The Bill and constitutional monarchy


Tay Tian Yan, Sin Chew Daily

Yesterday (June 7) was the birthday of His Majesty Yang di-Pertuan Agong, a day when all Malaysians celebrated as a public holiday to mark our respect for the country’s ruler.

As a matter of fact, the incumbent King Tuanku Abdul Halim was born on November 28, 1927. But then many would ask why the King’s birthday was celebrated on June 7.

There might be two answers to this question. Firstly the country’s ruler is on a rotational basis and instead of changing the King’s birthday every five years, why not fix a particular date to celebrate His Majesty’s birthday?

Secondly, under the country’s current system, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Sultans of various states, collectively known as the Malay Rulers, is a kind of institution where the constitutional rule shall prevail. The power and status of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong have been fixed and consequently even the birthday celebration is also standardized, protruding the fact that it is pat and parcel of the institution.

Tuanku Abdul Halim is widely respected by the people mainly because of his amicability and humility, but also because Malaysians have largely accepted the country’s constitutional monarchy and this has remained unchanged since Merdeka.

The constitutional monarchy is an administrative system that combines democratic politics and conventional powers (royalty). The powers of European rulers were revoked following public uprisings more than 200 year ago. Republics were established as the monarchies were ended.

Along the way, contradictions ensued among people with varying interests and from different social classes, resulting in outbreak of armed conflicts such as in France.

Meanwhile, some other countries such as Britain was able to boast both democratic rule and a relatively stable royalty. The royal family was retained and given the due honor as the country made the transition to parliamentary democracy. However, the royal family does not hold actual power but acts as a symbol of the nation to unite the people.

Malaysia is inheriting the British administrative system. While perpetuating the traditions of the Malay society and accord noble status to the Malay Rulers, we also implement parliamentary democracy.

Nevertheless, as a nation practicing constitutional monarchy, the powers of Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Sultans are ceremonial and symbolic. They do not have real executive, legislative and judicial powers.

For instance, while the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Sultans can nominally appoint the prime minister and menteri besar, they only do so upon the advice of the Parliament or state assemblies. Similarly the Yang di-Pertuan Agong can also appoint the chief judge, military and police chief, attorney-general, auditor-general, etc., but he only executes such power at the recommendation of the prime minister or special commissions. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Sultans can also dissolve the Parliament and state assemblies, but only at the recommendation of the prime minister and menteri besar.

The celebration of the King’s birthday on June 7 also served to remind all Malaysians that we are a country practicing constitutional monarchy, and that only the Constitution is the highest law of the nation.

At the same time the King’s birthday was celebrated, we saw the controversial Johor Housing and Real Estate Board Bill 2014.

According to the understanding of the legal fraternity, under the Housing Bill, the Johor Sultan has the power to appoint the board’s directors and dissolve the board, meaning the Sultan is given the executive powers.