Should the Agong heed voices of the majority or should the latter obey the former’s absolute power?

TWICE former premier Tun Dr Mahatir Mohamad has expressed concern over the desire of Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and national oil corporation PETRONAS to report directly to him when he becomes the country’s 17th Yang di-Pertuan Agong,(YDPA) come Feb 1, 2024.

Stressing that the matter should not be taken lightly, the elderly statesman contended that since such authority is not provided for in the Federal Constitution, the wish conveyed by Sultan Ibrahim – should it become a reality – will raise some important questions related to the role of the Malay monarchs as constitutional monarchs.

“The Federal Constitution and state constitution have outlined in detail the roles, responsibilities and jurisdiction of each king who rules the states as well as the YDPA,” penned Dr Mahathir who was Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister (PM) over two stints of 22 years (1981-2003) and 22 months (May 2018-February 2020) respectively.

In a recent interview with the Singapore Straits Times, Sultan Ibrahin has stated that while the MACC reports to the Parliament, he vowed to crack down on graft and he has a solution for that when he assumes the throne as the Malaysia’s new YDPA.

Source credit: Singapore Straits Times (Dec 10, 2023)

In his subtle objection to the Johor ruler’s proposal, Dr Mahathir said pressure must be placed on the Parliament to ensure that a law, policy or decision is made only when both the Agong and Parliament are agreeable to it.

“Distribution of power between two parties is safer than absolute power,” reckoned Dr Mahathir who is two years short of clocking a century old.

“Before the powers of the state rulers and the YDPA were detailed out in the Federal Constitution prepared for the independent Federation of Malaya, Malay rulers were easily forced by the British to surrender their states to the colonialist to the extent they became kings without states.

“To avoid this kind of pressure, the concept of a constitutional monarch is recommended and accepted.”

Older Malaysians will remember that Dr Mahathir has strained ties with the Johor palace which dated back to his first tenure as premier – during the reign of Sultan Iskandar Sultan Ismail (the father Sultan Ibrahim) as the eighth YDPA from 1984 to 1989.

Describing Dr Mahathir as a “thoroughly modern PM”, UK’s The Independent in an article published on Jan 31, 1993 said attacks on the rulers’ power had been a theme of his time in office after he took the reins from Tun Hussein Onn in 1981.

Dr Mahathir’s first move against the rulers came two years after he became PM when in 1983, he sought to remove the king’s right to block legislation and in 1992, pressed the rulers to sign a code of conduct barring them from politics and most commercial activities.

“Tunku Mahmood (Sultan Iskandar) was among three rulers who refused to accept the ban,” added The Independent. – Dec 13, 2023

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