“You are a minister, not a God from the heavens who lord above everybody.”
That was the scathing riposte from Johor’s crown prince, Brigadier General Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim, to criticism from Malaysia’s Tourism Minister, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.
“Do not think the people of this country exist to provide you with position and wealth, but the position exists for you to serve the people,” the prince said in a facebook post on 15 June.
Tunku Ismail’s remarks are the latest in an ongoing spat between the prince and the Malaysian government under Prime Minister Najib Razak.
It all started when Tunku Ismail, who is the eldest son of the current Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, questioned Mr Najib on being absent at the Nothing2Hide forum on 5 June.
The forum was supposed to be a no holds barred dialogue with Mr Najib, who has been heavily criticised for his handling of 1MDB, or 1 Malaysian Development Berhad, a strategic development company, wholly owned by the Government of Malaysia.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has been leading the call for Mr Najib to step down over financial improprieties, which he described as “financial black holes”, involving 1MDB.
Dr Mahathir was also present at the Nothing2Hide forum and was speaking on stage when the police appeared to ask him to stop.
The police subsequently banned the forum from proceeding, citing security concerns.
It prompted many to question Mr Najib, whom they believed ordered the police action, on what he has to hide about 1MDB.
“How can you have a dialogue called ‘Nothing2Hide’ featuring a person who has everything to hide?” Tunku Ismail posted on Facebook later that day after the forum was cancelled.
“Obviously he won’t show up,” he added, clearly referring to Mr Najib.
Tunku Ismail said that Mr Najib has lost the confidence of the public.
“For those who have been entrusted with the responsibility, do not blame the people for losing confidence and trust in you, but think of why they no longer have the confidence and trust in you,” he said.
Mr Najib has promised to “solve [the] 1MDB saga by year’s end”, report Malaysian news.
The Tunku’s remarks in turn provoked a stern reaction from Mr Nazri.
"He should keep out of politics because otherwise, he will be subject to the same rule and we will whack him," he told the media.
"Rulers and royal families are above the law,” Mr Nazri added. “If you want to be a politician then say so, so we can hit you back for what you say.
"But if you hold an important post, as a royalty in a state and start saying things, if we hit you back, don't get angry.”
But Dr Mahathir said Mr Nazri was barking up the wrong tree.
"He also has freedom of speech,” the former prime minister said, referring to Tunku Ismail. “Do we have a law saying that he doesn't have free speech?"
In the meantime, the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar is reported to have said that the police will investigate Mr Nazri under the Sedition Act 1948 over his statement warning the Johor crown prince to stay out of politics. (See here.)
The police action against the minister is believed to have been prompted by several police reports filed against Mr Nazri.
Many have also defended the crown prince over at the Johor football club, where the prince is its president.
Some are asking for the minister to recant his criticism of Tunku Ismail.
On 13 June, a video clip of the prince was posted on the Johor Southern Tigers football club’s Facebook page, showing the Tunku making a “bring it on” gesture.
It was taken as a response to Mr Nazri’s threat to “whack” him.
The video has since gone viral, with many expressing support for the prince.
Tunku Ismail then followed up with his stinging rebuke of Mr Nazri, and indeed the Malaysian government, on 15 June.
This was the post the crown prince posted on his Facebook page:
MESSAGE FOR MALAYSIANS
Of late, I just voiced out my opinion and a reminder that people who has [sic] been entrusted with the responsibility to not blame the people for losing trust and confidence in them, but think of why the people no longer have the confidence and trust in them. Apparently my gentle reminder has been met with a rather hostile response from a minister. If I got such a reply, then what chances does the rest of the rakyat [people] have?
You are a minister, not a God from the heavens who lord above everybody. Do not think the people of this country exist to provide you with position and wealth, but the position exists for you to serve the people. When I voice out, I do it as the leader of my rakyat, on behalf of Johoreans and Malaysians. All I did is to remind the leaders of the country that they have a responsibility to serve the people, and for this, I am attacked.
In the new world order, I envision a future that every person has a right to voice their opinions. However, that is not the case in Malaysia today, where ministers think they are untouchable. I am willing to be cursed for standing up for what is right, rather than be loved for defending what is wrong.
I am not a politician. I am only answerable to Allah, my Sultan and the people of Johor. I do not do the bidding of some puppet-master who pulls the strings. Johor only has place for those who want to serve the people, not for those who want to garner votes for their own interests.
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.
I never told anybody to step down or resign, only to remind politicians of their roles and responsibilities. If you cannot deal with that, it just shows your arrogance to the people. Alhamdulillah, I have been blessed with a comfortable life, and I can just live my own life and be oblivious to the worries of my people, but here I am, standing firm by their side. So for those wanting to tarnish my image and make me public enemy number one, the people are smarter than that, and they can think for themselves.
Do not use me to divert the attention from national issues. This country needs politicians who are clean and transparent, who carry out their duties with sincerity and integrity.
-HRH Brigadier General Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim, The Crown Prince of Johor.