Pakatan Rakyat, stop playing feudal politics

By Dr. Kua Kia Soong, The Malaysian Insider

The recent attempt by Pakatan Rakyat to pass a constitutional amendment in the Selangor state assembly to restore the power of appointing the state’s top three civil servants to the Sultan of Selangor was a retrograde step for the people’s movement. In their political games with Umno, the PR government seems to have lost sight of the interests of the people and the aims of the Reformasi movement.

As in other countries, our constitutional monarchy is a remnant of our feudal past. Nonetheless, the democratic system we fought for at independence has clearly demarcated the limits of our constitutional monarchy.

Our system is closely modelled on the British system in which the royalty is limited to official, ceremonial and representational duties, non-partisan duties such as bestowing honours, dissolving Parliament and appointing the prime minister or chief minister. Even royal prerogative is used according to laws enacted in Parliament or within the context of convention or precedent. It is exercised on the advice of the minister responsible to Parliament, often the prime minister or mentri besar. The Sultan may express his views but as a constitutional Ruler must ultimately accept the decision of the mentri besar and his Cabinet.

Under a constitutional monarchy, the sovereign must appoint an individual who commands the support of the House, who is usually the leader of the party or coalition that has a majority in that House. Once that is done, all legislative power is exercised by and with the advice and consent of the state legislative assembly. This includes the appointment of top civil servants, which should not be a royal prerogative.

After the 2008 general election, I criticised Pakatan Rakyat’s pussyfooting over the choice of mentri besar for Perak and deputy MB for Selangor by passing over this prerogative to the Sultans in the two states. I pointed out that at the time, it was because of the DAP’s PAS-phobia in Perak and its own intra-party factionalism in Selangor.