku Idris' outburst comes hot on the heels of a cavalier warning from Najib's Tourism Minister, Nazri Aziz, who had publicly threatened to 'whack' Tunku Ismail, after the latter publicly criticized Najib for his no-show at a controversial tell-all 1MDB forum.
Nazri's disrespectful and careless words stirred red-hot anger across the southern state, just a stone's throw away from Singapore.
Indeed, in his reply addressed to all Malaysians, Tunku Ismail - who is first in line to succeed his father as the next Sultan - had hinted at secession:
"There will come a time, when the Johorean people must decide what is best for us and our future generations. Decide and unite we will, as Bangsa Johor, to forge our future. United we stand strong, divided we fall. I stand for my rakyat, not to joust for power, not to topple the government, but to ensure the well-being of my people," wrote Tunku Ismail.
Johor is one of Malaysia's largest and richest state but it is not the only of 13 states, where the desire to secede has been expressed. In Sabah and Sarawak, the move to gain 'independence' from the peninsula-based Umno-led federal government is gaining steam. This despite Najib's government passing new legislation to outlaw any talk of secession by making it punishable under the draconian Sedition Act.
Now with a member of the Johor royal family publicly warning of such a move, Najib and his Cabinet are in a prickly situation. How to punish royalty, especially popular royalty who enjoy the support of the masses while they - Najib and his Umno party - have become increasingly unpopular due to unceasing grand-scale corruption, unfair rule and institutionalized intimidation.
Rise of large-scale corruption & public unhappiness
Technically, the royals are no longer immune from prosecution but such a controversial step may trigger a revolt and Najib's own immediate political demise.
The 60-year-old Najib is arguably Malaysia's worst prime minister. During his tenure which began in 2009, Malaysia has been roiled by major social, economic and political controversies including banning non-Muslims from using the Arabic word Allah to describe God and jailing Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim for alleged sodomy.
But the greatest nightmare is in the economy where a string of financial debacles have been unearther, most notably the RM42 billion 1MDB scandal, which many financial experts have blamed for causing the country's currency - the ringgit - to plummet to 1997 Asian Crisis levels and which some fear may force the government to re-implement a 3.80 peg to the US dollar in a bid to stem capital flight.
This has triggered public dissatisfaction with Najib's rule, with ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad leading the calls for his resignation. It would not come as a surprise that Najib's lavish ways have been noted with increasingly alarm by the royals, who may fear their own wealth may eventually be eroded by grave economic mismanagement.
Housing and property bill
There are some in Johor who believe Sultan Ibrahim is enraged with Umno due to dissatisfaction over the state’s Real Property and Housing Board Bill.
“Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar wants the Johor Real Property and Housing Board Bill to be reviewed,” national news agency Bernama had said in a one-line report in early May.
The Johor Housing and Real Property Enactment Board Bill 2014 was amended and passed by the state legislative assembly in June 2014, following uproar over the state’s granting of administrative powers to the Johor Sultan, which critics said goes against the principles of a constitutional monarchy.
The revised housing bill includes a provision for the Sultan is to act on the advice of the mentri besar, The Star reported Johor's Local Government and Housing executive councillor Datuk Abdul Latif Bandi saying in his speech in the assembly.
This would go against the royal family's claim of absolute right over water and land issues. - Malaysia Chronicle