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Royals start to flex their muscles

30 July, 2008


Posted by Super Admin
Monday, 28 July 2008 09:17

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong must give his consent should the government decide to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections to stave off any attempt by the opposition to form the government.

The Straits Times

Malaysia’s deepening political crisis has tossed up an unexpected player — the country’s usually passive royalty.

Over the past year, Malaysia’s royal households have started to flex their muscles and, in the process, scored rare successes in pushing their demands with the government on issues ranging from the appointment of judges to the selection of menteris besar after the country’s general election in early March.

Now, analysts and constitutional lawyers believe that the country’s nine Malay sultans, who make up the Conference of Rulers, could determine the outcome of Malaysia’s deepening political crisis, which has stoked murmurings of a possible snap election and also the possibility that a state of emergency could be declared.

That is because the limited powers the country’s Rulers enjoy under the Constitution will determine the cause of action Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government can take to hold on to power, lawyers and analysts say.

Consider the following:

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong must give his consent should the government decide to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections to stave off any attempt by the opposition to form the government.

Should Malaysia’s political situation worsen to the point that the government decides to declare a state of emergency, the King must sign off on the plan.

Above all, the King is the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces. In a situation of a military takeover, he will become the most powerful person in Malaysia.

“For the first time since independence, the country’s Malay Rulers are being pressed to exercise powers that they previously never had to,” said Tommy Thomas, one of Malaysia’s most senior constitutional lawyers.

All of this is because of Malaysia’s unstable politics.

The outcome of the March general election has pushed the country into uncharted political terrain.

The ruling Barisan Nasional’s loss of its two-thirds majority in Parliament and control of five state assemblies to an opposition alliance led by former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has seen the Abdullah administration lurching from one political crisis to another.

Many political analysts say that the country’s political log-jam is what is prompting the country’s Malay Rulers to play a more forceful role in politics through their public pronouncements and actions.

Last week, the urbane Regent of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah, told a gathering of public servants that the country’s Malay Rulers were not symbolic monuments, and that their views should be taken seriously.

“Rulers have a wider responsibility to ensure that the spirit of the Constitution, the philosophy behind every law and the bigger interest of the country and its people are always understood and protected,” Raja Nazrin told his audience.

He added that when the advice given to Rulers contradicted the spirit of the Constitution, the chiefs of the royal households should not feel pressured to give their assent.

Many politicians and analysts say that comments by Raja Nazrin, who represents the largely new independent thinking among the Rulers, were clearly in reference to Malaysia’s political despair, and they were intended to send a clear message that the Malay sultans were prepared to act independently in the event of a political face-off.

Malaysia’s hereditary Rulers have long held a special role in Malaysian society.

They symbolise the special status of the country’s Malay majority and are charged with protecting the Islamic faith and the community’s customs.

Under the previous administration of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s hereditary Rulers played largely traditional roles and were treated as rubber stamps for administrative decisions.

The Rulers were also not popular because they were often portrayed by the Mahathir administration as an institution that was more interested in feathering its own nest than safeguarding the rights of the country’s Malays.

But the image of the country’s Malay Rulers has changed dramatically in recent years, largely because of the higher profile roles played by Raja Nazrin and Malaysia’s current King, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin from Terengganu, who have spoken openly about governance and combating ills such as corruption and narrowing the country’s growing racial divide.

Sultan Mizan, in particular, has not shied away from exercising his constitutional clout.

Shortly after the general election, the King refused to reappoint Datuk Seri Idris Jusuh, the Umno candidate favoured by the Abdullah administration, as Terengganu menteri besar.

The government was forced to appoint little-known Datuk Ahmad Said to avert a looming political crisis.

Sultan Mizan also led a campaign by his brother Rulers to help restore credibility in the country’s judiciary when he steadfastly refused to accept the government’s candidates for two top judicial positions.

In the end, the government was forced to agree to the candidates favoured by the Rulers.

“The King has shown independent thinking,” said a senior Umno minister, who asked not to be named.

“Things can go either way, in favour of the government or the opposition.”

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