Pining for irrelevancy

by SHAMSUL AKMAR / graphic by TMR

SOMETHING very weird seems to be going on in the State of Johor if the Regent, obviously backed by the Sultan of Johor, believes that the Ruler has absolute power in appointing the mentri besar.

And the issue has obviously brought Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to come to a full circle in so far as his dealings with the Malay Rulers.

When Dr Mahathir was the PM the first round, he had two major dealings with the Rulers — the first leading to the constitutional amendment regarding the Royal assent and the second in the removal of their immunity leading to the setting up of the Special Courts to try them if they committed any offences.

While some may disagree, both these moves, which received overwhelming parliamentary and public support, were in essence to define and further define what a constitutional monarch is all about.

The removal of the immunity issue was quite emotive as it was sparked by the then Johor Sultan’s act of beating up a hockey coach.

Nevertheless, analysts then and now were of the opinion that if such measures were not taken, not only the relevancy of the Rulers may erode, but they may end up a conundrum or even a contradiction in contemporary democracy.

All these occurred 25 years ago and more, and the issues of Malay Rulers acting and behaving beyond the confines and definitions of Constitutional Monarchy were expected to have been quite done and dusted, albeit the anticipated minor differences with the Government every now and then, more over ego and self-interest than an outright attempt to question the supremacy of the Constitution.

Now, Dr Mahathir is the PM round two and the development in Johor proves that the confines and definitions of Constitutional Monarchy which was thought to have been settled more or less, a quarter of century ago, is not so.

Could it be Dr Mahathir brings out the best, or maybe the worst of the Malay Rulers; or could it be the other way round?

It would have been simple if that was the case — a case of not having the chemistry.

But reflecting on the relations between the Executive and the Rulers from 2003 (when Dr Mahathir retired) and 2018 (when Dr Mahathir came out of retirement), the Rulers have been flexing their muscles with the two PMs filling the gap.

These leaders obviously were keener to pander to the Rulers than to stand up to what had been constitutionally defined.

Apart from instances of the Rulers demanding their candidates for the mentri besar positions in Terengganu and Perlis, and they got their way, the practice of the Executive proposing more than one name for the State Rulers to consider for the top State Executive positions became quite a norm.

This gives the impression that the Rulers have the right to choose whom he wants, whereas it has always been accepted that constitutionally the person to be made the mentri besar must command the majority in the State Assembly.

It is quite baffling to see that these States and Rulers that exist within a Federation that practises parliamentary democracy seem to be operating in a vacuum when it comes to the appointment of the mentris besar.

Surely, as pointed out by Constitutional Law expert Emeritus Prof Datuk Shad Saleem Faruqi in an interview with The Star, that the state constitution was in line with the parliamentary democracy whereby the mentri besar must be an elected member of the State Assembly and not just anyone the Sultan wants.

And that the assemblyman, to be a mentri besar must command the confidence of the majority (in the State Assembly) is consistent with that of the Federal Constitution and Malaysia’s practice of parliamentary democracy in which, the PM must be the one who commands the majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

But such points will not sit well if not rejected outright by the Royalists who will insist that the State Constitution holds otherwise and that the Sultan is accorded the power to decide on the mentri besar.

The provisions of the law aside, such contention begs an answer as to when does the will of the rakyat comes into the picture?

Since there is no direct election of the top State Executive, the will of the “rakyat” is channelled through the election of state assemblymen and under Malaysia’s political structure, they are representatives of various political parties.

The party or coalition with the majority seats in the State Assembly forms the state government and their candidate whom they have agreed upon as the mentri besar commands the majority in the Assembly.

Simply put, the party or coalition that won the election obviously commands the majority support of the people and by extension, is representing the will of the people and whoever they propose to be the mentri besar is therefore with the mandate of the rakyat.

Where is it, in this whole regime of things, does the will of the Ruler becomes a representation of the will of the people and vice versa?

It will be difficult to find an answer for such a question, especially when these royalties had publicly supported the party and coalition that is now the Opposition.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve.