Interesting read on the monarchy

Although the book ‘Ampun Tuanku’ can be critical, it does so in a constructive manner with an underlying theme that suggests the monarchy has a role to play in Malaysian society and with greater thought and wisdom, this role can be a positive one.

Azmi Sharom, The Star

ZAID Ibrahim’s book Ampun Tuanku is a challenge. Not in the sense that it is a difficult read. On the contrary, it is a very easy book to go through because Zaid writes in a conversational style.

Perhaps a little too conversational as sometimes he sounds like an old dude repeating himself.

But that little gripe aside, considering the complexity of the topic, this is in no way a “heavy” work and is surprisingly accessible.

No, this latest book from Zaid is a challenge on two fronts. Firstly, it challenges many preconceptions as to the role of the monarchy in Malaysia. This is an intellectual challenge and it is personal to the reader.

The second challenge is to the nation as a whole.

Dealing as it does with the touchy subject of Malaysia’s royalty and their role in a constitutional government, it would be interesting to see whether there is sufficient maturity in our populace to take the book as what it is, a thoughtful, legally argued and respectful analysis of one of the oddest (some would say unique) institutions in the world.

In the light of how this country seems to be so anti-intellectual, where decisions are made by policy makers founded on base instinctual responses as opposed to intellectual rigour, it would be interesting to see if Ampun Tuanku will evoke the Neanderthal reaction we have come to expect in Malaysia when people are faced with ideas they disagree with.

That, however, is a problem for another day. The purpose of this article is to examine some of the arguments made by Zaid.

It ought to be pointed out here that the book is at pains to maintain a respect for the institution of the monarchy.

It is critical at times but it is all done strictly within the confines of the idea that we live in a constitutional monarchy and there is never any hint that this should change.

On a general level, Zaid explores the legal limits of the monarchy as well as the leadership role that it can play in a society that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

In this way, although the book can be critical, it does so in a constructive manner with an underlying theme that suggests the monarchy has a role to play in Malaysian society and with greater thought and wisdom, this role can be a positive one.

For me, the most interesting issue that he raises is the discretionary powers of the Sultan or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. A brief perusal of the Federal Constitution will reveal that there are actually very few situations where the royals have any real power.

Almost all of their decisions are to be made under advice of the Government.

“Under advice” in the context of our Constitution means that they must follow what the Government tells them to do.

One of the few seemingly absolute discretions that they appear to have is the appointment of the Prime Minister (at Federal level) and the Mentri Besar (at the state level).

I have always thought this power was pretty clear and the only limitation is that the King or the Sultan makes his choice based on his perception as to which individual will have the confidence of the House.

Zaid goes further than this and he contends that the decision made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Sultan cannot be based solely on his prerogative and his idea as to who will hold the confidence of the House, but must be based on what the members of the House themselves say.

In other words, if one group has the clear majority and they have selected a leader among themselves, then the ruler has no choice but to pick that individual to be either the PM or the MB.

Zaid argues that the only time when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or Sultan can use his own judgment is when there is a situation of a hung Parliament or state legislature. Anything else would make a mockery of the democratic system which we uphold.

Like I said, he challenges perceptions for his view is subtly different from the one I have held for many years, and I must admit that there is coherence to his argument.

He does this throughout the book and it must be said that it is timely.

Our current political situation is different from anything we have faced before.

The upcoming elections may see a Parliament and the various state legislatures looking like something we are not used to, with majorities being razor thin.

It is even more important, therefore, that everyone, royal and commoner alike, understands thoroughly the powers and the limitations of the powers of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Sultan as their role then becomes crucial to the democratic nature and future of the nation.