DATUK Zaid Ibrahim is no stranger to controversy but is his political career about to be swallowed up by the firestorm surrounding his tweets about the Sultan of Selangor?
There has been a wave of criticism against the actions of the lawyer and DAP politician, his effigy has been torched, police reports have been lodged against him and, to cap it all, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah has told him off.
It is not a good place for a Malay politician to be, especially one who is planning to contest the next general election and who has big ambitions if Pakatan Harapan wins.
The fallout from his pair of tweets criticising the Sultan’s remarks about Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is happening at an inopportune time for his party, DAP, which is trying to win over Malays in the general election.
DAP has been fighting a perception war that it is anti-Malay and anti-Islam. Zaid’s actions will only reinforce that perception.
It will also deepen the suspicion among many Malays that DAP’s agenda is to use “Malays to screw Malays”.
Zaid himself lodged a police report on Thursday against Selangor Umno for “criminal intimidation”.
He was upset that his effigies were burnt and that state Umno chief Tan Sri Noh Omar asked that he be probed for sedition.
It began with The Star’s interview with Sultan Sharafuddin in connection with his coming birthday.
He had expressed critical views about Dr Mahathir. The next day Zaid let go two tweets.
The first read: “Sultan Selangor should be careful with his words. No one is immune when country burns”.
This was followed by: “When some Rulers play politics; they must know the consequences. Don’t think there’s no price for partisanship”.
A day later, the Sultan, in an interview with Utusan Malaysia, said Zaid had “always made untrue and incorrect comments about me since before” and told Zaid not to forget his roots and destroy the Malays.
The DAP politician’s tweets have been slammed as biadap (insolent), derhaka (treachery) and as a case of him trying to warn the Sultan to watch his words.
It was a very un-Malay thing for him to do despite having written a bestseller, I, too, am Malay. He had crossed the line as a far as many Malays were concerned.
Far from backing off, Zaid has followed up with a blog posting titled “Neutrality is the best policy” where he accused the Prime Minister of enlisting “friends in high places” to join him in attacking DAP, Dr Mahathir and the Opposition.
He asked those in “high places” not to join in the attacks if they want people to continue to respect them.
Subsequent tweets claimed that Umno’s attacks would “make me famous all over the world” and he also urged Chinese DAP leaders to lodge police reports against an Umno Youth politician who called for Umno to protect the Sultans from “DAP Chinese”.
The perception is that Zaid is trying to please his DAP leaders who have made a career out of attacking Umno and Malay institutions like the police, the military and civil service – bodies dominated by Malays.
But it seems like even his party colleagues are reluctant to go near this issue. None of them have come out to defend him and he seems quite alone.
Zaid is the type of Malay that DAP leaders like. DAP’s understanding of Malays is rooted in the 1960s when Malays could openly live life like non-Malays.
DAP leaders like Malays who conform to their idea of what Malays should be like.
They are still clinging to that image even though the Malay-Muslim world has moved on.
Zaid’s view probably resonates with the hardcore Pakatan supporters and even some Malays, but what about the average Chinese?
“You’d be surprised. Many Chinese out there have begun to look up to the Sultans for direction on matters of Islam in the last few years,” said political commentator Khaw Veon Szu.
Khaw said they liked the way several Sultans had stepped in to stop certain Muslim groups and individuals from taking the religion down the ultra road.
A case in point was the Malay Rulers taking a stand on trends like the Muslims-only launderettes in Johor and Perlis.
The average Chinese is terrified when they see extremist acts committed in the name of Islam here and abroad.
They feel unsettled by the way religion has encroached into everyday life back home.
They have lost faith in politicians being able to moderate the Islamic trends.
Many of them blame politicians for playing to the gallery.
“They appreciate the interventionist role of the Malay Rulers.
“The Sultans are their last hope to safeguard their place in a nation where Islam is the official religion,” said Khaw.
The thing about Zaid is that he is a free spirit. He is intelligent, well-read and writes beautifully.
But the trouble is that he is also a wild horse that cannot be tamed.
Dr Mahathir had tried to woo him for his own party but it is likely that Zaid picked DAP because that is the strongest party in the Opposition.
Dr Mahathir won the battle against the royals back in the 1980s. He was the first commoner prime minister, yet he clipped their wings and put them in their place.
But events in the last few years suggest that Dr Mahathir won the battle but is losing the war because the royals are hitting back.
Zaid failed to learn from Dr Mahathir and his own battle royale has just begun.