When DAP called for a boycott of a swearing-in ceremony for the Menteri Besar of Perak, Utusan Malaysia ran a headline labeling DAP as rude: the headline was “DAP Biadap”.[1] Now that UMNO had boycotted the swearing-in ceremony for the Menteri Besar of Terengganu, Utusan failed to replay the same message all over again. Regardless the crass hypocrisy, both episodes were caused by intervention of respective state palace in a political process which the palace should have no say in and the trend of monarchs actively interfering in the process worries me.

I have always considered a monarch as a figurehead in Malaysia. After the bloodless Thai coup d’etat in 2006, somehow, taking cue from the Thais, many Malaysians began to elevate the role of the monarchy institution as the fourth branch of government. And with that, the monarchy system starts to hold itself higher than usual, however limited their influence are.

I am fan of organic politics and therefore, I believe political power has to be primarily derived from the ground up whenever it concerns the make-up of a society. In other words, the state, or any entity that shares similar function derives its legitimacy from the governed. So, when a monarch, specifically the Sultan of Terengganu, begins to exert his power against organic processes, I find it hard to side with him, even while I quietly celebrate the fact that UMNO — particularly, the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s loyalists — found itself in a quagmire, even when I sort of like the Sultan.

At the center of the controversy in Terengganu is the sovereign’s ability to appoint the chief of the executive; the Sultan does not approve the candidate which garners the trust of the majority for the Menteri Besar post and it does not end there. The Sultan went on to appoint the candidate of his choice which very much goes against the majority power in the state assembly. Regardless the constitutional legalese which is beginning to plague the issue at hand, it is the spirit of the document that matters, not the letter and my position is that the Sultan should bow to the organic process.

To solve the issue once and for all, I favor direct election into the office of the Menteri Besar. And the Prime Ministership for that matter. With this, the monarchy will have no opportunity to overturn the wishes of the people. In fact, this method to a certain extent transfer the power of political parties’ bureaucrats to the people. It kills two birds with one stone.

Nevertheless, the friction between the Sultan and UMNO may finally give meaning to the idea of federalism in Malaysia, which by the way is experiencing a shoved-to-the-backstage treatment for far too long. The federal government has too much power over state politics and this is obvious through the Prime Minister’s influence in the selection of various states’ Menteri Besar or Chief Minister, except, possibly for Sarawak and states not under BN’s control. Therefore, the crisis may actually be a blessing in disguise; the monarchy as the fourth branch of government — activist monarchs — may not be a bad idea, after all.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — KUALA LUMPUR 13 Mac — Ketua Penerangan UMNO, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd. Taib menyifatkan arahan DAP supaya wakil rakyatnya di Perak memulaukan majlis angkat sumpah pelantikan Menteri Besar, sebagai sungguh biadap dan kurang ajar. [DAP Biadap. Utusan Malaysia. March 13 2008]

11 Responses to “[1600] Of activist monarchy”

  1. on 24 Mar 2008 at 10:22 sigma

    Lol, I’m also in 2 minds about the monarch’s newfound activism.

    On one hand, we must remember that democracy is a more advanced political model compared to the old all powerful monarchy system. The former lets us regular people have a say in where we want the country to go. The latter doesn’t. A look at my old state’s Sultan in Johor gives us an example of a not-so-agreeable member of the monarchy.

    However in the cases of Perlis and even Terrenganu, I must admit I’m enjoying their involvement. What can I say, I guess I just like seeing UMNO squirm for once after 50 years of unadulterated absolute power.

    The concept of federalism is still very new for BN. How interesting it is now that they have to content with 5 BR state govts as well as a couple of monarchs who don’t agree with their state’s govt.

  2. on 24 Mar 2008 at 11:06 johnleemk

    It’s unhealthy to fetishise the monarchy; they are meant to be symbols of national unity and little more, at least in a constitutional monarchy modeled on the Westminster system. Actively intervening in politics when there is no constitutional reason to (e.g. a hung parliament) undermines this purpose.

  3. on 24 Mar 2008 at 19:11 oster

    First of all, I’m a republican with a small R myself and would rather see non-appointed posts abolished altogether.

    But I can’t help but relish in the irony of UMNO being bitten in their asses by the very force (the nobility, the elite) that this rightist party sought to defend in its formation.

    As for direct election of the chief executive, I would certainly prefer it if they’d go straight to a Proportional Representation system, or at least a hybrid one as well.

    However, one good reason why direct election of the chief executive may not come to pass at this time is because a directly elected one almost always is the head of state (and sometimes the head of government as well), invalidating the monarch’s claim to that role.

    In any case, we probably could look at this turn of events not in terms of ideals in governance (the devolution of powers etc.), but a cost/benefit analysis of what outcome we’d expect. As you’ve said, the Federation may turn out the winner, and I’m all for further devolution of power away from the Putrajaya Executive.

    cheers

  4. on 25 Mar 2008 at 01:55 Mat Merah

    In my opinion, it looks like the Terengganu palace is getting support because it has given a black eye to UMNO.

    But what if the same treatment is meted out to other parties now in control of some of the states?

    We cannot take the good and leave out the bad.

    As a constitutional monarchy, the rulers must know their position and their powers, and not do as they see fit.

    There is the law otherwise we might as well be an absolute monarchy.

    Let not the hate for UMNO blind us to embrace the palace as our saviours.

    For those who shout Makkal Sakthi and People Power, now is time to show it instead of supporting palaces interested in flexing muscles for their own interests.

    Get real!

  5. on 25 Mar 2008 at 09:30 Hafiz Noor Shams

    Merah,

    You’re absolutely right. Hail the republic!

    But I can still enjoy this while supporting the constitution.

  6. on 25 Mar 2008 at 09:51 Mat Merah

    Hafiz,

    Yes you can! I am ;)

  7. on 25 Mar 2008 at 10:11 Hafiz Noor Shams

    oster,

    Proportional representation does not work with position like the chief executive, where a person is directly elected into office.

    PR only works for something like the legislative assembly, where there are more than a seat involved.

  8. on 25 Mar 2008 at 16:54 oster

    “Proportional representation does not work with position like the chief executive, where a person is directly elected into office.

    PR only works for something like the legislative assembly, where there are more than a seat involved.”

    I phrased that wrong. I meant that apart from direct election of the executive, we also reform the legislative elections themselves. Apologies.

    cheers

  9. […] monarchy runs contrary to organic politics and for that I am not too comfortable of having monarchs meddling in business of the state. Some of the monarchs actions may coincide […]

  10. […] hazard of appealing to interventionist monarchy has finally reared its head. With Malay nationalists rallying around a monarchy, the idea of […]

  11. […] hazard of appealing to interventionist monarchy has finally reared its head. With Malay nationalists rallying around a monarchy, the idea of […]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

*