Pakatan Rakyat: Stop Playing Feudal Politics

By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM

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 peoples’ 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 modeled 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 Menteri Besar. The sultan may express his views but as a constitutional ruler, must ultimately accept the decision of the Menteri 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 elections, I criticized Pakatan Rakyat’s pussyfooting over the choice of Menteri 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 DAP’s PAS-phobia in Perak and its own intra-party factionalism in Selangor.

According to Bagehot, the well-known authority on the Constitution: “The Sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy…three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to advice, the right to warn.”

The sovereign’s rights stop there. Pakatan Rakyat has been entrusted the responsibility to take the peoples’ interests further forward not BACKWARDS! The peoples’ interests cannot be mortgaged in PR’s political games with UMNO to see who is more Malay or more deferential to the sultan.

Through these precedents, including the power of the sultan to appoint top civil servants, Pakatan Rakyat will have to bear the responsibility of having turned our constitutional monarchs into executive rulers.