The myth of the Constitutional Crisis


No, Tun Dr Mahathir did not remove the powers of the Rulers because the Rulers are Constitutional Monarchs and, therefore, have no power. But he did remove one of the powers they did have — and that power was the power to reject unjust and undemocratic laws, especially if they violate the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Many people have heard of Malaysia’s Constitutional Crisis of 30 years ago, which took about ten years to resolve. Not many, however, can give me the details of this Crisis.

Many people hate ex-Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and at the same time praise him for doing at least one good thing for Malaysia — he removed the powers of the Rulers.

However, when I ask these people which of these so-called powers of the Rulers did Tun Dr Mahathir remove, not many can tell me.

The more ‘learned’ of the lot will say that, because of Tun Dr Mahathir, Parliament no longer needs the signature of His Majesty the Agong to approve the laws passed by Parliament. If His Majesty refuses to sign these laws, they will get automatically approved after 60 days with or without the signature of His Majesty.

And you say this is a good thing and you praise Tun Dr Mahathir for this although you hate the man?

Malaysia used to be one of the more unique countries in the world in terms of power sharing. Most countries have three branches of government — the Chief Executive (the President or Prime Minister), the Legislature (that makes laws), and the Judiciary (that enforces these laws). Malaysia, however, has a fourth branch of government — the Monarchy (that signs these laws and which would not become law unless His Majesty signs them).

Tun Dr Mahathir, however, removed the powers of Parliament (we all know that and, in fact, bitterly complain about it). He also removed the powers of the Judiciary (we all know that as well and this was one of the main reasons why many Malaysians began to hate Tun Dr Mahathir). But there was still one remaining check-and-balance — and that was the Monarchy.

So, with the Monarchy in place, Malaysia was still spared the fate of being turned into a dictatorship. The Prime Minister can control Parliament. He can even control the Judiciary. But he still had to deal with the Monarchy and as long as His Majesty the Agong refuses to sign certain laws then the hands of the Prime Minister would be tied.

Hence, allowing the Monarchy or His Majesty the Agong certain powers over what does and does not become law was a good thing for Malaysia. It prevented Malaysia from being turned into a dictatorship because the Prime Minister still had to share power with His Majesty the Agong. Only if you remove the powers of His Majesty the Agong can the Prime Minister run Malaysia like a dictatorship.

And that was the one and only power of His Majesty the Agong that Tun Dr Mahathir removed (there were no other powers that were removed). And Malaysians say they hate Tun Dr Mahathir but they still praise him for the good thing that he did in removing the powers of the Monarchy.

Tun Dr Mahathir did not remove the powers of the Monarchy, as many of you believe. He removed only one power of His Majesty the Agong. And that was His Majesty the Agong’s power to sign laws before they become laws. Now, the Prime Minister can pass laws whether His Majesty the Agong approves or signs them or not.

And this was the beef that Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (Ku Li) had when he opposed Tun Dr Mahathir. Ku Li, in fact, explained this matter about 30 years ago when he went all over Malaysia to campaign against Tun Dr Mahathir. But I take it many of you were not listening to Ku Li at that time. Instead, you praise Tun Dr Mahathir for ‘controlling’ the Monarchy.

When Tun Dr Mahathir realised that not all Umno members and leaders agreed with the move to remove the power of the Monarchy because this would turn Malaysia into a dictatorship, he arranged for Umno to be deregistered so that he could register a new Umno and exclude all those who were opposed to him from the new party (who were then forced to form their own party in the end — Semangat 46).

There were actually two Constitutional Crises. During the first Constitutional Crisis of the early 1980s, Tun Dr Mahathir failed to get the support of the people. So he was forced to back down. The people did not hate the Rulers enough to support Tun Dr Mahathir in his fight with the Rulers. So Tun Dr Mahathir first had to get Malaysians to hate the Rulers before he launches his second attack against the Monarchy.

And that was when they launched their hate campaign against the Rulers.

The two people who were put in charge of this hate campaign were the late Tun Ghafar Baba and Anwar Ibrahim. Ghafar was from Melaka and Anwar from Penang, both states that had no Rulers. Hence these two people had no love for the Monarchy.

All sorts of stories were spun and carried by the mainstream media. Some of these stories were true, of course. But many were not. The story regarding the Sultan of Johor (the murder issues), the Yamtuan Besar or Negeri Sembilan (selling of awards and titles), and so on, were true. But many of the other stories were downright lies aimed at making Malaysians hate the Monarchy.

Anwar accused His Highness the Sultan of Kelantan of smuggling. Anwar even impounded the Sultan’s Lamborghini on the allegation that the tax on the car had not been paid. Anwar said that the Conference of Rulers approves only a certain number of tax-free cars for the Rulers and that the Kelantan Sultan had exceeded his quota.

That was not true. First of all, it is not the Conference of Rulers but the Umno state government of Kelantan that approves the number of tax-free cars for His Highness the Sultan. Secondly, the Sultan had not exceeded his quota of tax-free cars.

The mainstream media then showed footages of a Chinese towkay’s mansion in Penang and said that this was a house built by the Raja Muda of Selangor (now the Sultan) using the taxpayers’ money. They showed footages of Kedah House along Northam Road in Penang and said that this was a mansion owned by His Highness the Sultan of Kedah, also built with the taxpayers’ money.

Actually, the so-called ‘mansion’ is an old colonial and rundown house owned by the Umno Kedah State Government for the use of Kedah civil servants who visit Penang on business and is not owned by the Sultan at all.

They then revealed that a person called ‘Tengku Wong’ in Pahang, who was alleged to be the business partner of His Highness the Sultan of Pahang, was ripping off the state of millions in timberland. The truth is ‘Tengku Wong’ was the Menteri Besar’s business partner (Tun Mohd Khalil bin Yaakob) who was, in fact, a strong supporter of Anwar.

And the list went on and on. ‘Misconduct’ of the Rulers was revealed one after another until the people could no longer take it and there was much hatred against the Rulers all over the country.

And that was when Tun Dr Mahathir launched the second Constitutional Crisis and soon after that amended the law whereby Parliament could get laws passed without the need of any approval or signature of His Majesty the Agong.

But that was the only thing that changed. Other than that what else changed? What other powers of the Rulers did Tun Dr Mahathir remove?

Okay, some may argue that Tun Dr Mahathir set up a ‘Royal Court’ whereby Rulers can be prosecuted for their crimes. When we talk about ‘crimes’ here we, of course, mean criminal cases. However, when it comes to civil cases (like a certain Ruler may owe you money and did not pay) there has never been any law that forbids you from suing the Ruler.

Even before the creation of this ‘Royal Court’ you could still sue a Ruler in the event of a civil dispute. And you can still do so until today but in the normal or common law court. You do not need to do this in the ‘Royal Court’. The ‘Royal Court’ is only for criminal cases.

However, over the last 30 years or so, how many Rulers were brought before the ‘Royal Court’ to be tried for criminal cases? Not a single one! And if they were, and if the court found a certain Ruler guilty of a crime, would he be sent to jail or merely forced to abdicate? Can all of you who hail this ‘Royal Court’ tell me or do you not know the answer?

Do you need a ‘Royal Court’ to force a certain Ruler to abdicate? Who is it that has the power to force the Ruler to abdicate? Is it the ‘Royal Court’ or the Royal Council? Do you know?

The appointment and removal of a Ruler is done by the Royal Council (not by the Conference of Rulers or the ‘Royal Court’) — which is a state matter and not a federal matter. And in the past Rulers have been removed (such as Sultan Ali of Terengganu in 1945 or Sultan Musa of Selangor also in 1945). There was no ‘Royal Court’ at that time and, in fact, Malaysia was not even independent yet then and the country was run by the BMA (British Military Administration).

There are a lot of myths regarding the Constitutional Crisis of the 1980s. Many talk about ‘the good thing’ that Tun Dr Mahathir did in removing the powers of the Rulers whereas none of these so-called powers were removed other than the one and only power of preventing the Prime Minister from becoming a dictator.

The British gave Malaya independence in 1957 and left the country a good system of balance of power and power sharing whereby the country had four branches of government.

The Prime Minister cannot run the country like a dictatorship because he would have Parliament, the Judiciary and the Monarchy to keep him in check. But that changed in the 1980s. And you all say it is a good thing because Tun Dr Mahathir removed the powers of the Rulers.

No, Tun Dr Mahathir did not remove the powers of the Rulers because the Rulers are Constitutional Monarchs and, therefore, have no power. But he did remove one of the powers they did have — and that power was the power to reject unjust and undemocratic laws, especially if they violate the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

And that became possible because by the time Tun Dr Mahathir removed this one and only power of the Rulers the people were already very angry and hated the Rulers. And the men who headed the hate campaign against the Rulers were two of the one-time Deputy Prime Ministers of Malaysia — Tun Ghafar Baba and Anwar Ibrahim.

And today you want Anwar Ibrahim to lead the country when it was he (and the late Tun Ghafar) who made it possible for Tun Dr Mahathir to turn Malaysia into a dictatorship?

Malaysians are so stupid they are beyond help.