The Malaysian Concord (Part 4) – The Position and Function of the Malay Rulers

This article follows a previous one on the Malay and Bumiputera special rights.

A couple of days ago it was made known to the public that the street names in a certain suburb of Shah Alam were changed to Chinese characters, in contravention of Sections 2 and 9 of the National Language Act, 1963/67.

Yesterday, HRH The Sultan of Selangor decreed that the street names be taken down and replaced by ones in the Malay language, which is the National Language.

I mentioned in a previous post that a national language is a tool to unite the peoples of Malaysia. 

It was the intention of our forefathers in the quest for independence to have ONE language to unite all, and that is the Malay language with a Romanised written form, so that the non-Malays could learn the Malay language rapidly (Tunku Abdul Rahman, The Road to Independence, 1984: pp.112-114).

I gather that those were the reasons His Royal Highness issued the decree mentioned above – in line with one of the functions of the Malay Rulers: to care for the people’s welfare.  Therefore, if there is any issue that may cause tension, the Malay Rulers will step in to remind the people to respect each other and to respect the laws.

What I find disgusting in this episode is that the local government, or local council, allowed for the street name change to happen, forgetting that every instrument of the government is acting on His Majesty’s Service.

Not too long ago, all government envelopes had URUSAN SERI PADUKA BAGINDA stamped at the top; that was until someone who was not fond of the Rulers changed that to URUSAN KERAJAAN.

 

Essentially, all government branches, including the Federal cabinet as well as the state executive councillors, are acting on behalf of the Yang DiPertuan Agong and Sultan (in the case of states).  

They are not independent of the Rulers – which is why they are sworn in before the Agong or the Sultan.

The Malay Rulers have divested much of their independence now as they did before during the period of British administration.

However, both they and their state remain sovereign. Independence is not equal to sovereignty.

The British were here through the various treaties signed with the respective Malay Rulers.  Save for the Japanese occupation, Malayan Union period, Pulau Pinang, Melaka and for a while, Pangkor, the Dindings and Larut, Peninsular Malaysia was never under British colonial rule.

There were three test cases to determine the sovereignty of the Rulers and the state they ruled:

 

  1. The infamous Mighell v The Sultan of Johore (1894) where it was ruled that, although the Sultan by treaty had bound himself not to exercise some rights of a sovereign ruler, this did not deprive him of his character as an independent sovereign;
  2. In Duff Development Company Limited v The Government of Kelantan (1924), the House of Lords similarly upheld the sovereignty of Kelantan and its Ruler was not intended to be qualified by the terms of the treaty.
  3. In Pahang Consolidated Company Limited v State of Pahang (1933), the Privy Council summarised the constitutional position in Pahang as follows: subject to the limitations which the Sultan had from time to time imposed upon himself, he remained ‘an absolute ruler in whom resides all legislative and executive power.’ (See, 1894; Q.B 1924; A.C and M.L.J).

The British were in the Malay states to assist the Malay Rulers in the administration and management of their respective states, and were under the Rulers’ payroll.  

The only matters that they could not touch were the states’ Islamic affairs and Malay customs.

Sir Frederick Lugard wrote of the British Residents:

“From the first to last the theoretical independence of the states was the governing factor in the system evolved in Malaya. The so-called ‘Resident’ was in fact a Regent, practically uncontrolled by the Governor or Whitehall, governing his ‘independent’ state by direct, personal rule, with or without the co-operation of the native ruler.” (Sir F.D Lugard, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, London, 1926: pp.130-1, vid. pp.8-10).

One such Resident was of course James Wheeler Woodford Birch who, in the words of Sir Richard Olaf Winstedt, “dashed into Perak’s Augean Stables like an angry Victorian schoolmaster, confident that it could all be cleaned up with a little firmness and decision.” (Winstedt, History of Perak, JMBRAS, xii, 1).

Birch’s monumental tactlessness, especially over the regulation of taxes, drove all the Sultan’s Chiefs into frantic opposition which resulted in his assassination in 1875.

Other than the occasional odd behaviour by some Residents, the Malay Rulers and their state remained sovereign and ‘independent’.  In an answer to Colonel Josiah Wedgwood (Labour – Newcastle-under-Lyme) about the control over the states of Malaya, Sir Phillip Cunliffe-Lister (Conservative – Hendon), Secretary of State for the Colonies replied:

“There is no question at all of altering in any degree, even by a comma, the Treaties which bind us, and which are charters of the agreements with the Rulers both of the Federated and the Unfederated Malay States.” (British Parliament Hansard, Commons Sitting, Class II, HC Deb 14 July 1933 vol 280 cc 1429).

With the Independence of Malaya, all the administrative powers handed down by the Malay Rulers to the Federal and State Councils was passed to the government that was chosen by the people of Malaya in the 1955 elections.  

The Federal cabinet administer the government of the Yang DiPertuan Agong, who was elected by the Malay Rulers to represent Their Highnesses at Federal level, while the Menteri Besar and state executive councillors administer the state for the Sultans.

The Malay 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).

In 1867, Bagehot asserted in “The English Constitution” that the Constitution needed two parts: the dignified – to excite and preserve the reverence of the population’ and the other, the efficient – to ‘employ that homage in the work of government’. 

The monarch was the prime example of dignity in this sense and the Prime Minister (Menteri Besar) and his cabinet (executive councillors) of efficiency.  

Therefore, the monarch, while lacking executive power, had an important constitutional role.

HRH The Sultan of Selangor was correct in the exercise of his function when reminding the people to not touch on the matters that have been agreed upon and are already enshrined in the Constitution – the sanctity of Islam, the National Language, the Malay and Bumiputera special rights, and the position and function of the Malay Rulers.  

Such action, had the Sultan not interjected, would be naïve and dangerous to the fabric of the society.

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. “

(This article was first published on The Mole)

To Do Away With The Political Baggage

Sultan Yem & Ayah & Anak

It has been an interesting week indeed.  The long awaited dissolution of the Parliament has happened.  The announcement by the Elections Commission that the polling day will fall on a Wednesday has gotten people excited over nothing.  This would be the sixth general elections that is held on a work day since Independence.  That is six out of 14.  And half of that were done during Mahathir’s time.

Many cry foul saying that it would be almost impossible for them to make the trip back to wherever they came from just to vote, and then go back to where they actually reside. Justice, they say, without even thinking about the injustice they do to their kampung folks who have to endure five excruciating years of having a representative who may be worse than the last guy.

If you don’t want the hassle of having to travel back to vote, register as a voter where you actually live.

Having said that, what was more interesting was the recent Facebook post by His Royal Highness The Tengku Mahkota of Johor that called upon the people of Johor NOT to vote for a party or coalition that would allow Mahathir to win.  That got people riled up.  Prior to this, when the Tengku Mahkota Johor, or TMJ as he is fondly known as, speak out against the ruling government, even those who do not believe in the Rulers Institution would comment “Daulat Tuanku” in a reply.  The very same people now attack HRH.

I am not fond of the royalty speaking out in such manner because I believe that even though their Highnesses may be opinionated, they should remain to be seen neutral.  However, the famously-written lines by Walter Bagehot comes to mind:

…that the monarch has three rights: the right to be consulted, to encourage, and to warn”.

This is 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)

Therefore, it is within the rights of the TMJ to warn the people of Johor on what he thinks could be dangerous to them, and to the unity of the people of the state.

If Barisan wishes to capitalise on this matter, I would say that the timing is a bit off as it was done far too early in the game.  You now see posts being shared on WhatsApp attacking not just the present Sultan, but also his late father, grandfather of the TMJ.  Mahathir, too, was quick to comment saying that the posting by the TMJ would only work in Pakatan’s favour.

Or so he thinks.

Mahathir’s tiff with the Johor Istana predates even Syed Saddiq’s existence.  Two years after becoming the Prime Minister, Mahathir sought the agreement of the late Sultan of Perak for the latter to become the Yang DiPertuan Agong, replacing the Sultan of Pahang whose tenure was ending the following year.  Running simultaneously was a campaign to put the late Sultan of Johor in a bad light, in order to gain the support of the masses for the Prime Minister’s effort.

The relationship between Mahathir and the late Sultan of Johor was so bad that it prompted some ranks within the military to plan a coup in August 1983.  The Chief of Army, General Tan Sri Dato’ Zain Hashim, an illustrious officer, retired at the young age of 52 in January 1984, and was replaced for just over a year by General Tan Sri Dato’ Mohd Ghazali bin Haji Che Mat, who was in turn replaced when he was made the Chief of the Armed Forces, by Mahathir’s brother-in-law, General Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Mohamed Hashim bin Mohd Ali.  By then, the army was firmly under someone loyal to Mahathir.  Hashim later became the Chief of Armed Forces.

I know of some details of the planned coup, but was asked to keep them confidential.

No, this does not show that the Armed Forces should only be loyal to the Rulers; on the contrary it shows that the Armed Forces should also be loyal to the government of the Yang DiPertuan Agong simply because Cabinet Ministers, according to Article 39 of the Federal Constitution, represent the Yang DiPertuan Agong and are given executive powers to administer the country on His Majesty’s behalf.  Therefore, loyalty shall be given by the Armed Forces to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

The rest of what Mahathir did or tried to do to the Johor Royal Family are as posted by the TMJ.  His glaring lack of love for any royal family goes back to as early as the Second World War period where he began his fight against Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first premier and a member of the Kedah royal family.  In recent episodes,  Mahathir attacked Johor’s Forest City project by creating fear amongst the masses saying that there will be an influx of Chinese immigrants once the project is completed, and then attacked people of Bugis descendants that include not only Najib Razak, but also the Sultans of Johor and Selangor saying that “Bugis pirates should go back to their land“.

The Sultan of Johor criticised Mahathir for playing the race card, while the Sultan of Selangor rebuked Mahathir for the comments made about the Bugis people.

Mahathir remained unapologetic on both occasions.

He is an angry man and will burn the whole country with his anger,” said the Sultan of Selangor in a statement and said his sentiment was shared by all members of the Rulers institution.

When asked about the Sultan’s statement by members of the press, Mahathir replied, “Yes, I am a very angry man, you can see how angry I am. I will burn you, I am always burning things.”

Yes, Mahathir would burn anything down, as long as he gets his way.  He does not care if the country is razed to the ground.  All this is because Mahathir is a man who is running out of time.

Before stepping down 15 years ago, he wanted a Prime Minister who would do his bidding, and protect him  and his family from any probe or investigation, even after he is gone.  When Abdullah Ahmad Badawi refused, he dislodged the latter from the premiership.  In came Najib Razak who has his own ideas on how this country should be run, and made better.  Mahathir, not accustomed with partnering with dissenters, tried to remove Najib.  It was a multi-pronged attack, reinforcing the attacks that were already being done by the Opposition.

He then made a pact with Muhyiddin and Shafie.  He knew that he could not rely on Zahid Hamidi as he was the one who arrested Zahid under the ISA.  Hishammuddin’s loyalty to his cousin is unquestionable.  He undermined the UMNO leadership hoping that Najib would be ousted, and he would plant Muhyiddin on the throne, and his family would be safe again.

Unfortunately, that plan failed miserably.  Najib regained his footing and charged back.  Both Muhyiddin and Shafie lost their jobs and subsequently left UMNO.  Mahathir and his family were now vulnerable to probes and investigations.

And that is why he is adamant on becoming the next Prime Minister – so that he could guarantee a successor who would continue to protect his family.

Why else would a “principled man” break all his principles and work hand-in-hand with his enemies whom, in his knowledge, are bent on destroying the culture and tradition of the Malay people, perhaps the Rulers institution too?

Certain former top brass would remember a particular golf game where the late Sultan Iskandar said to them that we should not have a Presidential system (in Malaysia) and (must) do away with the “political baggage”.

We wonder what the late Sultan meant, but I don’t think I have problems identifying whom he meant by that.

But one thing for sure, Mahathir would rather apologise to Ambiga for using the K-word than to apologise to their Majesties.

See where he puts the Malay Rulers compared to Ambiga.