Cover Story: The beauty of the monarchy

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on March 2, 2020 - March 08, 2020.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is known for his diplomacy and good public relations with the rakyat

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AS I write this, we are in crisis. The nation is in political turmoil with political parties deadlocked over the formation of a new government. For now, we have only an interim prime minister.

In some countries, such a situation would be an invitation for a military takeover, but not in Malaysia. We have the royal institution acting as custodian to thank for that. Amid the crisis, there is no anarchy because the nation is in the safe hands of its head of state, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The current imbroglio, unprecedented though it may be, is a clear example of the role and importance of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the royal institution as a whole.

For a long time, many of us, yours truly included, wrongly perceived the King to be just a figurehead. Now we know better and appreciate his role and importance. Sadly, it took a disturbing and worrying situation to make us realise this.

“The present political crisis is the best example of the utility of the monarchy in a democracy. It shows the limits of democracy and the need of a monarchy to function”, says constitutional expert Prof Dr Aziz Bari.

Indeed, the King has stepped in to assume his constitutional role to help find an orderly way to resolve the impasse over the most suitable candidate to be prime minister.

We can see how he carries the burden of the nation on his shoulders.

Ours is a constitutional monarchy in which the sovereign exercises authority in accordance with the Constitution. And in the current political turmoil, the King has restated the supremacy of the Constitution and rule of law and re-emphasised the role of parliament, which comprises the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Dewan Negara and Dewan Rakyat.

And as stipulated in the Constitution, the King has taken on the role of negotiator between the political parties caught in the impasse and is the stabilising factor in this situation.

The late British journalist Walter Bagehot famously summed up the British monarch’s role — the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn. Our sovereign has the same rights, showing the similarity between our constitutional monarch and the British head of state.

With regard to the current political turmoil, former newspaper editor Gobind Rudra, in his column in Free Malaysia Today, listed several key points that are being demonstrated.

I would like to highlight three — the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is bound by the supreme law of the land, which is the Constitution; without the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, there is no parliament, as it is he who gives life to parliament; and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has full discretion over the choosing of a prime minister and he is not obliged to choose from among party leaders or even to acknowledge them.

Prof Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, holder of the Tun Hussein Onn Chair at the Institute of Strategic and International studies Malaysia, wrote elaborately on the issue recently, in particular, the steps taken by the King thus far.

I will just highlight two points. First, “if the elected parliament is still in place, but there is a vacancy in the post of the prime minister due to any factor whatsoever — be it resignation, death, defeat on the floor of the House, break-up of the ruling coalition, loss of leadership position of the ruling majority or defection — then his Majesty has the arduous and pivotal task under Article 43(2) (a) of searching for a leader who in his opinion commands the confidence of the members of the Dewan Rakyat”.

Second, “In trying to determine the support of the majority of the members of the House, the King can adopt any reasonable method to inform himself of the political situation.”

I would say that is what the King has done. However, there are people in the legal fraternity who do not agree with the way he is going about performing his task in trying to find a solution to the impasse.

Of course, there is dissatisfaction over what is seen as inconclusiveness in the selection, with the King not being able to know who commands the majority support to be PM despite personally interviewing all 222 lawmakers.

The King is now going back to the party leaders to try and size up the situation once more.

But the fact is that what he is doing is guided by the Constitution.

In the words of Shad, “Our King must be commended for his diligence, unprecedented though his methodology is.”

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah is handling the situation with grace and in a composed and dignified manner.

Known for his diplomacy and good public relations with the rakyat, it is no surprise that despite the tremendous responsibility, the King somehow found the time to treat members of the media camped outside Istana Negara to fried chicken, burgers and fries.

And he even stayed on a for a while to share his thoughts on the political situation, telling reporters, “Let me do my duty. I hope we will find the best solution for the country.”

Daulat Tuanku.  


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