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In 1983 the government proposed amendments to the Constitution, which for the first time brought the Rulers openly into conflict with the government and with UMNO, the party which had claimed to be the protectors of the Rulers since the time of the Malayan Union struggle. The proposed amendments altered the provisions with respect to the King’s assent to bills deeming the King to have assented to any bill which the King had not given his assent to within fifteen days. A similar amendment would have been required in each of the state constitutions.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

The Rulers were said to have generally agreed to accept the proposed amendments on January 17, 1993. However, at a special meeting on January 18 they issued a statement saying they were not in a position to give consent to certain proposals in the Bill without further deliberation and consultation. The Rulers, while acknowledging that “there can not be two systems of justice in the country” and that they agreed “to the formation of an effective mechanism to hear the [people’s] grievances against them”, expressed concern for the “far-reaching consequences on the sovereignty of the Malay Rulers”. They were of the view that a special court was not the most suitable forum for determining matters relating to the Rulers and proposed the creation of an Advisory Board to make recommendations to the appropriate State authority for the removal of a Ruler before he was charged or sued. Nonetheless the proposed amendments, as revised, were tabled in the Dewan Rakyat (lower house) on January 18th, 1993 and were passed by both houses by January 20th.

D. UMNO’s Justification for the Amendments and Opposition to the Amendments

UMNO’s justification for the amendments was that they were necessary to protect the Rulers and preserve the institution of the Rulers as constitutional monarchs. In response to claims that the amendments represented the first step towards the creation of a republic, UMNO pointed to the amendments on sedition which continued to make persons liable for statements in Parliament or a Legislative assembly advocating the abolition of the monarchy. Otherwise amendments to the provisions on sedition were said to be necessary because although abuses by Rulers were known of in the past, little could be done because no one could voice criticisms of the Rulers even in Parliament or the State Legislatures and thus the public could not be made aware of the problems faced by the Government.

Semangat ’46, an opposition party that was formed upon the breakup of the former UMNO party, opposed the amendments, taking arguably the strongest pro-royalty stance of any party. While it agreed that some steps needed to be taken so that the Rulers could “hear the grievances of the Rakyat (the people)”, it claimed that the proposed amendments interfered with the sovereignty of the Rulers and were a step towards the formation of a republic. They argued that the ultimate removal of the Rulers would take away an important aspect of Malay culture and tradition and a symbol of Malay unity.

The Democratic Action Party (DAP), a primarily Chinese opposition party, which is part of an opposition coalition with Semangat ’46, originally supported the government in December when it expressed the need for action to be taken in light of the Gomez incident. It also initially supported the amendments. However, it abstained from voting when the amendments were introduced in Parliament in January.

The reason they gave for the abstention was that the Constitution required the consent of the Rulers to amendments affecting their privileges and such consent had yet to be given. According to DAP the consent was required before the amendments could be introduced in Parliament. DAP was accused of sacrificing its principles in favour of preserving their opposition coalition with Semangat ’46.

The Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), a Malay pro-Islamic party and part of the opposition coalition, supported the government’s call for action and the move to lift the Rulers’ immunity in light of the Gomez incident but later abstained from voting on the amendments introduced in Parliament in January. Although it claimed to be in favour of the removal of the Rulers’ immunity because it was not in accord with the principles of Islam, it said that the amendments were not “comprehensive enough” and that it did not like the manner in which the wrongdoings of the Rulers were exposed in the House. PAS was arguably in a difficult position in that it may have wanted to avoid alienating the Kelantan royal family whose support could be influential in staying in power in the state of Kelantan.

E. The Rulers’ Compromise

The decision of the Conference of Rulers not to consent to the proposed changes to the Constitution was followed by stepped up pressure on the Rulers. It was announced that henceforth the payment for the expenses of the Rulers would be limited to those that were expressly provided for by the law. The government would no longer pay for the building and maintenance of rest houses, additional palaces, private wards in hospitals, yachts and aircraft. The refusal of the Rulers to give their consent to the proposed amendments was followed by a barrage of media coverage exposing alleged excesses of the Rulers. There were also further reports of influence by the Rulers in government affairs. Eventually, on February 11, it was announced that a compromise had been reached and that the Rulers agreed to give their consent to the proposed amendments but with certain changes that were agreed to.

There were two changes to the amendments tabled in the House on January 18. One was that a Ruler charged with an offence in the Special Court should cease to exercise his functions as a Ruler. Pending the decision of the Special Court a Regent would be appointed to exercise the functions of the Ruler. A Ruler convicted of an offence by the Special Court and sentenced to imprisonment for more than one day would cease to be the Ruler of the State unless he received a pardon. A similar provision was added with respect to the King.

The other change was that no action, civil or criminal, could be instituted against the King or a Ruler of a State with respect to anything done or omitted to be done in his personal capacity without the consent of the Attorney General. Overall the modifications appeared to be relatively minor. The revised amendments were submitted to Parliament and were passed by both Houses on March 9, 1993.

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