I blame our history books. In our eagerness to instill the spirit of nationalism, we took an easy way out by saying that we were colonised by the British, when in actual fact the whole of Malaya came under British rule only during the Malayan Union period. Only Melaka, Pulau Pinang, Singapore, and for a while Pangkor and the Dindings were under the direct rule of Britain when they were part of the Strait Settlements. Other than that, the British advisers administered the Malay states through treaties, and the administrators were under the payroll of the respective Sultans or Rajas, not the British.
One of the leading evidence of the sovereignty and independence of the Malay states was a landmark case in England where in 1885 the Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor went to England, and according to the plaintiff of the case, Miss Mighell, took the name Albert Baker and promised to marry her.
It was held by court that the Sultan was entitled to immunity even though up to the time of suit ‘he has perfectly concealed the fact that he is a sovereign, and has acted as a private individual.’ ‘When once there is the authoritative certificate of the Queen (Victoria) through her minister of state as to the status of another sovereign, that in the courts of this country is decisive’.
To an argument that Sultan Abu Bakar had waived this immunity, the court held that the only way that a sovereign could waive immunity was by submitting to jurisdiction in the face of the court as, for example, by appearance to a writ. If the sovereign ignored the issue of the writ, the court was under a duty of its own motion to recognise his immunity from suit.
The roles of the Malay Rulers 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. The Rulers ruled this land even when the British were here to administer the land on behalf of The Majesties.
When 31 August 1957 arrived, the powers that the Rulers had invested in the British was duly transferred to a government that was chosen by the people through a process of democracy called Elections. It is untrue that during the British administration of this land, and now, that the Rulers have no other power other than having a say in the matters of the Religion of Islam and the Malay custom.
The Rulers, as keepers 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)
In other words, the Rulers may be Constitutional Monarchs, but they are not limited to what have been spelt out in the Federal Constitution.
When Syed Saddiq, the runner for Mahathir wrote to the Sultan of Selangor after His Royal Highness expressed great displeasure over Mahathir’s labelling of the Bugis as “pirates who should return to their own land” and pleaded for the Sultan’s support to “fight against corruption and injustice with the people” it shows this great-person-wannabe’s lack of understanding of the position of the Rulers in the Federal Constitution.
The Rulers are apolitical. The Rulers do not take sides, or do not express openly whom they prefer over those they do not. For instance, when the Menteri Besar of Selangor does something that is deemed un-Menteri Besar-like, the most the Sultan would do is to express a reminder for the Menteri Besar to improve his performance so that the lives of the subjects of His Royal Highness are not in any way adversely affected. To encourage certain courses of action is part of the duty of a Sultan, but the Sultan is above politics.
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.“
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.”
After 2008, we have witnessed how lawmakers from a certain party have been rude towards the Malay Rulers, forgetting their place in the Federa Constitution. The Rukunegara – means nothing to them: there is no Loyalty to the lawmakers themselves are rarely guided by the belief in God as they lie as if God does not exist, they show no loyalty to King and Country except when they need favours or awards which also means they do not subscribe to the supremacy of the Constitution, they don’t believe in the Rule of Law when it does not work according to their overall game plan, and by being rude to the authorities beginning with the Malay Rulers show that they do not practice courtesy and morality.
And are we surprised that we now have common people threatening the police, council enforcement officers, biting court officers, or show gross disrespect for the authority of the Malay Rulers? They learn such absence of manners from their political idols.
If I were to write a letter to His Royal Highness The Sultan of Selangor, it would be to plead to His Royal Highness to pressure the authorities to hasten their investigation into the seditious nature of Mahathir’s remark.