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Friday, May 29, 2015

The role the Monarchy can play



Salleh Said Keruak



Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy based on the British Westminster system of government. Malaysia is also a constitutional monarchy just like the UK is. However, the Malaysian monarchy has a bit more powers and a wider role to play than that of the British monarchy, which is mainly ceremonial in nature.

One very important point to note is that while the UK has just one monarch, Malaysia has ten. There are nine state rulers plus the Agong, who is erroneously always referred to as the King but who is actually ‘the first amongst equals’. For all intents and purposes, Malaysia does not have a King and the term ‘Agong’ if translated into English would mean ‘Supreme’ or ‘Paramount’ and not ‘King’.

That is something most Malaysians do not understand seeing that everyone refers to the Agong as Malaysia’s King when the Agong is merely a brother-ruler and at par with or equal to the other nine state rulers but is ‘the first amongst equals’.

The Agong does not have absolute powers since he is not an absolute monarch. Above the Agong is the Conference of Rulers that discusses various issues affecting the country, religion being just one of them but not the only one.

The Agong, therefore, has to rule at the pleasure of his brother-rulers and the Conference of Rulers decides the authority and scope of what the Agong can and should do. In fact, the Agong is appointed at the pleasure of his brother-rulers who can vote him out if he does not do things on consensus although that is yet to happen ever since the system was first introduced in 1957.

Unknown to many Malaysians, Malaysia’s monarchy and Conference of Rulers is probably the most democratic system in history because a committee of rulers decides matters based on what the Federal Constitution allows and disallows. The Monarchy checks and balances Parliament and makes sure that Parliament does not violate the Constitution or any of the Malaysian laws.

As what Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said back in 1988, the Conference of ten rulers is the trustee and protector of the Constitution that guards the Constitution from abuse by the politicians and from Prime Ministers who wish to turn Malaysia into a dictatorship.

This concept of power-sharing and checks and balances was destroyed in the 1990s when Parliament passed a law that no longer made it necessary for the Agong to sign any laws. Even if the Agong refuses to sign a certain law it still automatically becomes law anyway. This reduced the monarchy to one without any teeth.

Parliament needs to correct this and to restore the powers of the Agong so that it can revert to playing the role of trustee and protector of the Constitution.

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