Saturday, September 26, 2009

When monarchies should remain politically neutral...

The Royal Institution in Malaysia not only functions as a symbol of sovereignty of the Malay Rulers but is also a system to maintain check and balance within the national political fold. Malaysians expect their monarchs to remain above politics but what happens when they appear otherwise?

Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state whose powers are defined by the parameters of a written or unwritten constitution. In Malaysia, nine hereditary Sultans preside over their respective states who, in general understanding, should maintain their neutrality in politics.

However, on September 25 the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah called on his subjects to continue supporting the Barisan Nasional. His Majesty's reason? The Sultan believes that by supporting the ruling coalition, it would ensure short and long term development for the state which in turn, would benefit the people of Pahang [source].

Last year, the Perlis state monarch made his political preferences known by going against the recommendation of Barisan Nasional for Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim to be in line for the Chief Minister post. Raja Perlis Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail decided to appoint Bintong assemblyman Datuk Dr Md Isa Sabu as Chief Minister instead and His Majesty's actions drew huge protests from the Barisan Nasional camp.

Shahidan, obviously disappointed with the Raja's decision, was quoted saying,"This is Barisan Nasional's pride. If there is no respect for Barisan Nasional and Umno, who else will respect them? Barisan Nasional has won the election therefore the appointment by the coalition party should not be questioned...This is a clear indication that the party, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (then Prime Minister) and even the people's decision have been disregarded." [source]

His public disapproval of the Perlis monarch's intervention in the political process, of course, did not receive as much flak as what the Pakatan Rakyat had to endure during the Perak Constitutional crisis in May 2009. Both Pakatan Rakyat leaders and supporters were heavily criticized by Barisan Nasional for being "disrespectful" towards the Sultan of Perak for disapproving certain actions taken or rather not taken by the Sultan during the course of the crisis. And yet, the people who cried foul the loudest did just the same for the Raja of Perlis less than a year ago. Speak of hypocrisy!

If disagreeing with a Sultan's actions or comments is deemed treachery then the same judgement can be passed on the 74% of Perak voters of a Merdeka Centre poll who felt the Sultan could have helped to pave way for fresh state elections rather than endorsing the Barisan Nasional smash and grab of state administrative powers.

UMNO youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and his supporters have even dared to suggest banishment for people who "defy" the monarchy!

The whole issue of disrespecting the royalty has been politicized ever since the Perak crisis and it has been the main attack for the Barisan Nasional on the Pakatan Rakyat among the Malay community who traditionally hold their monarchs in high regard. But surely, this time I believe the Sultan of Pahang's comments will be duly accepted by the Barisan Nasional fold.

Perhaps, political neutrality is best portrayed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand who, in 2006, refused to intervene in the nation's political crisis between the Thaksin Shinawatra government and the Opposition. The King said the courts should resolve the matter and told senior judges to assume their responsibilities or resign. His Majesty also said the constitution does not permit him to appoint a new government, and to do so would be undemocratic - thus displaying a certain amount of political impartiality in this case [source].

The dignity of the Malay Rulers is valued by their political neutrality as Malaysians hope to rely on their state monarchs as a form of check and balance against governance powers bestowed on commoners through elections. But it remains interesting to see how the people of Pahang would react to their Sultan's call for support for a particular political party - or will they "defy" their ruler and vote their way to "treachery"?


  1. Eric's said...

    Generally the ones that would post a threat to Sultan are Oppositions.

  2. Anonymous said...

    Thank you, captain obvious.