Friday, April 18, 2014
Text Size


What are the real powers of the Malay Sultans? 

CPI Writings


CPI Introduction

We had earlier planned to post the speech by Dr Mahathir Mohamed during the special Parliamentary session specifically called to amend the federal constitution on the powers of the Rulers. This year January 18 would have been the 18th anniversary of that landmark legislation curbing the authority of the rulers.

However, in view of the present imbroglio over the issue of the appointment of the Selangor state secretary and what appears to be the intercession of the Sultan of Selangor on the conflicting choices of the federal and state governments, we have felt it necessary today to proceed with posting Dr Mahathir’s 1993 speech.

So as to provide readers with a more informed and historically nuanced perspective on the issue of the position of our rulers, we are reproducing below a variety of opinions ranging from academic to journalistic to popular views excerpted from different sources.

In the next post following this, we will reproduce the speech by Dr Mahathir found in the Hansard records as well as provide an English translation of the speech.


For a comprehensive overview of the episode, please read the 43-page paper ‘The Malay Rulers’ Loss of Immunity' by Professor Mark R. Gillen (Faculty of Law, University of Victoria)



Excerpt from Khoo Boo Teik’s ‘Recent political dynamics’ in Malaysia

(The Federation of Malaysia)

The traditional Sultans in the nine Malay States symbolized Malay political dominance and were given prerogative powers to protect Malay rights. Because they were also made part of democratic institutions, their role was somewhat ambiguous, especially on matters requiring “royal assent.??? In several states, the Sultan refused to cooperate with a Chief Minister in disputes over timber concessions, patronage, legislation, or alleged lack of deference. In the 1980s, Prime Minister Mahathir decided to reduce the scope of royal powers by a constitutional amendment that would allow 15 days for royal assent to bills, after which assent was deemed to have been given. A crisis ensued when the Paramount Ruler refused to assent to the amendment passed by Parliament. Eventually, agreement was reached with the Sultans that royal assent could only be delayed for 30 days. Later, in 1993, constitutional amendments revoked the Rulers’ power of delay in conferring royal assent, eliminated their immunities for personal actions and terminated their power to grant pardons.

Feb 19, 2009

It’s in the Constitution

Brave New World (The Star)
By Azmi Sharom

Sultans and Rajas are constitutional monarchs and have powers determined by the Federal Constitution.

I WISH that all those people calling for Karpal Singh’s head would just take a minute and pick up the Federal Constitution. Turn to Article 182 and you will see provisions for a “Special Court???.

The job of this Special Court is to try civil proceedings brought against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or any of the Sultans.

This was not always the case. Before 1993, the rulers had absolute immunity. And before 1984, they actually had the power to veto legislation. These powers were taken away by the Barisan Nasional government headed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh’s desire for the Sultan of Perak to be brought to court is reasonable and allowed for by law. Besides, I think it is a good thing that the King and the Sultans can be brought to court.

You see, the days of the all-powerful king is gone now and that is, for me at least, progress. It shows that we are a society that values democracy.

Yes, we have Sultans and Rajas, but they are constitutional monarchs. This means that they have powers determined by the Constitution and not some divine power to do as they wish. This being the case, surely if they overstep their boundaries, if they behave in an unconstitutional manner, they should be challenged – respectfully, properly – in a court of law.

Now, did the Sultan of Perak act in a way that was unconstitutional when he appointed a new Mentri Besar? It is arguable.

The power to appoint a Mentri Besar is clearly at the discretion of the Sultan. This is one of the few real powers that he has. A power that he does not have is to dismiss an existing Mentri Besar.

Usually this does not raise many problems. During the last general election, we saw the Sultan of Perak and the Sultan of Terengganu both deciding on who should be the new Mentri Besar of their respective states.

They made decisions that went against the desires of the majority party in both state legislative assemblies. The two monarchs thought that their choices commanded the confidence of the two Houses and were the best men for the job. It was their prerogative.

But the current case in Perak is different. The Sultan chose a new Mentri Besar while the old one was still in office. By appointing a new man, he was in effect sacking the old one. And sacking the Mentri Besar is not within his constitutional powers.

I think there is room for debate on this matter and, ideally, it should be settled in the Special Court.

Actually, I am rather curious as to why the Sultan did not just dissolve the state assembly when requested. All this party-hopping business was wreaking havoc on the public’s faith in the democratic system.

Surely, the clearest and fairest way out of the debacle was to have fresh state elections.

For the sake of continued faith in democracy, I would have thought the Sultan, who has spoken many times so eloquently about democracy and rule of law, would have just said “right, let the people decide again???.

After all, the greatest threat to political, and thus national, stability are a people who have lost their faith in the democratic system. It is only when such faith is lost that extreme behaviour emerges.

Anyway, what is done is done; legal battles are being fought over the Perak matter and that particular crisis will be settled in its own time.

Meanwhile, there is much that can still be achieved. The states ruled by Pakatan Rakyat must continue to push their agenda forward and live up to their election promises. …

May 4, 2008

Mahathir vs the Malay Rulers

Wide Angle (The Star)
By Huzir Sulaiman

The bill would remove the need for the King to assent to legislation, and would similarly do away with the need for Sultans to assent to State laws. It would also take away the King's power to declare an Emergency and give it to the Prime Minister.

The Rulers publicly rejected these amendments after a meeting in Selangor on Nov 20, 1983. When the public became aware that a storm was brewing, Dr Mahathir’s administration initiated a propaganda war to put pressure on the Rulers.

There took place a “series of illegal public rallies held by Umno in Alor Star, Bagan Datoh, Seremban, Batu Pahat, Malacca, for the Prime Minister with reports of officially inflated crowd figures?.??? as Lim Kit Siang would later describe them in the Dewan Rakyat.

These rallies, staged in order to generate sympathy for the Government’s cause, were illegal in the sense that police permits were neither sought nor granted.

Whether or not the crowd figures were inflated by the Umno-aligned media – it is true that they generally reported these events in positive terms – it is clear that the 1983 rallies were exciting evenings, with republican sentiments on everyone’s minds, if not exactly on their lips. One of the most arresting images in Rais Yatim’s Faces in the Corridor of Power is a photograph of two youths at one such rally. They are wearing T-shirts bearing Dr Mahathir’s picture and the words “DAULAT RAKYAT???.

Although the Prime Minister denied wanting to abolish the monarchy, at these rallies “the historical moment of unfolding Malay nationalism was relived as a continuing battle of Malay popular sovereignty against royal hegemony,??? as Khoo Boo Teik writes in Paradoxes of Mahathirism.

At a rally in Alor Star on Nov 26, Dr Mahathir declared that “It was the rakyat who had protested against the Malayan Union after the Second World War; it was the rakyat who wanted a democratic system that would enable them to choose their own leaders. It was always the people who had fought for their destiny.???

At the largest rally, in Batu Pahat, Dr Mahathir told the crowds, in a thinly veiled dig at hereditary rulers, “We weren’t born Ministers ? We’re up here because we were chosen by all of you.???

The propaganda war continued, with tales of royal extravagance and impropriety emerging. The Government leaked the fact that they were compiling dossiers on the Sultans. RTM announced they were preparing a year-long TV series on the Rulers and the Constitution.

Yet pro-royal rallies took place too – especially in Kelantan and Terengganu, where Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was rumoured to be responsible for them – and they drew large crowds, although they went unreported by the media.

Upping the ante, the Umno Youth executive council called for the Government to gazette the Constitution (Amendment) Bill without waiting for the King's assent, effectively daring the Rulers to challenge it in court. Dr Mahathir did not immediately adopt this strategy, but held this “nuclear option??? in reserve while behind-the-scenes negotiations continued with the Rulers.


The Prime Minister’s campaign continued. He silenced the Rulers over the issue of the 1987 ISA detentions; staged a hostile debate on the monarchy in the 1990 Umno general assembly after the loss of Kelantan to PAS; removed the Rulers’ immunity to prosecution following the constitutional crisis of 1992-93; stripped away their flights, outriders, and special hospital wards; and in 1994, with little opposition, finally removed the need to obtain the Rulers’ assent for State laws.

Looking back, we can see how the bars of the yellow silk cage began to go up in 1983, closing in year after year.

Should we find it surprising, then, that after 25 years the tigers within should want to break free? Can we not understand that the Rulers might want to regain what has been lost?

And here is the hardest question of all: without giving up our democratic ideals, in a cynical and disloyal age, can we find a way to let our Rulers rule?

Feb 12, 2009
Umno should reinstate Rulers’ immunity: Mubarak

The Nut Graph
By Shashi Kala

The Former People’s Representatives Council (Mubarak) has urged Umno as the pillar of the Malays to debate a motion on the immunity of the Malay Rulers during its General Assembly in March.

Mubarak deputy president Datuk Seri Abdul Aziz Rahman said the monarchy institution seemed to have been made fun of by certain people, and Umno should be responsible in reinstating the immunity.

He was confident that when the immunity had been reinstated, no one could bring a sultan to court.

“We are angry when DAP chairperson Karpal Singh wants to take a court action against Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak following the political scenario in the state but at the same time we have forgotten why he dares to do so.

“The time has come, we have to realise and reinstate the immunity to its original position so that people continue to uphold the sovereignty of the Malay Rulers’ institution,??? he told reporters here today.

Aziz said the Malay Malaysians’ understanding on the Malay Rulers’ Institution seemed to be on the decline and it had to be strengthened again.

He said the Federal Government in 1993 decided to reduce the immunity of the Malay Rulers so that a Sultan or Ruler could be taken to court in a criminal or civil case and the Malay Malaysians at the time seemed to have supported the move on the grounds that their position would not be affected.

“With the incident that happens presently, it is very necessary for us to get back under the umbrella of the Rulers’ Institution, not merely for the Malay Malaysians but also all races in the country,??? he said.

He said Umno could also bring the issue to Parliament so that the Dewan Rakyat could reach a two-third consensus to reinstate the immunity power to its original position. — Bernama

Comment by readers to Malaysian Insider article, ‘Palace says MB was late with his state secretary choices


From reader: ARIES


The ‘too late’ excuse is utter nonsense.

The state government must be respected at all times. And in this case it wasn’t. It is as if the federal government has an agenda or ulterior motive in wanting to rush the appointment. The fact that the state government wasn’t informed about the prior appointment is sheer rudeness and abuse of the system and not observing protocol.

There is no such thing as fixing a timing to appoint the state secretary. Why the need to rush?

The position could be left vacant while the candidacy is being finalised, so there should not be such nonsense as being late in giving out a list short-listed candidates, as alleged by someone.

The state government must use all its powers and influence to put a stop to a forced appointment. After all it is a state matter and as such it has the first right to accept or refuse an appointment and the prerogative to decide on the matter. Else it should be construed as an interference in the administration of the state.

Wither 1Malaysia now? Isn't it a laughing stock? Talking about respect, inclusiveness, honour and equality regardless of political inclination or creed. What gives?

From reader: HOT IRON

Kalao Istana yang wat pilihan, wat per sibuk2 nak bagi alasan...Siapa yang makan cili, dia yang terasa....Dah nampak sangat yang Istana pun dah jadi Istana UMNO Sdn Bhd...Kalo politik dah masuk institusi raja, camner lak pandangan rakyat… sendiri mau ingat lah....

From reader: EASYGOING

First it was Sultan of Perak and now it is Sultan of Selangor. What is happening to our Sultans. They are supposed to be neutral and protect the interest of Rakyat. How can enemies work together?



History series




Latest Articles