The problem is with the politicians, not the Palace

Abdul Aziz Bari, KTemoc Konsiders

Anyone committed to Westminster democracy and constitutional monarchy has no problem agreeing with former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He was right to suggest a national discourse on the constitutional monarchy. But the problem with him is that he has less moral authority to talk about it.

While some may disagree with this the truth remains that while he may be cited as the prime mover behind the constitutional amendments to clip the wings of the monarchy, Mahathir could not run away from the fact that he had a hand in weakening the key democratic institutions in the country.

The judiciary crisis of 1988, which ended with the sacking of judiciary head Salleh Abas, emasculation of Parliament and the dilution of the neutral position of the public service, among others, immediately come to mind.

It has to be said that the prevalence of a constitutional monarchy is a process that takes ages to mature and be functional. Such a transformation is indeed a comprehensive process involving all the main institutions, particularly Parliament and judiciary.

Apart from that, the political system must be one that is able to fill the space left behind by the establishment led by the monarchy institution.

One has to remember that while the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was the watershed that laid the foundation for a constitutional monarchy in England, and later the United Kingdom, no one can deny that there were many other landmark incidents that contributed to the emergence of a monarchy that has become the model not only among Westminster jurisdictions but also in the world.

These include the beheading of Charles I in 1649, which in some ways precipitated the 1688 revolution.

Other developments which contributed to the emergence of a monarchy that is compatible with democracy include the emergence of cabinet government which is essential to the working of representative government. Instead of submitting itself, the sitting government is responsible to Parliament hence the importance of motion of confidence.

One has to remember that although 1688 has always been cited as the turning point it was only after the death of Queen Victoria in the early 20th century that a truly constitutional monarchy in both theory and practice has finally come into being.

Some of the institutional changes that were crucial in between those years include the primacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords. Of no less importance was the introduction of universal suffrage in the early 20th century. The founding of the Labour Party in 1900 was also crucial, for without a good two-party system it is difficult for a functioning constitutional monarchy to emerge.

The king’s role

It was quite clear that the leading role assumed by the office of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong was quite unexpected.

However, given the collapse of the party system and prevalence of party hopping has inevitably invited a proactive role on the part of the palace. And arguably, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has played his functions within the constraints of the basic law of the federation.

In certain respects, one should thank His Majesty for not blindly following the words of the Constitution, an approach that might lead to the Constitution itself. This includes his rejection of advice on the proclamation of emergency tendered by the Muhyiddin Yassin administration.

Seeing the MPs satisfy themselves on the right person to assume premiership is another example where ingenuity was put on display. It is nowhere mentioned by the Constitution, but it is something that’s within the ideals sought to be achieved by the highest law of the land. His Majesty also came out to urge Parliament to be convened without delay.

The helplessness we are now witnessing has largely been due to the politicians. And Mahathir is part of them. In fact, he has been singled out by some as the one who triggered the crisis by resigning as prime minister in February 2020.

Thus, like the chopstick issue, the doctor in the house has got the prescription wrong again. He has hit the wrong target.

Yes, the monarchy is not perfect and not without problems. But as far as our political problems are concerned the roots are with the politicians and political parties, not with the palace.

AZIZ BARI is Perak opposition leader and Tebing Tinggi assemblyperson.