Umno’s Johor Constitutional Crisis
By Abdul Rahmat Omar
TWO things are often mentioned by Umno hardliners when asked about the grand old party’s traits. One is that it is united; two is that it is one with the palace.
Nothing could be farther than the truth.
The Barisan Nasional’s second thumping victory was followed by several hours of bragging rights. Only DAP was able to look at its wounds and lick them.
The rest of the Pakatan Harapan coalition members were literally pulverised. Even Perikatan Nasional, the coalition with which some quarters within Umno describe as having an uneasy coalition, was pummelled into the ground.
Among the things claimed by Umno was that it won because it could name its next and 19th Menteri Besar for Johor – Datuk Seri Utama Haji Hasni bin Mohammad.
Hasni was Johor’s 18th Menteri Besar, whose tenure was known for its stability despite having a razor-thin margin over the state’s opposition. Hasni treated all 56 assemblymen equally and even provided equal allocations, other than being a model inclusive leader. Naturally voters would want the same formula to be continued.
The result was the 40-seat victory for Barisan Nasional last Saturday.
Then came the shocking news: the palace wanted another name as the next Menteri Besar – Datuk Onn Hafiz Ghazi.
The 43-year old is the great-great grandson of Johor’s first Menteri Besar, Datuk Jaafar bin Haji Muhammad, and grandson of the 3rd Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Hussein bin Datuk Onn.
And what usually comes after shock? Denial, followed by anger. And when Umno supporters get angry, they become irrational, and the anger is then directed towards the Istana for what they deem as ‘meddling’. But was the palace meddling?
The way I see it is that Umno had committed a mistake by naming a Menteri Besar, turning him into a poster boy, ahead of the palace. As a grand old party, Umno should have known better than to usurp the constitutional right of the Sultan.
Article 3 (1) of the Johor State Constitution (Part 2) states that the Ruler shall appoint in writing, a qualified Malay and Muslim Menteri Besar who meets the prerequisites Article 4 (2) (1) of the said Constitution. This in turn states that the person to become the Menteri Besar has to be a member of the Dewan who, in the Ruler’s judgment, commands the most support of members of the Dewan.
It clearly states there that the prerogative to appoint a Menteri Besar is the prerogative of the Ruler. This is replicated on the Federal level by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong when appointing a Prime Minister (and Chief Ministers, as delegated to the governors). The Ruler is the Chief Executive Officer of the nation/state while the PM and MB are the Chief Operating Officers. Ours is not a government by the people and for the people. We are not the United States of America.
The PM/MBs are then given the executive powers to administer the Federal/respective State governments on behalf of the Rulers, save for a few provisions, including the choosing and appointing of prime ministers and menteris besar which remain as royal prerogatives. As a word of caution, these prerogatives come with fundamental principles.
The Federal/State Constitution is supreme. Where there is conflict between the Constitution and the royal prerogative, the Constitution prevails. The royal prerogative remains subject to the duties of fairness and reason. And although the prerogatives can be abolished or abrogated, they can only be done with the expressed permission of the Rulers Council.
And Johor isn’t the only state in recent times where the palace has rejected the winning party’s choice of a state COO. Perlis rejected Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim in 2008 and named Md Isa Sabu instead.
This had put the former at loggerheads with the palace that led to Shahidan’s brother getting rejected in 2018.
Terengganu rejected Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh in 2008, and we saw some banners carried by palace friendly Umno supporters equating the Ruler to animals. Selangor rejected Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail in 2014 as its Menteri Besar to replace Khalid Ibrahim as a result of the ‘Kajang move’; A year before that, the nomination of Datu Husam Musa as a state executive councillor was rejected by the Kelantan palace.
What then is our duty during an election?
Our only duty is to choose, from amongst us, those whom we believe can represent us well in His Majesty’s government. As such, when we complain about stupid politicians having made it into the august house, we only have ourselves as voters to blame.
We put them there, or we did not do enough to prevent them from getting there.
Therefore, coming back to Johor’s predicament, the Ruler has chosen the person who, in the Ruler’s judgment, has the most support of the members of Johor’s Dewan.
Although there is a move by Umno that allegedly has collected 38 signatures from its elected members to support Hasni as Umno’s choice of the incoming MB, that really shows that UMNO or whoever it is behind that move, does not know its or his place. Even Hasni has come out to tell everyone to give this opportunity to his younger successor.
Looking at the bigger picture, the choice of a younger MB for Johor is apt at this juncture given that it is Johor that will ascend the throne of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in January of 2024.
The Tunku Mahkota of Johor will be acting as the Regent during that period. A young MB will not only be able to match the dynamics of a young Ruler, but also reduces the chances of a senior and more experienced politician who might think that he knows better than the Ruler.
If Umno really has the balls and thinks that it can do without the Ruler’s support and try the Johor’s voters’ resolve, its elected representatives can perhaps try to stage a walkout when Onn Hafiz is being sworn-in to show that he does not have their support.