The roles of the Rulers (or sometimes referred to as the Malay Rulers) in this blessed nation are somewhat misunderstood. While many often think that the Institution of the Rulers mirror that of the British’s Westminster-style monarchy, it is not. Britain had undergone a period of regicide and for a moment was a republic under Oliver Cromwell, but monarchy was reinstalled with the ascension of Charles II guided by the British Parliament with laws made and passed solely by the Parliament. Here, we have Rulers who, until 1957, ruled the land (although much of the administration was passed to British advisers through various treaties who were on the Rulers’ payroll). It was only on 31st August 1957 that the executive powers of the Rulers were handed over to a civilian government chosen by the majority of the people of the Federation of Malaya. The Rulers, as owners of this land, continue to enjoy their position with their income regulated by the respective laws, and receive advice from the Menteris Besar (or in the case of the Yang DiPertuan Agong, the Prime Minister). This is evident in Article 181(1) of the Federal Constitution which states:
“Subject to the provisions of this Constitution,” the “sovereignty, prerogatives, powers and jurisdiction of the Rulers…as hitherto had and enjoyed shall remain unaffected.”
The same was noted by Mark R Gillen of the Faculty of Law, University of Victoria (Gillen 1994:7). In the words of the late Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah, former Lord President, it is:
“a mistake to think that the role of a King, like that of a President, is confined to what is laid down by the Constitution, His role far exceeds those constitutional provisions” (Azlan Shah 1986:89)
As history have shown, time and time again, the strength and weakness of the Rulers lie in the strength or weakness of those responsible to advise the Rulers. Those appointed as the Prime Minister and Menteris Besar are expected to be sincere, wise and knowledgeable, truthful and forthcoming no matter how bitter the advice may be, so that the Rulers can act with just with their feet firmly on the ground, or in the Malay saying:
Supaya Raja tidak dibuai dalam khayalan; tidak diulit gurindam pujian
Why I have not referred to the Rulers in this particular post as the Malay Rulers is deliberate, with references made to various research papers on this subject. Before the entrance of the British advisers, each of the Ruler was the Ruler of all he surveyed and was the enjoyer of all he surveyed. This means that there were no state boundaries as we now have to show the dominion of each Ruler, and the people whom we collectively refer to as the Malays (as the Chinese and Indians are back in China and India are) used to refer to themselves as people of where they originated: orang Muar, orang Jasin, orang Pekan so on and so forth. Their loyalty is to the Ruler who has dominance over their area. With the introduction of the Chinese and Indian immigrants by the British, the role of the Ruler transcended protector of the Malays, as protector of the immigrant subjects as well. The Hikayat Johor of the early 20th century lauds Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor for “looking after the Chinese subjects living in the state.” There is also mention of Chinese and Indians welcoming the Sultan home from an overseas journey (Anthony Milner, Australian National University, Milner 2002:214).
Even a left-wing Malay who wanted to unite a Raja-less Malaya with Batavia (Jakarta), Ibrahim Yaacob, referred to a Kelantan Ruler bestowing a prestigious title on a Chinese merchant and observed that the Johor state council building looked like a Chinese audience hall because it was decorated Chinese writing. When Ibrahim Yaacob asked what was the writing about, he was told that it recorded the personal service of wealthy Chinese people to the Ruler (Milner 2002:261). Ibrahim Yaacob later served as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Japanese Giyuugun (Volunteer Army) and fled Malaya for Batavia and served under Sukarno taking up the name Iskandar Kamel Agastya (SeaDemon: Road to Merdeka – Persekutuan Tanah China (6th September 2011).
When racial strife hit Malaysia on 13th May 1969, the Sultan of Terengganu as well as other Rulers took steps to protect their non-Malay rakyats (Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian, Faculty of Humanities, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, Kobkua 2011:364). This goes to affirm the special press statement made by the Conference of Rulers in October 2008 explaining that the Institution of Rulers is a “protective umbrella ensuring impartiality among the citizens.” The statement itself explains the Rulers’ constitutional role respecting the so-called “Social Contract” between Malays and non-Malays, and assures the non-Malays that there is no need to “harbour any apprehension or worry over their genuine rights.” (Kobkua 2011:425-426).
When the British wanted the Sultan of Selangor to banish a Chinese man, Ho Chick Kwan, (Ho Chick Kwan v Honourable British Resident Selangor, Criminal Appeal No. 11 of 1931), Ho was described as a “natural born subject of the Ruler of the State of Negeri Sembilan, and his adopted mother Lui Ho described herself as owing “true allegiance to His Highness the Sultan of Selangor.”
Such is the role of the Rulers in unifying the rakyat, and such was how the non-Malays back then were loyal subjects of the Rulers as the Malays were – a far cry compared to what we have today.
As mentioned in the fifth paragraph above, the strength and weakness of the Ruler depends on the strengths, weaknesses, sincerity, truthfulness, and knowledge of their adviser, namely the Prime Minister and the Menteris Besar. The recent fiasco in Johor shows how a weak adviser can put the Ruler in harm’s way. When the British acted as advisers and administered the states of behalf of their respective Rules, many of the Malays, including Ibrahim bin Yaacob, Burhanuddin Helmy et al saw no need for the monarchy to remain as an institution, hence the desire to make Malaya a republic united with Batavia. UMNO then took over as the linchpin of the Malays from the Rulers with the formation of the Malayan Union.
It is easy to understand why the Rulers agreed to the formation of the Malayan Union: weakened by the pompous nature of their British advisers who departed when the Japanese arrived, the Japanese relegated the Rulers into nothing more than deputy advisers in the administration of the Malay customs and religion. Imagine what it was like for a Johor commoner to see his Sultan being scolded by the Japanese for leaning on his stick. Seen working with the Japanese in World War Two, and weak in the eyes of the Malays, the Rulers did not have much choice but to succumb to the demands of the British. But the Tunku was quick in restoring the faith of the Malays in the Rulers. He recalled that:
“At all costs I wanted to avoid having a split with the Rulers.” (Simon C Smith, Professor of International History, University of Hull, Smith 1995:183)
The seemingly weak administrations of both Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak, and the digression of UMNO from its original intended path of protecting Islam, the Malays and Bumiputras and its inherent weakness in dealing with various right-wing Chinese and Indian organisations that have thrived under weak administrations have led to the formation of right-wing Malay groups such as the PERKASA and ISMA. Najib seems to have given in to a lot of demands from people who will never ever support him nor his party, promising uncontrolled legal reforms thence setting up the left-leaning National Unity Consultative Council. The National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill proposed by the NUCC is seen as a clear and present danger to a society that is already on the edge of destruction.
In Section 6 (1) (iii) of this Bill, will render the Rulers powerless in selecting the Menteri Besar for their respective state; the Agong will not have the power to select his Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, his Inspector-General of Police, or his Chief of Armed Forces even. You Malays and Bumiputras may think that Article 153 can protect you, but you should also read Article 153(5) of the Federal Constitution and see what it says, and tell me if what I have written in this paragraph is not true.
Section 7 (1) (ii) even allows people of the LGBT group to hold important positions. Gender equal opportunity is already in effect, but regardless of sexual orientation? I have gay friends and some are good friends of mine. Even they cringe whenever their lifestyle is brought under the spotlight by glamour-seeking peers. It is not that they are not talented but will this not tear the fabric of our society? May I ask the so-called religious Muslims and Christians if they agree with this? In the name of Human Rights, we are beginning to fight to become animals, where unnatural ways are to become the norm of our society. I wonder how long would the Christian church in Malaysia be able to resist same-sex marriages with this Bill coming into effect. Removal of the Sedition Act would certainly act as a catalyst to destruction, much as the removal of the Internal Security Act has contributed to the worsening condition of the country. There is nothing wrong with either Act. Mere tweaking to prevent the laws from being abused by politicians would have been sufficient.
I fear for the future of this nation. We must not let extremism prevail.
This is where the Rulers can play a role in holding the fragile fabric of this divisive society, to once again play a pivotal role in bringing this nation back to its senses. We can no longer rely on weak Prime Ministers and Menteris Besar to protect this society from falling apart, all in the name of Human Rights (and the desire to please non-believers thinking you can get votes by kow-towing to their demands). The Rulers also need to keep their conduct, and that of their families, in check. There is no use correcting the society when they and those related to them do not behave with the utmost decorum. And as history has proven again and again, the Rulers can act independently from their weak and self-interested advisers.
In the words of Sultan Nazrin Muizuddin Shah of Perak in July 2011:
“Rulers must use wisdom to calm situations, but they do not have a ‘magic lamp’ to keep unity, especially when the situation has become chaotic.“
I was an Officer of the Armed Forces of Malaysia, my loyalty has always been for my King and Country. I humbly beg His Royal Highnesses to intervene and override weak and destructive suggestions of the government of the day. Again in the words of Sultan Nazrin:
“Unity requires a willingness to sacrifice, accept defeat willingly and celebrate victory with humility.”
I, your humble servant, humbly beg.